English, Science, and Math, Oh My!! Planning the core courses for your teen’s high school requirements can seem intimidating on the front end, right? But I can assure you it’s actually very doable and doesn’t require much effort. There is a general sequence to follow for most subjects, and once you know that, you’ll be done in no time. I promise!
NOTE: if you are looking for more general information about how to plan high school homeschool curriculum, not just core courses, you can see my post about it here: How to Plan Your Teen’s High School Homeschool Curriculum — without feeling overwhelmed! It will give you a four-step process to follow that is easy to understand and will help you with the big-picture planning.
What are “core” courses? They are the major subjects: Math, Science, History/Social Studies, English, and Foreign Language. (Some people refer to Foreign Language as an elective, but to me it is rigorous enough to be considered as part of the core.) These are the subjects that almost every college will require from an applicant to one degree or another. (Read How to KNOW What Your Teen Needs to Get Into College for more about that.)
Let’s discuss each of the core subjects in turn, and you’ll quickly see how easy this is going to be!
But first: a caution regarding high school requirements
We homeschoolers tend to be overachievers, and so we start off thinking our child is going to do all of the core courses every year of high school. I get that, I really do. I had very high expectations for homeschooling myself.
But from someone who has graduated four children from our high school homeschool, I would advise against that. It leads to a LOT of pressure. High school core courses take a lot of time each day to complete. And grades matter now, lol. Not every student is best served by having to slave away all day on core courses.
And guess what? “Senioritis” is real, lol. That means your kid will most likely (unless mine were all just rebellious teenagers — and they weren’t) have a very hard time being motivated to do school their senior year. So you might want to build more electives into that year, so that at least they will be studying subjects they enjoy.
Core Subject Specifics:
Math is one of those subjects that proceeds in a typical order for high school. The first high school credit given for math is Algebra 1, so that generally happens in 9th grade (although if your child is ready, it is possible to take it for credit in 8th grade). After that comes Geometry, then Algebra 2/Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and finally, Calculus.
But not every child has to do all of these. Only those who take Algebra 1 in 8th grade even have the possibility to get as far as Calculus, for instance. And many colleges only require 3 credits of math for their applicants — so you might prefer to stop after Algebra 2, anyway. (For information about my family’s math sequence and the curricula we have used, read Our Homeschool Math Curriculum Sequence.)
The first science course that in my experience has generally been considered worthy of high school credit is Physical Science. Lately there has been some debate about that, though; for instance, Apologia used to claim that their Physical Science curriculum was high school level, but now it’s listed as an 8th grade curriculum. We used it for all of our five kids in either 8th or 9th grade and put it on their high school transcript for credit, and not a single college ever questioned it. So in my opinion, Physical Science with any curriculum is gonna be fine to use; but for your own comfort you might want to research that for yourself.
After that the student can take Biology (DEFINITELY considered high school level), then Chemistry, then Physics. The order of these is not set in stone, but often the difficulty level of the material, and the fact that each science course requires comprehension of a particular math level, means that this is the best sequence for most students.
Again, though, college requirements vary. If your child is not a budding scientist, doctor, or engineer, you may be better off not requiring all of these. There are also other possibilities for science courses out there, such as Astronomy or Marine Biology. Check the college requirements so that you can know where you have leeway and where you don’t.
For history (or social studies, if you prefer), many colleges require only these courses: World History, American History, Civics, and Economics. There is no preferred order. The only consideration might be the difficulty level of the curriculum you choose. We used Notgrass for all of these, and since their World History course is considered easier than their American History, we did World in 9th grade and American in 10th.
For some reason I’ve always considered Civics and Economics to be senior courses (they are each only a semester), so that is when most of my kids did them. My youngest spent some time in Classical Conversations, however, and there they do them in Challenge 1, which is similar to 9th grade — so she got them out of the way at that time.
Some colleges don’t specify which history courses AT ALL; instead they specify a number of history credits (often 2-3). Then you have leeway to do whatever your little heart desires (or your teen’s heart desires). Just do your research so you can feel comfortable with that choice.
If your child is not a history fan, then there is usually no need to do history EVERY year. Choose carefully which hills you want to die on, LOL, when it comes to what you require of your teen.
English gets a little more complicated. Most colleges do require a full four years of high school English, but there is no standard sequence. Many colleges require some type of literature course, either British literature or American literature — or both. Beyond that it’s up to you. It can be difficult to narrow down from the vast selection of possibilities.
I went the simple route (you should have figured out by now that that is my standard M.O., lol) and did two more years of grammar in 9th and 10th grade, and then two years of literature in 11th and 12th. There are lots of resources for high school English out there. For now just fill in your plan with general course names (e.g., American Literature); as you research curriculum you can get more specific.
I have a blog article that talks specifically about English requirements here: What Should a Homeschool High School English Credit Include?
Many colleges do require at least two years of a single foreign language. The only consideration here is which one your child wants to learn, and whether you can find curriculum for it. Spanish or French might be easier to find than Russian, for example. Some colleges accept American Sign Language for this requirement, but some don’t.
Whichever language you choose, there is no need to add a third or fourth year unless it’s something your child is especially interested in. It can be hard to find curriculum for the advanced levels. You could add another language, though, if you wanted to; and that is when you would call it an elective — when the initial requirements are fulfilled, and now the foreign language course is being taken due to interest rather than to check a box.
UPDATE: My youngest got accepted at many colleges with only one year of language. It’s not always mandatory!
I would be remiss if I did not make this part of the process as easy for you as possible, because stress-free is what I’m all about, lol. So I have made a very simple FREE form for you to fill out as you plan your high school requirements. You could just use a piece of blank paper, but it’s always nicer to have boxes to fill in, don’t you think? If you would like a copy, click here (it’s FREE, remember, so you’ve got nothing to lose, lol): High School Requirements Planning Form.
The Next Step?
You might notice, especially if your child will not be taking math, science, or history for all four years, that there are a lot of credits yet to fill for their junior and senior years. That’s where electives come in. If you’re ready to start thinking about them, you might find this post helpful: Planning High School Electives for Your Homeschool. Choosing electives is really the most fun part of determining how to fulfill your teen’s high school requirements!
OR you might be ready for picking out curriculum. Go here for tips on how to get started and my own recommendations for where to find good reviews: Curriculum Planning Made Easy.
See, I told you this wouldn’t be so bad! Grab your form and get ‘er done!!