Thinking & Learning

What to Expect from High School Social Studies

Your high schooler will probably spend a year on US History and a year on World History. After that, they’re likely to have options for different electives. Here’s what you can expect them to get out of high school social studies.

If your high schooler only gets one skill out of social studies, it should be the ability to think critically about complex topics. That’s going to serve them well wherever they go and whatever they do after high school. But hopefully their school will offer them quite a bit of variety in terms of history and social studies offerings, and they’ll be able to get a taste of different topics, historical periods, and even social science fields.

Here’s what to look out for:


Most high schools will kick off with a year of US history and a year of world history. Then, your student is likely to have the option to take courses about more narrow historical periods—like, say, US history from WWII to the present—or about other regions of the world, like African or European history. They might also be offered courses on civics or government.


Some schools will offer courses in the social sciences, too. Those might include, for example, sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, or human geography. If your high schooler is interested in pursuing a social science in college, they might want to get a taste of it now if they can. But many high schools won’t offer these courses, so don’t worry if your student doesn’t have choices like those! If your child is interested in a course that isn’t offered at their school, they should check with their guidance counselor about doing coursework at a local community college, which is often an option.


Reading and writing about complex topics is the top goal. Your high schooler should get plenty of practice using primary and secondary sources, citing evidence to construct an argument, and analyzing events from multiple points of view and in historical context.

Bottom line: Does your child need to take four years of social studies in high school? Most schools probably won’t require it. But many colleges will appreciate seeing an advanced placement or honors history or social studies course on an applicant’s transcript, and your high schooler can build a lot of great, applicable skills in these courses, too. So they’re great options for many students, especially if you’re lucky enough to have some passionate history teachers at your school! If your child opts out of further social studies coursework after meeting their school’s graduation requirements, they should consider what they’re filling those credits with instead.

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