College prep: making high school count

Last month, the Khan Academy, one of the leading providers of free online education training and resources, launched a new College Admissions feature, along with new college-prep features that focus students on the specific content they need to be prepared for college math placement tests.

The Khan Academy recommends courses in math, English/language arts, history/social studies, science, and foreign language for admission and success in college. Some highlights:


Math is a subject that builds on itself over the years, becoming increasingly complex as you increase your skills.  Most colleges want students to have at least 3 years of high school math, though more selective colleges prefer 4 years.  Prioritize taking several of the following courses:

  • Algebra 1
  • Geometry
  • Algebra 2
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-calculus & Calculus

Begin with Algebra 1 and Geometry, often considered the building blocks of higher level math and science classes. Wrap up with Calculus, the highest level of math offered by many high schools and often considered the gold standard of pre-college math preparation.


Science teaches you how to analyze information and apply theories to the real world.  Most colleges prefer students take at least 3 years of laboratory science classes, while more selective colleges prefer 4 years.  Some specific classes to prioritize:

  • Physical Science or Geology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

The College Board, the company who administers Advanced Placement (AP) courses, makes similar recommendations to high school students preparing for college: “take at least five solid academic classes every semester. Start with the basics, and then move on to challenging yourself in advanced courses.”

What do Utah colleges recommend to high school students for college success?

The Utah Regents’ Scholarship

The Board of Regents, with funding support of the Utah Legislature established the Utah Regents’ Scholarship in 2008 in an effort to incentivize high school students to take rigorous courses to prepare for college that are beyond the requirements for high school graduation. The scholarship is based on a similar foundation that Khan Academy and the College Board recommend:

  • 4 years of progressive math
  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of lab-based science, specifically Biology, Physics, Chemistry
  • 2 years of the same foreign language during high school

The scholarship has grown an average of 54% annually since 2008 and has helped raise the bar among high school students and parents. Additional scholarship information.

High school math

In March of 2014, a taskforce of higher education and K-12 math specialists released Recommendations on High School Mathematics Preparation as the new high school math curriculum requirements were being implemented (Math I, II, III).  The recommendations are similar to those of the Khan Academy and the College Board.  Additionally, a recent USHE analysis of high school students indicates a strong correlation between taking four years of math in high school and college success.

Additional Resources: