Social studies all 4 years?

Our son is finalizing a course list for senior year and is weighing AP European History, vs AP Economics vs skipping social studies altogether and substituting a second Physics course. (He s currently taking AP Physics C Mechanics). In social studies he has taken AP USH, AP Gov and World History Honors. He has not decided on a major yet but will not go for humanities or law school. Is there any advantage to either of these options in terms of college admission? Is taking 4 years of social studies considered favorable in the same way as taking 3 years of foreign language might be? Thanks for any input.

As with most answers, it depends on the colleges targeted. In general, very, very few require/request more than 3 years of social studies.

Unless the college requires 4 years of social studies, no. He should take the class that interests him more and/or is more aligned with future goals, although any of these options IMO is fine.

As a parent, I would suggest that he begin to get some idea of the schools he wants to attend and then see what the general admission criteria is for the group. If he is going to be STEM, then the STEM classes may be better, especially if he’s leaning toward a tech type or engineering school. Looks like he has already taken quite a few social study classes and if he is definitely not leaning that way, a science course may be more appropriate. But, the wisest avenue may be to have this conversation with his GC.

I think everyone should have a year of other than US history - preferably world history, but AP Euro per force will include a lot of world history. But if he’s looking at what colleges require most won’t need to see four years. We live in NY so everyone has at least three years - two years of Global and one year of US no matter what. My older son took AP Econ for his fourth year, my younger son took AP Euro. The older son was a STEM kid through and through, but he took a well-rounded high school schedule (which did include all three major science APs, math past AP Calc and AP Comp Sci.) Younger son was a history/IR guy and along with three AP history courses also took two AP science class and AP Calc BC. It wasn’t about getting into college it was about being educated.

Look at the list of recommended/required classes at the schools your S is considering applying to and be sure his schedule meets those standards.

Depends on the college, state, and in some cases, particular HS.

For instance, my public magnet required 4 years of social studies including econ/US govt.

Check with the colleges and your HS/state requirements to be sure.

As someone who tutored several students in that subject and was a history major, I would strongly beg to differ. While you’d be getting some, it’s almost always blinkered by its Eurocentric focus by the very nature of the course.

This was likely a reason they also required Global/World History alongside European history when I attended HS in NYC. While the curriculum for the former was 10 miles wide and half-inch deep, it was better than nothing.

@cobrat, not really disagreeing, but if the choice is AP Euro or no history beyond US history - I’d certainly choose the former. At least in NY they take two years to cover Global History. Imagine - it would only be 1/4" deep if they crammed it into one year. :slight_smile:

Since this kid is already taking AP Physics C, I’d say they’ve had enough physics to satisfy and college desires.

I personally would lean toward European history over another physics course. Toss up on the Economics.
Is one teacher better than the other? That’s what I would look at.

Our current high school doesn’t have any 9th grade social studies requirement. Our former high school offered 4 years of social studies but the last two were an APUSH class that gave the kids credits at a local state university but did not prepare them to actually take an AP test.

Given this variance just in my own experience I don’t think there is any “best” option for college admissions. If your son scored a 5 (or maybe a 4) on APUSH he will satisfy the distribution requirements for some colleges.

It is not like language study in that multiple years doesn’t show “history proficiency or fluency” the same way as with Spanish, French, Japanese or Mandarin.

One final note- so many colleges and universities have amazing Economics faculties, even “superstars” and Nobel winners teaching micro and macro intro classes. I think it is a waste to take Econ in high school.

He sounds like a smart, hardworking kid! I would consider the difficulty of the rest of his course load along with the fact that unless he finishes all applications before his senior year begins, applying to college may be as time-consuming as some of his classes.

If one of his choices is easier (or if he perceives it as so because of interest in the subject), that may be the deciding factor. If he will possibly attend a university where he would get credit or fulfilll distribution requirements with one of those classes, that could also be a consideration.

And all else being equal, as @gouf78 wrote, choose the best teacher.

Look at not only the required but the competitive students’ numbers of units for social studies at colleges he may target. Minimums do not mean getting in- they can eliminate a student from consideration. btw- 4 years of a foreign language is the norm for many HS students- including the middle school years as one.

Any HS level science (or other type) class at the AP level will not be as rigorous as the version at top tier colleges, including public flagship U’s. He is likely to repeat a general physics, chemistry et al course at a top tier school if he chooses a STEM major. The caliber of classes will mean his HS sciences will give him a good background for succeeding in those classes but will not mean skipping any- he would be less prepared for more advanced courses. Taking the AP version of a social science could mean getting college credit and meeting breadth requirements without spending the time in college- freeing up time for more STEM classes.

Check to see if 4 years of social sciences is the norm for applicants at schools of the caliber he may apply to. Remember- he will be competing for admissions with the entire pool of applicants, not just those in his proposed major.

