Selecting the right subjects in high school (classes 9 to 12) is a crucial decision. The subjects chosen have long-term ramifications including the majors the student can choose to study, and the colleges they can get admitted to. In speaking with thousands of students and parents, we have found that subject selection is stressful and not well understood.
Interestingly, while math may not be an essential requirement for studying certain college courses in India, it is often helpful in the admission tests. On the other hand, students who want to pursue their college studies abroad should understand the subject requirements for various majors (economics, commerce, medicine) to improve their admission prospects for top universities. Here are some guidelines on math requirements in different bachelor’s programmes across the world.
Bachelors’ studies in India
In India, students choose a ‘stream’ or an area of study such as engineering, medicine, arts, law, sciences or commerce in college. Several streams require an entrance exam for college admissions. Most national curricula/boards permit students to choose one of the following options in grade 11, a) science with math, b) science without math, c) commerce, d) economics and e) arts.
While engineering and architecture students are required to have math, for most other students math is optional in grades 11 and 12. However, in our experience, it is usually advantageous for students to opt for math. For example, students choosing commerce or economics are not required to have math, but they will find it useful both in higher studies as well as for admission to their dream university. Similarly, students planning to pursue professional courses like chartered accountancy need to be comfortable with math.
Students appearing for NEET (medical entrance) are required to have physics, chemistry, and biology as subjects. While they are not tested on math, usually students with a strong foundation in math usually perform better on physics as well as physical chemistry.
Similarly, even students that are planning to apply for other entrance tests like CLAT (law), IPMAT (business), NPAT (business, economics, commerce) or CUET (business, commerce, art, science), will have an edge if they have a strong foundation of math.
CBSE now offers applied mathematics which is focused on topics such as algebra, financial mathematics, calculus and probability. This subject is very useful for commerce and economics students.
Bachelors’ studies in the UK
Most universities in the UK do not have entrance tests for undergraduate admissions. The admission decision is primarily based on the academic performance of the student in high school. In general, most UK universities require four years of Math in high school for studying economics, business, computer science, engineering and architecture. This often comes as a surprise to the business and economics students who did not opt for math in grade 11 and 12.
Interestingly, for students planning to study medicine in the UK, the crucial subjects are chemistry and math while biology is optional. As such, it is important to choose your subjects keeping your long-term plans in mind.
Bachelors’ studies in the US
The US universities follow a holistic approach in their admissions. The academic decision places equal emphasis on academic performance as well as extra-curricular activities of the students in high school.
Due to their holistic process, US universities don’t use any single criteria to determine acceptance or rejection. However, Math is important for getting admission to the Ivy Leagues and other top universities. This applies not only to engineering and computer science but also to majors such as economics, biology, and business. Some universities also offer foundation courses in math for undergraduate students to cover topics such as algebra and pre-calculus.
In case a student did not opt for math in grades 11 and 12, they should try to demonstrate their proficiency through strong SAT scores or possibly through the advanced placement exams.
Bachelors’ studies in Canada and Australia
Four years of math during high school is required by top universities in Canada, and Australia. Math is crucial for studying courses like computer science, economics, life sciences, mathematical or physical sciences, and business. Universities in these countries don’t conduct entrance tests for admissions to their undergraduate programmes.
The admission decisions are based primarily on grades, co-curricular activities, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. Some universities offer foundation courses in pre-calculus or algebra to students that have two years of math.
Bachelors’ studies in Singapore
Singapore requires four years of math in high school for undergraduate courses such as computer science, economics, life sciences, physical sciences, architecture, and business. Additionally, Singapore universities also require entrance tests for admissions to certain programmes.
While an overview has been provided here, it’s impossible to cover every scenario. In case of doubts, students should consult an experienced counsellor and map out their overall strategy.