Do college-bound homeschoolers really need algebra in high school? And if they do, can anyone explain why? Parents and students ask this all the time. Humorous infographics have even begun circulating suggesting that many years may pass before most people ever need to use algebra at all.

To parents who worry about teaching algebra and calculus at home, and to students who don’t like the subject at all, these are critical questions. What if high schoolers cannot succeed in the high school math courses that everyone says they’re supposed to take? What really happens to high schoolers who don’t have the math skills required for college admissions? Can they still get in? Or, should these students seek certificate options and hope to land careers in areas that do not involve math at all?

This is a touchy subject for some people, but an important one. Those who understand algebra sometimes dismiss it as whining or laziness on the part of the students who struggle. Those who are the ones struggling wonder whey they must demonstrate proficiency in something they’ll probably never be able to understand at all. Though future STEM careers necessarily require math, surely there are many career paths that require little or no math at all — ever. So, why is is fair to require the same courses of all students, even those who plan to pursue non-math options in college anyhow?

These are all good points. But, alas, they make little difference when it comes to taking high school math.

The truth is, college-bound students need the math. Public, private, charter schooled students need it. Homeschoolers need it, too. There’s no way around it.

Below is a list of facts about high school mathematics and college admissions. Like them or not, these represent the status of college admissions today. And while homeschooled graduates are easily accepted into colleges, and though colleges occasionally revise their admissions requirements, these math requirements are not likely to change any time soon.

Fact: Most American colleges require applicants to demonstrate success in high school math from algebra on up. These courses include algebra, geometry, precalculus, calculus, and higher.

Fact: Colleges do not make substitutions (for homeschoolers or any other applicants) when it comes to math requirements. Classes like remedial mathematics, consumer math, business math, Accounting, and Finance may be taken in high school as desired and may offer valuable preparation for life. However, mastery in these practical areas — even with extensive documentation to justify transcript credits – will not result in a waiver or substitution for algebra or other higher level math.

Fact: Admissions officers at traditional colleges seeking traditional applicants assume 3-4 years of high school mathematics completion for basic consideration. Different schools have different eligibility requirements for math — for some, it may be a 2.0 or ‘C’ average in math; for others, it may be an ‘A’ or ‘B’. This is one of many requirements that helps determine which student applications make the first cut and which do not. Students who do not present with the number of required classes and the minimum scores are not considered for admission.

Fact: Most colleges today require students to take college entrance exams (SAT, one or more subject exams, or some combination thereof) as part of the application process. What’s more, some colleges (just one of several examples of colleges that do this HERE) may even require more validation of high school math credits from homeschooled applicants.

Fact: The SAT requires a knowledge of algebra and geometry to pass. Even students with superior scores on the english and writing portions will receive lower overall scores once math scores have been added in to the combined total.

Fact: While there are exceptions (a handful of colleges that do not require test scores) colleges have a minimum passing score for the SAT exams. Students who do not take the exams, or who do not present with the minimum passing scores are not considered for admission.

Fact: Though several new college/un-college experiences are being introduced, these are either relatively new or not yet available for widespread use. They have neither gained acceptance by graduate schools nor the confidence of potential employers, either. It will be many years before students graduating from these programs have proven themselves and the public recognizes alternative college experiences as options to traditional college degrees.

Like it or not, for college-bound homeschoolers, high school math is here to stay. Homeschoolers must find ways to prepare themselves for college admissions by taking the required number of math courses in grades 9-12 and succeeding the very best they can.

Chin up, though. An upcoming article will cover ways to prepare homeschoolers for high school math complete with product solutions for teaching it when other methods have failed. Subscribe to the feed and it’ll arrive directly to your Inbox.

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Internet articles for continued reading:

Is Algebra Necessary? (NY Times)

Why learn math? (Scott H. Young)

Examining how mathematics is used in the workplace (Mathematics Association of America)

Photo: Moreau

Bill says

For not STEM majors, Algebra is just a gateway. Nothing more, nothing less. I can understand the argument that math teaches logic and problem solving, but that is false. It is supposed (when taught properly) but we don’t teach that. We TEACH memorization and reinforce that with repetition. No understanding, no critical thinking, no seeing the underlying logic. I wager that most students good at Algebra would be good without schooling. I say this because they learn most of it on their own or at home with parents and tutors.

Anyways, to my point. It is just a gateway. Why learn Algebra? Because if you don’t you won’t ever get a degree and a great paying job becomes tougher to land. Will you ever in your life need to know how to factor out (X^2 +4) ? No. It will not help you pay your bills, it will not help you refinance anything, it will not help you unless you are specifically asked for the sheer sake of asking, to do that problem out.

Basic Algebra, the “Some number + 25 = 30” is fine. But parabolas and all that only serve the purpose of making a degree harder to obtain and artificially inflating its worth by scarcity. That is all.