Planning High School Courses

Homeschooling parents know how to best educate their children. Use what you know about your students and their learning styles and consider the subjects that colleges want to see. Homeschooling in high school is very efficient and there is plenty time in the day to give your children an education that has breadth and depth in a way that is meaningful to the student. Here is a list of the courses that colleges look for in their applicants. As you read it, think about how you can incorporate these subjects into your homeschool.


Colleges like to see four years of English. You can meet this requirement in a variety of ways. Your student could study literature and composition through a prepared curriculum, or you could simply have them read and write a lot every year. You might want to consider having a speech class as an alternative. One year, one of my sons wanted to do Sonlight Language Arts but the other wanted to use "Learn to Write the Novel Way." I wanted to please everyone so we ended up doing EVERYTHING! This is a strategy I do NOT recommend! Unless, of course, you actually enjoyed the pain of childbirth.

Try to keep in mind what really matters about this area called "English." You want to end up with young men and women who enjoy reading, communicate in writing, and know how to learn. As long as they are getting those values, and are growing in their ability, you are succeeding at your job!


Colleges will generally tell you that they want three years of high school math. They will also say they want to see math in the student's senior year, while it's still fresh. In my mind, math is such a cornerstone for so many other subjects, careers, and college majors that I believe it's important to have four years of math. It's less important what LEVEL of math they do each year. Colleges like to see kids moving forward in their math studies, so just teach your student consistently at their level. It's great to complete geometry before the PSAT test, and better still if they can complete Algebra 2 or Pre-calculus before taking the SAT test. It would be great to complete pre-calculus or trigonometry before college, so that if they need calculus they will be ready to take it at a university. But really, as long as you "do the next thing," working on math at their level, you can't lose.

Social Studies

Colleges like to see three to four years of social studies. Often colleges will further specify what social studies areas they particularly want to see. Usually that will mean world history, American history, American government, and economics. Remember that you aren't confined to choosing the "expected classes" for social studies, either. In our family, one son took a course in Russian History and the other chose Psychology. Now is a good time to mention that not all classes have to involve tests. Sometimes you can just "audit" a course like they do in college. That is how we used the Teaching Company lectures, our favorite supplement for social studies. They are college level lectures on audio or video recording. My kids loved them, and enjoyed being taught as an adult.


Three years of science is expected for college preparation, with at least one of those classes including a lab. We used Apologia Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, which all had a lab component. Each area of science is so different that a child may really hate one but really love the other, so it's helpful to try to expose them to each one. You can also branch out into different subjects: geology, astronomy, etc. Colleges love to see unique courses, so don't be afraid to delve into another area of science if your son or daughter is interested.

Foreign Language

Many colleges require a foreign language for admission, so try to be prepared. If they require a foreign language, they will usually say they want two or three years of a single foreign language. They don't want to see a month long exposure to a lot of languages; they want to see the student become reasonably fluent. The best advice I have about foreign language is to do a little bit every day. A daily 15 minute study period is a much more effective way to study than once a week for an hour. I suggest using a foreign language curriculum that was designed for homeschoolers. That way you aren't expected to already know the language. This is a great strategy to remember for other classes as well. You really don't have to know a subject to teach it “ for goodness sake, just look at our public schools! You only have to find a good curriculum, let the student learn independently, and check on their progress now and then.

Physical Education

Some kids find it very easy to get the required two credits of PE. They get their PE credits from soccer team, summer swim league, or community running clubs. Other kids, however, really balk at physical exercise! Some unique ways to obtain physical education credits are yoga or weight lifting at a YMCA. Your kids could also take CPR or a health course at a community center. Some kids who "hate" PE will love to go swing-dancing, or downhill skiing, and will think it's just fun, not educational. Any physical activity that breaks a sweat counts!

Fine Arts

Colleges like to see some fine arts in the transcript, but they often just suggest they only want one credit. Not being an artistic family, we had to look up "fine arts" in the dictionary. I learned that the fine arts are music, art, theater and dance. Who knew? There is a wide array of opportunities to find those credits. Some choose music or art lessons, but there are also budget-conscious ways to get the credits. My children didn't like hands on projects, so we studied the fine arts through history, using lots of library books. We studied music history by checking out CDs and biographical books on different composers and styles of music.


Colleges like to see a total of 22-24 high school credits or more. Electives are the credits that don't fit under the other categories. Some of the most valuable electives to include are driver's education, typing, logic, and computer skills. These are skills adults need every day. I've found that all adults either have these skills or wish they did! Make sure your student has the time to pursue their passion. A little known secret is that passion IS an elective! The things your student does for fun can be the electives that are included on your homeschool transcript. I have one student that loved chess and studied it for hours each week. One year in high school, we called those hours "critical thinking." The next year, when he began teaching chess classes, we called it "public speaking." The following year he had multiple chess jobs, and we called the course "occupational education." Each year, his passion for chess was an elective. I know students that have specialized in ornithology (birds), fungus, economics, and musicology. Specialization is one of the benefits of homeschooling, so seize this opportunity!