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Start Preparing for Your Health Care Career in High School

Take as many math and science courses as you can

Most high school students have one goal in mind: Receiving their diploma. But if you want to pursue a health career, simply meeting graduation requirements may not be enough.

“You need a strong working knowledge of math, science, and English to qualify for most health career training programs.” says Henryne Tobias, Project Director for “I agree with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics national standards for grades 9 through 12 that students need to take four years of math. Four years of science would also strengthen preparation for all types of health careers.”  

Whether you some day plan to go to a community college, a four-year university, or medical school, taking rigorous high school courses now can help you:

  • improve your chances of getting into the school of your choice,
  • expand your health career opportunities, and
  • dramatically increase your future income.

Math, Science, and English: Requirements for Every Health Care Career

Whether you dream of becoming a surgeon, a veterinary assistant, an occupational therapist or a hospital administrator, your health career preparation begins in high school.

Health career training programs at both community colleges and four-year universities expect you to meet certain academic prerequisites.

For almost all health care careers, experts recommend that high school students complete:

  • Two to four years of math, including geometry and algebra II
  • Two to four years of science, including biology, chemistry, and physics
  • Four years of English
  • One to two years of computer science

Unfortunately, most states don’t require high school students to take enough math or English.

“Too often, state high school standards are not anchored in the skills and knowledge employers and colleges now demand,” according to a report by the American Diploma Project. “As a result, students can graduate high school and believe they’ve done well, but they can still find themselves unprepared for work and learning.”

Stand Out Against the Competition

When you apply to any school these days, you’re competing with hundreds of other students for a limited number of spaces.

Taking a challenging “college prep” schedule that includes four years of math, science, and English will help you qualify for most health career education programs. Strong grades and Advanced Placement courses will look even better on your transcript.

“Depending on the [health] profession, different levels of education and training are required,” says Dr. Thomas Elwood, Executive Director of the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions.

“But they all have one feature in common. They need high school graduates to enroll in academic programs who are well prepared in science, mathematics, and English, in addition to having computer skills.”

Waiting Will Cost You

It may be tempting to “blow off” your senior year and take only easy courses as you cruise toward graduation. But if you don’t take math, science, or English all four years, you’ll probably pay for it later.

All colleges – even community colleges – require students to demonstrate basic math and English skills. If you fail to pass required placement tests, you may need to spend extra time – and tuition dollars – to take remedial courses before you can begin earning your degree.

Just ask a student who graduated before you. In a 2005 study, researcher Peter Hart found “74 percent of recent high school graduates surveyed believe that requiring four years of math and science would have better prepared them for life after high school.”

Want a High-paying Job? Do the Math

Need one more reason to take algebra II instead of underwater basket weaving?

A study reported in Harvard’s Review of Economics and Statistics found “Students who take advanced math have higher incomes 10 years after graduating—regardless of family background, grades, [or] college degrees.”

The American Diploma Project also found that strong math and English skills are essential to get a job in any field that offers good pay, benefits, and the opportunity for advancement.

Completing more advanced math courses may be particularly beneficial for minority and low-income students. Achieve, Inc. found that Black and Latino students who take Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn a college degree.

According to Achieve, “The equation is simple: No matter their background, students who take challenging math courses in high school get better jobs and earn more money throughout their entire lives.”

Taking four years of math and science in high school will put you on the path toward more than 150 rewarding health careers.

Learn more about the types of courses you can take in high school that lead to a broad range of health careers.

Prepare for Your Health Career While You’re Still in High School

  • Take four years of math, science, and English – Advanced Placement (AP) classes, if possible.
  • Earn the best grades you can.
  • Visit the websites of schools that interest you for specific guidance on academic prerequisites.
  • Volunteer in a health setting to get hands-on experience.
  • Enter a health-related project in your high school science fair.
  • Participate in a pre-health enrichment program.