The Right Courses-“A-G” curriculum

Only 36% of all California high school graduating seniors enrolled in public schools successfully completed the “A-G” curriculum to make them minimally eligible for the University of California (UC) or the California State University (CSU) system. So here we’ll look at the right courses-“A-G” curriculum.

The number of graduating African-American and Latino seniors who completed the required courses for UC/CSU entrance (26% and 23% respectively), however, are dramatically lower than the number of White graduating students (41%) who fulfilled these requirements. This article, the second in this series, captures the words and experiences of under-represented students regarding enrollment in the “right courses” as a means of accessing college.

Using the work of Tony Collatos, this series of articles presents a framework for college preparation that includes completion of the “right courses” as one of its 5 principles. According to Collatos, the “right courses” are two-fold: 1) courses that enable the student to be minimally eligible for the UC/CSU, and 2) courses that enable the student to be competitively eligible. Knowledge of and access to both types of courses is critical.

The first types of courses are referred to as the “A-G” curriculum. The “A-G” courses are required for both CSU and UC admission. The “A-G” requirement for UC/CSU admission consists of a sequence of high school courses students must complete being minimally eligible for admission. The “A-G” requirements can be summarized as follows:

A – History/Social Science – 2 years required
B – English – 4 years of college preparatory English required
C – Mathematics – 3 years of college preparatory mathematics required
D – Laboratory Science – 2 years of laboratory science required
E – Language other than English – 2 years of the same language other than English required
F – Visual and Performing Arts – 1 year required
G – College Preparatory Electives – 1 year in addition to those required above in any of the “a-f” areas.

Students must take 15 units (year-long courses) to fulfill the subject requirements. Seven units must be taken in the last two years of high school.

It is critical that students and parents talk to school personnel (i.e., college advisors, counselors) and make sure that they are enrolled in courses that fulfill the “A-G” requirements. Not all math courses, for example, offered at most public high schools fulfill the 3-year mathematics requirement. In the areas of mathematics and English, these courses must be recognized as “college prep.” Students are especially cautioned to make sure that their science course counts as a lab science.

Students are encouraged to take biology, chemistry, and physics as lab sciences; however, it is not uncommon to see courses using similar titles which do not count for “A-G” credit or meet the lab requirement. High schools maintain a list of approved “A-G” courses, and students should verify that the courses they are enrolled in are on that list. Students may search for a high school certified “A-G” course list by going to and using the search page. Additional information regarding these requirements can be sought via various college websites, such as:

Knowledge of these courses is necessary so that students can become advocates for themselves and/or enlist the assistance of others to ensure access to these courses. Students participating in a college access/intervention program were asked about their knowledge of the “right courses” during their sophomore year of high school. Their responses to these questions demonstrate their acquired awareness of the requirements for college admittance as well as routes for remediation when difficulties arose.

I know when I’m getting them [required courses for college]. I hear horrible things about my counselor, but I don’t think she [gives me classes that don’t meet college requirements] because I am always asking “why do I have this class?” “What kind of class is this?” She [makes course changes] for me more than for other people. I don’t know [why]. She’s seen my mom. She’s met my mom and she knows how important it is.

Another student shared a similar experience. This student also benefited from her family’s involvement in her high school education. In addition, this student made the important decision to repeat a science course after failing to earn a grade necessary for UC/CSU admittance. (“D” and “F” grades in the “A-G” courses must be repeated or validated for UC/CSU admittance.)

I just had a meeting with my counselor and my mom to schedule for next year and the year after. [My Mom doesn’t always come], but now that she’s been coming to those [parent] meetings, she’s gotten involved… My schedule’s totally different now: I don’t have Spanish right now, Spanish 2B I’m taking in the summer, and Biology B I’m taking in the summer. I’m taking Biology A over.

The experiences of both students, (both went on to 4-year colleges), make clear that student awareness of these requirements is critical. Further, both students found assistance from an advocate, in these cases, a parent to assist in ensuring access to the minimal requirements.

Meeting the minimum requirements may be insufficient for admission to some public colleges and universities. While the “A-G” curriculum makes a student eligible for the UC system, it does not assure admittance to the student’s campus of choice. In addition to the “A-G” curriculum, the “right courses” also include successful completion of advanced courses required to become “competitively eligible” for the most selective UC campuses.

Advanced study opportunities such as those provided by the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) programs are central to k-12 students’ ability to prepare for college nationally, particularly in California. Students who complete AP and/or honors courses earn “extra” grade points that raise their grade point averages. In order to be “competitively eligible” students must earn these additional grade points for admission. For example, the average admitted applicant to UCLA for Fall 2011 had a GPA of 4.22, and 18 semesters of honors/AP course work completed between 10th and 12th grade.

Unfortunately, some of California’s public high schools do not offer honors and/or AP courses in sufficient numbers to allow their students to compete on an even playing field for slots at the most competitive UC campuses. Students and parents need to investigate existing opportunities to enroll in AP courses and/or honors courses at their high school so that students may earn these extra grade points. In addition to the extra points, enrollment in AP/honors courses strengthens a students’ college application by demonstrating a students’ strong academic ability, and his/her commitment to academics.

During their senior year in high school we asked students involved in the “College Access Program,” to reflect upon enrolling in the “right courses” as a means of getting to college:

I was involved in honors classes from the beginning, but Futures kind of got me into the work. At first, I was kind of forced into it. My teacher in ninth grade suggested I should do it, I didn’t really want to do it, but at the end, I was kind of persuaded to be in honors. After being in Futures, it gave me a different perspective on that. I need it for college, and I didn’t know that it had that big of an impact on getting into schools. And, after I sent in my [college] application and got my acceptance back, I actually realized what a big impact it is.

At the same time, students pointed out the difficulties in gaining access to these courses and the hardships they encountered once enrolled.

Students need more information on how to get in to [college]. What the steps are and AP classes…I think a lot of students are lacking information, and that information is the turning point for student success. If the student doesn’t hear this is what you need to do to take care of business, this is the path that you need to take, that there are certain tracks you need to be on to lead to success, one leads to a not-so-great success. It wasn’t really equal, not everyone had that opportunity to get that information to succeed, to go to college, because of the information, the lack of information.

I got into honors English and a month later I got out. There was one African American, that I remember, a male. And it was me and this other Latina, and the rest were like Persian or White or Asian, and everyone knew each other. It’s not just that [I didn’t know anybody]. But it was… I felt distant from everyone else, I felt like, not an outsider, but different. I think it would have been easier if I knew people because then I could have asked them for help and felt more at ease. I could have felt more confident in myself. If they can do it, you know, I can do it too… I want to get honors. I’m trying to get honors classes because that’s what they [colleges] look for too. But I’m scared…

The experiences and voices of these students indicate that students need information about the “right courses” to enable them to make informed decisions regarding college preparation. Their experiences demonstrate that students benefit greatly from an advocate who might ensure access to these courses or “suggest” the courses that would guarantee both minimal and competitive eligibility. The experiences of these students point to the need to make certain all students have access to the “right courses,” and that these learning environments allow all students to flourish.

I guess it [College Access Program] prepared me for college in a way that motivated me. I was able to see that there weren’t a lot of kids in the AP classes, like students of color and there were more obstacles for us in high school that we had to go through to get to college.