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What Are the Different Types of High School Classes?

By Patti Kate
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are many types of high school classes and the selection and content often varies depending on location as well as the specifics of the school at issue. In general, though, high schoolers everywhere take courses in the humanities, which include language arts and history; mathematics; scientific concepts, including both life-based courses like biology and substance-based courses like chemistry; and fine arts, which can encompass things like music, drawing, and theater. Many schools also put an emphasis on foreign languages, and students often have a chance to take what’s known as “electives” — classes that aren’t required but can help a student improve knowledge in a certain area, or refine skills in a certain advanced subject. Physical education and sports is also typically offered. Different schools have different rules when it comes to classes needed to graduate, and universities often have ideas about what incoming students need to have learned before arrival, too. Much of this depends on the individual institutions at issue, though, and can’t really be generalized.

Humanities Courses

Courses in the humanities, sometimes also called the humane letters, usually focus on language arts including literature, history, and social studies. These are sometimes taught with a textbook, but can also be approached by studying individual works like novels, poems, treaties, and other significant historical documents. Class work usually centers on finding common themes and looking for trends over time.

Mathematics and Science

Math and science classes are also an important part of the high school curriculum in most places. Some of the most common mathematics courses include algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; on the science side, it’s typical to see biology, chemistry, and physics offerings. In bigger schools, there are often gradations based on skill level such that there could be a standard class as well as an “advanced” or “honors” section that tackles harder or more complex problems. That's why it's understandable if some people find it overwhelming trying to learn the subject, even when they start from addition to multiplication to more complex topics. But even if it's complicated, there are online tutors out there who can help teach you or your child an easier way of making sense of highly advanced concepts.

Fine Arts

High school classes in the fine arts typically include things like music, which often encompasses choir; drama and theatrics, including things like set design and makeup; and art of many varieties. Sometimes these courses are marked as “elective,” which means that students can choose to take them or not; in many settings, though, there is at least a basic requirement for some credits in the fine arts in order to give students the broadest education possible.

Foreign Language

Many high schools also offer one of more foreign language courses. Sometimes these are required for graduation, and it’s often possible to study more than one language at once — though much of this depends on students’ schedules and other required courses. Courses usually incorporate elements of grammar and vocabulary with more cultural aspects of countries where the language is spoken.

Physical Education

Many, but not all, high schools have some physical education requirements. Sometimes these are bundled in with health courses that teach things like basic hygiene and human sexuality. Many also provide introductions to a variety of sports, both individual and competitive. Schools with physical education requirements will often allow student athletes to waive these requirements if they can prove their participation in extracurricular sports activities.

Electives and School-Specific Requirements

Different schools have different policies when it comes to schedule structuring and course requirements, but it’s often the case that mandatory courses begin to taper off in the higher grades. Certain core subjects are usually always required, but often only to a certain point; math may only be required through trigonometry, for instance, and students may only have to study foreign languages through level 2 or 3. Students in the later grades are usually bound by credit requirements, but frequently have more flexibility when it comes to taking courses that are personally interesting. Someone considering a career in medicine might want to take an advanced chemistry class, for example, whereas a student with an aptitude for languages might choose instead a high-level French or Spanish course. All of these classes can be taught by a tutor too, especially if a child finds them challenging. You shouldn't have any issues hiring one as long as you check tutor credentials thoroughly.

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Discussion Comments
By Rundocuri — On Feb 24, 2014

It's also important that high school students make sure that they do not fall behind on their classes, Heavanet. If they do, online high school courses are often offered to help students stay current in their classes in order to graduate on time.

By Heavanet — On Feb 23, 2014

It seems like there are so many classes available to high school students that it is confusing for them to decide which ones are best for them to take. It is important for students to talk to their teaches, parents, and guidance counselors to understand exactly what they should take to earn their high school diplomas as well as prepare for their future college courses.

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