Which math course should I take if majoring in neuroscience for college?

I am a rising senior in high school and I need a math course to complete for my senior year. I am planning on majoring in neuroscience for college plus a minor in psychology. Which math course will be the most appropriate for my intended major and math course that will look good on competitive college applications: College Algebra (dual enrollment), AP Stats, or AP Calc AB?

What level of Math did you complete for Junior year?
Have you checked into the Neuroscience curriculum’s of your target schools and what Math courses are required?

If you have the pre-requisite, take AB Calc.

At competitive colleges they are looking for students that have challenged themselves. So AP Calculus.

What Duke says on their admissions website is typical of how competitive colleges see it:

Yes, this is a no-brainer, (unless your HS also offers Calc BC – then take that!)

If you are planning to be a STEM major in college I would strongly recommend taking calculus in HS based on my S’s experience. See below:

My S did not take calculus in HS. When he started calculus first semester freshman year he was surprised to find that he was one of (I think) three people in a class of 40 who had not taken calc in HS (As a point of reference he went to a college ranked between 50 - 100). So while calculus was review for over 90% of the class the material was all new to him. He spent a ton of time at the math center, at office hours etc. to keep up. He got through the class but it was a difficult way to start college. FWIW he also took two semesters of statistics in college with no HS background and had no problems.

I made sure my younger D had calculus in college.

What was your previous math course?

If you have completed precalculus, then calculus is the best option generally.

If your last math course was algebra 2 (or integrated math 3), then precalculus is the best option generally, since you may need to take calculus in college.

The only neuroscience graduate that I know took both calculus and statistics as a university student. They did very well in both classes. I think that they might have had calc AB as a high school student, and continued from there in university.

The minimum math that I think that you need is to complete all of the prerequisites that are needed prior to calculus. You should at least be ready to show up as a freshman at university ready to do very well in calculus. While your post does not say what you have already taken, it sounds like you have probably already done this.

I would take some math senior year because you do not want to get “rusty”. Either calculus or statistics seems like a good choice.

I will admit that I am not quite sure what college algebra is. I just googled it and found “… basic algebraic operations; linear and quadratic equations, inequalities, and graphs; algebraic, exponential, and logarithmic functions; and miscellaneous other topics”. This is stuff that you do want to know very well and would probably also be a good choice.

For whatever reason, lower level math courses are named differently in college than in high school.


High school     College
Algebra 1       Elementary Algebra
Geometry        Plane Geometry
Algebra 2       Intermediate Algebra
Precalculus     College Algebra + Trigonometry (often separate courses)
                or Precalculus

A student who has completed precalculus in high school should not need to take college algebra, unless the student did not remember the content or the high school precalculus course was of poor quality (either could result in doing poorly on a college’s math placement test).

For a student who needs to take college algebra, taking this course without trigonometry may prepare the student for calculus for business majors (which covers less material at lower difficulty than regular calculus).

I have completed Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Pre-calc. My target school only requires Statistics for the math component of it. However, other colleges that I am planning on applying to require Calculus for the math component.

Another vote for AP Calc AB

You can take calculus AB now. If you go to a college that does not require calculus but does require statistics, you will have the option of taking calculus-based statistics, where knowing calculus may be helpful in understanding things like probability distributions and probability density.

I majored in psychology in undergrad - I recommend Calculus AB. You’ll have to take (non-calc) stats for your psychology minor anyway, and some neuroscience programs do require calculus. And, as ucbalumnus states, having taken calculus prepares you for calculus-based stats, which allows you to do higher-level analysis.

I took undergraduate calculus II at Columbia when I was a graduate student (because I wanted to concentrate in statistical methods) and I had a VERY similar experience as happy1’s son. Most of the kids in calculus sequence at Columbia (especially the math majors) had already taken AP Calculus AB and a significant chunk had taken AP Calculus BC as well. This is generally the trend, and the professors expect this, so the professor treated the class more as review and went at breakneck speed.

I, too, had to spend a ton of time with a math tutor (thankfully, my husband majored in statistics, so this was him :D) and a lot of time doing homework to do even reasonably well in the class. (I took it pass/fail so I don’t know what grade I got, but I bet it would’ve been a C! However, the caveat here is that there was a space of about 3-4 years between when I took Calc AB and calc II…so that probably contributed!)