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Navigating the High School Math Maze

Math is confusing enough without having to deal with lots extra choices. But if you’re a highschooler, there are choices galore. IB, AP Calc, regular Calc, Precalc, Algebra II with Trig, Algebra with Honors, Math Analysis… it all starts to sound like some strange underworld maze that probably has a Minotaur waiting at the end of it.

To make it worse, a lot of these courses vary by school—and even by textbook. Your best bet is to talk to your school’s academic counselor to find out which track is right for you. But here are a few things to think about.

Are you planning on a technical or scientific career?

If you’re hoping to be an engineer or a scientist one day, there’s no way around it: you will have to learn calculus, one way or another. If you know that is your goal, start preparing early. Your school probably has a math track that will get you ready for AP or IB Calculus in your senior year. To do that, you’ll need to finish Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II with Trigonometry (sometimes called precalculus) before your senior year, and tougher courses like Honors and AP are a big plus when it comes to being ready for college.

If, on the other hand, you’re leaning towards art, music, or the humanities (English, literature, language, etc.), you should be able to fulfil your graduation requirements for math without taking calculus. In that case, you should look for classes that are more general, not honors, and end with Algebra II.

It’s also worth checking with some of the colleges you’re considering to find out what their requirements are, as most schools have their own system.

PreCalculus vs. Math Analysis

Some schools also offer something called Math Analysis, which can be a more intense version of precalculus and prepare you for a more advanced calculus course, like the AP version. In other schools, this course is actually the less intense one, so be sure to check!


If you started with the more intense class for your grade and decided that higher math just isn’t for you, talk with your teachers and academic counselors about switching tracks. It’s not worth sacrificing your grades—and maybe even your grades in other classes—struggling through a more intense math class if you’re planning on studying the humanities in college.

However, if your grades are OK, consider staying in your track. Knowledge is never wasted, and having a little extra math up your sleeve can make the foundational math and science courses in college a breeze! It’s worth a little extra effort now when you have more support.

On the other hand, if you ended up in classes on the less-intensive track and want to switch, it’s probably not too late for that, either. Talk with your teachers and counselors to figure out what topics you may have missed and make a plan to catch up. If you’re interested in science or another technically-demanding field, go for it!

But why do I need math in the first place?!

Math is rarely anybody’s favorite subject, but remember it lays the foundation for many important careers and unlocks some of the most basic secrets about how the world works. Believe it or not, some people actually study math because they think it’s as beautiful as art or music. If you give it the time and space it needs—and make sure you have the resources you need—it can be your passport to an amazing, completely Minotaur-free future.

Online Resources

[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””] There are plenty of resources online, including our courses in Algebra and Precalc, to help you get where you want to be, even if you have to relearn some of the things you missed.[/box]


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