It may be difficult to believe or accept, but even though it’s not quite October yet it’s not too soon for the parents of 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th graders to be thinking about what courses their students should be taking next year.
I believe that high school should equip every college-bound student for college majors in engineering, science, health professions and computing – just in case that student decides to choose one of these careers.
What does it take for a high school student to prepare properly for college majors in those fields?
It should be no surprise that the American Society for Engineering Education says that high school students should take chemistry, physics and precalculus – and preferably calculus – to be prepared for a college major in engineering.
And as for computer science: Many bachelor’s degree programs in computer science require two semesters of physics (although FSU’s gives the option of taking biology and chemistry instead).
But what about health professions? What if a high school student is thinking about a career as a physician, dentist or physical therapist? Take a look at the admissions requirements for FSU’s College of Medicine – the courses students must take as undergraduates to be eligible for admission to medical school. They include two semesters of physics and lots of scary chemistry, as well as two college level math classes. Traditionally, pre-med students have taken at least one semester of calculus and one semester of statistics. Students who want to major in the more rigorous pre-med majors, including biochemistry and biomedical engineering, will have more extensive math requirements.
So what does this have to do with high school? Students who take chemistry, physics and upper level math courses in high school are much better prepared for the rigors of a pre-medical undergraduate experience than those who don’t and are more likely to be successful in their college classes. And remember – everything a student does as an undergraduate ends up in the medical school application. Do you really want an aspiring medical student to see physics for the first time in a college physics class (or chemistry for the first time in a college chemistry class), with the result going straight onto the medical school application? I can tell you from experience that this is a very bad idea, and there is research by Phil Sadler and Robert Tai to back me up on this. In fact, Sadler and Tai also highlight the importance of taking a calculus class in high school: Not only is high school calculus correlated with success in college math classes, but it is also correlated with success in college science classes.
How about dental school? The science requirements are the same – two semesters of physics and lots of chemistry (see the University of Florida admissions requirements here). Physical therapy? Once again, the same.
So…every high school teacher who genuinely cares about a student’s future in the health professions will advise the student to take chemistry, physics, precalculus and preferably calculus in high school. Anybody who says otherwise is leading the student astray.