Why Take High School Mathematics?

A good foundation in mathematics in high school can be your passport to a challenging, high-paying job that provides personal satisfaction. Four years of mathematics, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, are essential for entry into the standard freshman calculus courses required for undergraduate majors in engineering, science, business administration, and computer science. Even the social sciences and the humanities are making use of mathematics, statistics, and computer techniques; high school mathematics will increase your understanding of such techniques.

Admission to college requires the ACT, an aptitude test administered by the American College Testing Service, or the SAT, the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Both tests include questions on high school algebra and geometry. Furthermore, a passing grade on national admissions tests to dental, medical, or veterinary schools requires a strong background in high school mathematics and college calculus; the law school admissions test requires high school mathematics.

Unfortunately, every year students graduate from high school without having these subjects. Algebra and geometry, in particular, should be taken by all high school students, whether or not they plan to attend a four-year college or university. These subjects are required even for traditional careers (such as nursing, physical therapy, and art) and for entry into technical vocational programs that do not require a college degree (such as electronics, laboratory technology, and paramedical careers).

You may be tempted to avoid courses considered difficult such as algebra and geometry and, instead, take easier mathematics courses. However, if you have not had these more difficult subjects, you will be undereducated for today's job market; doors will be closed to many jobs you might otherwise obtain. A student who earns a C in algebra or geometry will have more career options than a student who earns A's in easier mathematics courses. In high school mathematics, you learn how to express relationships between different quantities by using mathematical equations. More importantly, you learn to reason logically; such a skill is useful regardless of whether you ever see an equation after you graduate.

However, suppose the particular career you choose does not require high school mathematics. Like many high school students, you may be sure that you already know what career you want to pursue. Nevertheless, you will find, as many before you have found, that your life goals can change. If you take sufficient mathematics in high school, you can more easily attain your new goals.

It is possible to make up the high school mathematics you have missed. However, this may delay you in getting started in your major if you do decide to go to college, and remedial mathematics courses may not count towards your degree. Furthermore, math will seem much harder after you have been away from it for a few years, and your remedial college mathematics courses will be much faster-paced than high school courses.

Mary Ann Sweeney, Physicist (1984)
Member Technical Staff
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, NM