I think some forget how competitive some colleges are, for the admit, and how much they want to see the breadth and depth in academics (and do see it, in the competition.) it’s not just whether the college “recommends” 2, 3, or 4 years.

There’s no easy answer here, as OP’s son took honors WH.

As far as I’m concerned, APUSH and either APEuro or APWH are the biggies. Govt and econ, less so (and many hs do these over one semester, they’re a lighter overview.) If he took H WH as a freshman and his soph/jr sched didn’t allow more humanities than he did get, he may be okay.

So, OP, what sorts of target colleges?

Having the exact same question in our family, even have a similar thread about it. I’ve been asking about this too. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a “right” answer – at least I have not found consensus. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Take what you love and will excel at, and let the chips fall where they may (I learn toward this camp, since you clearly can’t manufacture elite college admission anyway).


  1. Do not deviate from the recommended. As mentioned above, few colleges require 4 units of SS, but many top ones do recommend that. In that case, is a summer class an option?

I agree with thinking about what the applicant competition may have. But in addition to figuring out what the competition has, you should think about who your student is. Will their chances of getting an A in a science class be higher than their chance of getting A in AP social studies?

And does the student want to be himself or be well-rounded and cover all the bases? Sometimes a college application will just scream “math/science nerd” or “history geek” or “artist” or whatever - a student may choose to let their college application show who they really are and let the chips fall where they may. You don’t have to follow the crowd, you just have to understand the possible risks and rewards.

In terms of the risk that a college won’t give AP credit: That does not mean that it is not worth a student’s time. For example, a state flagship may have honors sections of math, chemistry, physics, etc. for students who have already taken the AP version.

I don’t think that there are any right or wrong answers on this. Three years of history, especially if they are at the Honors/AP level will satisfy most schools’ requirements. Likewise, three years of lab sciences that include Biology, Chemistry, and Physics will also satisfy most schools’ requirements. You mentioned foreign languages – how far has DS gone in that realm?

Showing passion (or lack thereof) for particular subjects is not a problem, as long as you have taken rigorous classes in those subjects along the way. My graduating senior is taking two foreign languages and forgoing science this year. It’s not appearing to be a problem for her as she got into her all of her schools so far (including an ivy) and is being considered for top merit scholarships.

Colleges are used to kids who’ve taken five social studies courses and three sciences or five sciences and three social studies and lots of other combinations. Sometimes, the unevenness reflects the student’s preferences. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of scheduling. If AP Economics and AP Physics each have only one section and they meet at the same time, a kid can’t take both, right?


Not trying to be argumentative, but the “2 years of Global History” is really semantics as one of those years is effectively European History for those who didn’t opt in/weren’t eligible to take AP Euro. So in a sense, the actual World History was crammed into one year.

And at least at my public magnet, many classmates who weren’t able to take AP Euro and took sophomore Global History(really non-AP Euro) managed to score 4s and 5s on the AP Euro exam with a review of their notes and a few weeks of self-study/review.

Keep in mind that some high school graduation/state requirements actually mandate a semester of Econ. It’s not necessarily optional in all cases.

Also, as several friends who had some of those Econ and other faculty “superstars” and Nobel winners as Profs at respectable/elite Us…the Profs’ status come from the accolades their research/publications received from academic peers and doesn’t necessarily mean they were good instructors at the undergrad level…or even interested in their undergrads.

This isn’t necessarily to single out faculty superstars/Nobel Winners as a group…just that their proficiency/interest in being good undergrad Profs are as variable as other Profs…especially at Research I universities where research/publications are prioritized when it comes for evaluations for tenure and promotions.

Maybe for you Cobrat. My kid did AP World for his second year of the Global requirement and I did not have the impression that they were doing mostly European history, though obviously it’s part of the world. Your experience in the 90s is not necessarily how it’s being done today.

It doesn’t look like all Euro to me when I look at the curriculum on line - it’s all downloadable pdfs if you really care.

NYS has a US gov and an econ requirement (one semester of each), my youngest passed a test to get out of it - he did take economics in college. Oldest son took AP Econ and they covered the US gov stuff in the same class.

BTW, I do think there’s something to be said for just picking the best teacher.

Thanks for the informative responses. After going through some target college admission profiles, it does seem that a few recommend but not require 4 years of social sciences. One college, in particular, prefers social studies courses with a good essay component.

@May999 I wish you the best with this decision. This discussion was interesting to me because my D may actually graduate with only two years of social studies. She got a waiver from her high school but it won’t help with college admissions. She goes to a private school with religion requirements and takes music as part of her schedule. The only way she could have fit in more history was if she skipped lunch, which wasn’t possible because she is hypoglycemic and a fainter. Alas.

She could double up next year with social studies since she’s maxed out her foreign language and will potentially have room, but I think that would make her miserable.