The Basic High School Subjects and Classes

Basic high school subjects

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

Every state has different requirements for obtaining a high school diploma. And each school varies greatly in what type of classes they offer. There are, however, a number of classes that are available, and perhaps even mandatory, in most high schools.

The courses your teen takes will also vary depending on his plans beyond high school. Students who plan to go to college may be required to take more years of a foreign language. Or a student who plans to major in engineering may want to take more math and science classes to prepare for college.

Students on a vocational track may be able to gain some hands-on learning. Many of them are even able to gain certificates or licenses that will help them in their future careers. It's important to talk to your teen about her aspirations. Help her explore various career options. 

Also, talk about what courses she plans to take in high school. Discuss her interest areas and review her schedule together. In addition to the basic classes, there are usually plenty of opportunities for your teen to take electives in various areas of study. 

English or Language Arts

Studying the English language and literature is an important part of high school. In addition to studying important pieces of literature, English classes teach teens about writing and speaking. Most states require 4 years of English or Language Arts classes. The main English classes in high school include:

  • Literature
  • Speech
  • Writing or Composition

Mathematics Courses

In high school, students dig into several different types of math. Algebra and geometry are required at most high schools and students may choose to take advanced math classes. Most states require three or four years of Math coursework in high school. The main math classes in high school include:

  • Algebra
  • Algebra II
  • Geometry
  • Statistics
  • Trigonometry and/or Calculus

Science Classes

Basic biology and chemistry are required at most high schools. They often include lab components that allow students to perform hands-on experiments. Most states require 3–4 years of science coursework in high school. These may include:

  • Biology (typically has advanced classes)
  • Chemistry (typically has advanced classes)
  • Earth or Space Sciences
  • Physics (typically has advanced classes)

Social Studies

Understanding how the world works is important for young adults. In high school, students will study history and government and learn about how social studies affects their lives. Most states require 3–4 years of Social Studies coursework in high school including:

  • Economics
  • Geography
  • U.S. Government
  • U.S. History
  • World History

Foreign Languages

Learning a second language is important in today's global world. High school students are often required to learn the basics of at least one foreign language and they can choose to take advanced classes to learn more. Common languages offered in high school include:

  • French
  • German
  • Spanish

Other common languages include Latin, American Sign Language, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese.

Other High School Classes

High schools offer a variety of other classes. Some may be required in the school's curriculum and some are electives that students may choose. These classes may include:

  • Arts, such as music, photography, or pottery
  • Computer applications, graphic design, or web design
  • Physical education
  • Psychology
  • Trade field studies such as auto mechanics or nursing classes

High School Courses for College Credit

Many high schools offer opportunities to gain college credit. Students may take advanced placement classes and if they pass the exam, they may test out of a basic class in college. Some high schools also have programs that allow students to take certain college classes that will also grant them high school credit. These programs help students gain some college credits free of charge. 

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  1. American Councils for International Education. The National K-16 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report. Published March 2017.