A-G refers to the high school courses required for entrance to the University of California and the California State University systems. They are so-called because there are seven general subject areas labeled “A” through “G” (see list at end of article). These requirements should not be confused with the courses required by the state of California or individual school districts for high school graduation —requirements are less in some subjects and greater in others.
The California State University (CSU) system requires a minimum of a “C” grade in all A-G courses while the University of California (UC) system requires a 3.0 Grade Point Average in the A-G courses meaning that a “C” grade can be balanced by an “A” grade in another class.
It should be noted that both the number of A-G courses required and the grade standards are the minimum requirements just to apply. Very few “C” average students will be admitted to a CSU school and almost no 3.0 students will get into a UC campus. Likewise, taking the recommended number of math and science requirements about doubles a student’s chances of admission to a UC school compared with just taking the minimum number of courses.
For the most recent year available (2008-2009) about 34% of California high school graduates had taken an A-G course sequence and met the minimum CSU Grade requirement of a “C” in each course. As with most education statistics, there was variation between ethnic groups with 59% of Asian, 23% of Hispanic, 22% of African-American and 40% of White graduates meeting the minimum A-G requirement.
In recent years there has been a push in some districts to make A-G courses the high school graduation requirements. Since a “D” grade in any course is sufficient for passing a course, districts that have done so are only requiring that students “take and pass” an A-G course sequence, not meet the CSU or UC minimum grade requirements.
Other districts are looking toward making A-G the “default” graduation requirements. This means that all students are expected to take the A-G sequence with the student/parent able to opt-out at some point (usually the junior year). The rationale for both of these proposals is that by setting higher expectations, students will rise to the occasion and meet the requirements. Another reason often cited is that if students are not guided by the graduation requirements into the A-G curriculum, they may miss the opportunity to qualify for higher education.
The major differences between most high school graduation requirements and the A-G requirements are in Math and Foreign (World) Languages. Most high schools require two years of Math while A-G requires three years (four recommended—Requirement “C”) and specifically includes Algebra II. A-G requires two years of Foreign Language (three recommended—Requirement “E”) while most high schools require a 2-3 year combination of Foreign Language and/or other electives. High schools often accept science credits from courses other than the Biology/Chemistry/Physics lab courses that A-G expects (Requirement “D”).
In the last decade the number of high school courses accepted for meeting A-G has risen exponentially from hundreds of courses to the thousands, as high schools have submitted their elective programs to the UC for approval. Almost all of these new titles have been in the Visual/Performing Arts section (Requirement “F”) and the College Prep Elective section (Requirement “G”). The effect of having these elective courses approved has often been an upgrading of the rigor and academic content of high school electives so that they are truly college prep.
The UC/CSU A-G Requirements
Required “A-G” Courses
|a l History/Social Science – 2 years required
Two years of history/social science, including one year of world history, cultures and geography; and one year of U.S. history or one-half year of U.S. history and one-half year of civics or American government.
|b l English – 4 years required
Four years of college-preparatory English that include frequent and regular writing, and reading of classic and modern literature. No more than one year of ESL-type courses can be used to meet this requirement.
|c l Mathematics – 3 years required, 4 years recommended
Three years of college-preparatory mathematics that include the topics covered in elementary and advanced algebra and two- and three-dimensional geometry. Approved integrated math courses may be used to fulfill part or all of this requirement, as may math courses taken in the seventh and eighth grades that your high school accepts as equivalent to its own math courses.
|d l Laboratory Science – 2 years required, 3 years recommended
Two years of laboratory science providing fundamental knowledge in at least two of these three foundational subjects: biology, chemistry and physics. Advanced laboratory science classes that have biology, chemistry or physics as prerequisites and offer substantial additional material may be used to fulfill this requirement, as may the final two years of an approved three-year integrated science program that provides rigorous coverage of at least two of the three foundational subjects.
|e l Language Other than English – 2 years required, 3 years recommended
Two years of the same language other than English. Courses should emphasize speaking and understanding, and include instruction in grammar, vocabulary, reading, composition and culture. Courses in languages other than English taken in the seventh and eighth grades may be used to fulfill part of this requirement if your high school accepts them as equivalent to its own courses.
|f l Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) – 1 year required
A single yearlong approved arts course from a single VPA discipline: dance, drama/theater, music or visual art.
|g l College-Preparatory Electives – 1 year required
One year (two semesters), in addition to those required in “a-f” above, chosen from the following areas: visual and performing arts (non-introductory level courses), history, social science, English, advanced mathematics, laboratory science and language other than English (a third year in the language used for the “e” requirement or two years of another language).
Bob Nichols is education manager of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.