How Many Years of Social Studies Do You Need?

Learn Social Studies Requirements for College Admissions

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Choosing the high school courses that will best prepare you for success in college can be a difficult process, and social studies, though an important subject for a strong college application, is easily overlooked, particularly if you aren't planning to enter a liberal arts program. Requirements for high school preparation in social studies vary significantly among different colleges and universities, and the term 'social studies' can mean something different to different schools.

Most competitive colleges recommend at least two to three years of high school social studies, which generally includes history as well as courses in government or civics. Here are some specific recommendations for high school social studies coursework from several different institutions:

  • Pomona College: "The strongest applicants to the College take the most rigorous high school curriculum offered to them by their individual school ... It is strongly recommended that applicants complete a minimum of ... two years of study in ... social sciences (three years recommended)." https://www.pomona.edu/admissions/apply
  • UCLA: "Two years of history/social science including one year of world history, cultures and geography; and or one year U.S. history or one half year U.S. history and one half year of civics or American government." http://www.admission.ucla.edu/prospect/adm_fr/fracadrq.htm
  • Williams College: "Applicants to Williams should pursue the strongest program of study offered by their secondary schools. While there are no absolute requirements for admission, competitive candidates typically study...social studies in four-year sequences and present a distinguished record throughout their secondary school career." http://admission.williams.edu/apply/

Of course, it's important to remember that colleges look more favorably upon applicants who have done more than meet the minimum requirements. College admissions officers are looking for students who have challenged themselves throughout high school, taking on advanced coursework in multiple subjects. As social studies is an area in which most schools only require two or three years of study, this may be an opportunity to present yourself as a well-rounded and dedicated student, particularly if you are applying for a program in history, civics, or any of the liberal arts.

The chart below lists social studies requirements and recommendations from a range of selective colleges and universities.

SchoolSocial Studies Requirement
Auburn University3 years required
Carleton College2 years required, 3 or more years recommended
Centre College2 years recommended
Georgia Tech3 years required
Harvard University2-3 years recommended (American, European, one additional advanced)
MIT2 years required
NYU3-4 years required
Pomona College2 years required, 3 years recommended
Smith College2 years required
Stanford University3 or more years recommended (should include essay writing)
UCLA2 years required (1 year world, 1 year US or 1/2 year US+1/2 year civics or government)
University of Illinois2 years required, 4 years recommended
University of Michigan3 years required; 2 years for engineering/nursing
Williams College3 years recommended
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Cody, Eileen. "How Many Years of Social Studies Do You Need?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/years-of-social-studies-needed-788863. Cody, Eileen. (2017, February 9). How Many Years of Social Studies Do You Need? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/years-of-social-studies-needed-788863 Cody, Eileen. "How Many Years of Social Studies Do You Need?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/years-of-social-studies-needed-788863 (accessed May 22, 2018).