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Do Colleges Prefer Calculus or Statistics?

Getting into college can be hard, but knowing what classes to take and how to properly prepare can make the process easier. Knowing which high school courses are best for your intended college major is also hugely important.

Colleges prefer that you take upper-level mathematics courses, whether that be calculus or statistics. Calculus may help you do better on the ACT or SAT, which colleges look at for admissions; however, statistics may prepare you better for doing academic research once you get accepted into a school.

Read on to learn more about why both calculus and statistics are important for college admissions and why either will prepare you well for college academics.

Calculus vs Statistics: which do colleges prefer?

Why Calculus Is Important for College Admissions

Calculus is a fundamental branch of mathematics that prepares you for numerous different fields of study and careers. Taking calculus is a great way to make sure you’re prepared for college math and science curriculums.

Colleges prefer that you take calculus in high school if you’re planning to major in one of the following fields:

  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Business
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Engineering (general)
  • Natural Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Information Technology

Each of these fields uses calculus in practical applications and theoretical study, so taking a calculus course is important if you plan to pursue one of these fields. 

Colleges also like to see that you’re capable of high-level thinking and problem-solving, and passing a calculus class proves that you can do this.

Do You Need to Take AP Calculus for College?

The College Board recommends taking AP Calculus if you plan to pursue high-level mathematics and related courses. This is an inexpensive way to get college credit for introductory courses. 

However, taking AP Calculus is not necessary for getting into college; it’s helpful, but colleges will accept non-AP courses as proof of aptitude.

Sources: Seattle PI and Forbes

Why Colleges Want You To Know Statistics

One of the primary reasons colleges want students to know statistics is so they can effectively perform academic research. Statistical research is key to nearly every discipline, so learning the basics is essential to practically every field. 

That said, these skills are even more necessary if you’re majoring in a STEM field.

Studying statistics also empowers you to understand academic journals, a resource that’s key to learning in nearly every field. 

Additionally, taking a statistics course in high school allows you to start practicing critical thinking and analysis early on, and these are important skills for most disciplines. Altogether, studying statistics is a great way to introduce yourself to the world of academia, which is why colleges find it so critical to look for in prospective students.

Do You Need to Take AP Statistics for College?

Taking AP Statistics in high school isn’t a requirement, but colleges like it. It will prepare you for numerous different courses, and taking this subject early will give you the credits you need to get ahead. However, not every high school offers AP courses in general or AP statistics specifically.

Completing this course successfully is a bonus for your transcript but not a prerequisite for admission into a college or a STEM program.

Source: Cornell University

Should You Take Calculus or Statistics?

You’ll likely need to take both calculus and statistics at some point if you’re planning to major in a STEM field. Which one to take first really depends on your interest and the likelihood that you’ll stay in your field of choice. 

Statistics is more widely applicable outside the STEM fields, but both provide a good foundational understanding of the world. Either will prepare you well for the ACT or SAT math portion, although some argue that calculus is more effective at doing this. 

If you’re concerned about having adequate math skills to do well on the ACT or SAT, taking calculus would be a good idea.

If you plan to do academic research outside of mathematics, statistics will be key to your learning experience.

Best Math Courses To Take To Prepare for College

Most colleges ask for three or four years of high school math courses, regardless of what you plan to major in once you reach college (source). Calculus is considered a top-tier math course to take for college admissions, although if your school offers statistics, this can also be a good finishing course in mathematics.

Regardless, you should make sure that you at least have the following classes under your belt:

Other High School Courses Required for College Admissions

Colleges look for well-rounded students, and they require knowledge of many different disciplines. The following courses are all commonly required courses for college admissions:

How To Do Well on the SAT or ACT Math Section

One of the best things you can do to prepare for the math section of the ACT or SAT is to take practice tests with example questions from previous tests or official sources. Remember that you’ll be timed, and practice with a running clock.

As you’re taking practice tests, don’t get frustrated if you find yourself making mistakes. Rather, use these mistakes as learning opportunities, and make sure that you thoroughly understand anything with which you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your teacher or other students.

Pay extra attention to any sections of the practice tests that cover content not included in your math courses. It’s possible your class was not comprehensive and that you’ll need to do some independent learning to do well. 

Finally, make sure that as you take the test, you skip questions that you might get stuck on and work through the easier questions first. This decreases the likelihood that you won’t finish. Just make sure that you note the questions you need to return to and come back to them once you’re done with everything you can handle easily.

Final Thoughts

Taking either statistics or calculus in high school looks great on your transcript, and colleges will be impressed with whichever one you take. Choosing the right class between the two really comes down to picking the one that most closely aligns with your future plans. 

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