How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate High School? Mapping a Path to Success

Posted on October 09 2020

A high school student studies in the school library.

Taking the leap from middle school to high school, signing up for classes, and deciding on a course track doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can take this challenge in stride by getting the answers to questions like, “How many credits are required to graduate high school?” and “Do you need to take all your courses at your high school?” 

Graduation Requirements

States dictate their own high school curriculum and graduation requirements, but there’s a set of learning standards that 48 states have adopted to increase student achievement. The Common Core State Standards provide consistent learning goals to help you prepare for college, your career, and life in general. Each state uses these standards to create a unique curriculum with the same national learning goals.

The Common Core sets the standards for your education, but each state differs on the specific amount of credits you need to graduate. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 22 credits is the median number of credits needed for graduation across the United States. This number changes by state and, in some states, by district. If you aren’t sure how many credits your school requires, you can ask your counselor or check the NCES website.  

High School Graduation Map 

Specific graduation requirements vary, like credits, but you’ll follow a general path to graduation. You’ll take English, math, history, and science classes, as well as electives such as foreign language and art classes. The following sections contain a general map of subjects, how many classes you take in each, and when you typically enroll in the specific classes.


You’ll take English classes all four years of high school. During the freshman and sophomore years, the curriculum emphasizes writing development and reading skills, according to PrepScholar. You’ll learn American literature during your junior year, and you’ll further develop your writing skills. During your senior year, you’ll study English through electives like creative writing and British literature. Colleges expect all high school graduates to complete a four-year English education.


Schools require a minimum of three years of math to graduate. However, you can continue learning the subject through your senior year. According to PrepScholar, the course order is algebra I, geometry, algebra II/trigonometry, precalculus, and calculus. Some students complete algebra I in middle school, and then begin with geometry in their freshman year. If you aspire to major in a STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math math — field in college, four years of math is often recommended.


All states require biology and chemistry to graduate high school, according to PrepScholar. In some states, a third year of physics or earth science can also be required. During your senior year, you can elect to take an additional course in astronomy, environmental science, or human biology. 

Social Studies             

An introductory social studies course, world history, and U.S. history are required to graduate. You can choose to further your knowledge by taking an elective such as U.S. government. This is an ideal path if you intend to major in areas like political science or history.

Foreign Language             

The foreign language requirement differs by state. Often, colleges require one to two years of a foreign language to enroll, according to PrepScholar. Required foreign language credits must all be in the same language, such as Spanish or French, but you can also take courses in an additional foreign language, although these would count as elective credits.

Physical Education

Physical education credit requirements vary widely by school. Some require one year; others require four. However, in many cases, a physical education requirement can be waived if you participate in a school sport, according to PrepScholar.


Electives aren’t a part of the core curriculum, but they’re still necessary to graduate. High schools require a certain number of credits for a student to graduate, some of which must be completed through electives. These classes allow you to pursue other passions, like choir, theater, woodworking, and art, or to expand on a favorite subject, like English. 

Online High School

Online high school is a great option if you want to complete graduation requirements in a flexible way. You can take classes on your own time, and you can choose ones that align with your personal and professional goals. Online schools offer more class options that can cater to your interests — like taking Latin instead of Spanish. 

Some students choose to take all of their classes online, while others take a handful of online courses while still enrolled in their local high school. Taking online high school classes can help you graduate high school early or explore classes your school doesn’t offer. If you have a career goal in mind, you can sign up for classes not offered by your high school that will help you pursue your passion after graduation. However, it’s important for you to check with your high school guidance counselor before signing up for an online class. Your counselor can double-check whether the credits from an online program will transfer, and can also help you understand how many credits you need to graduate.

Pursue High School Graduation with The American Academy

The American Academy’s student program for individual courses allow you to graduate early, catch up if you’re behind, pursue passions outside of your high school’s curriculum, and have the flexibility you need. Remember to check with your school’s guidance counselor before enrolling to make sure your course credits will be accepted. The program is accredited, which means it has gone through rigorous reviews and provides the same level of education as a traditional high school. Classes start every business day, so you don’t need to wait to expand your education on your own terms.

Recommended Readings

How to Graduate High School Early
How to Switch from Traditional Public School to Online School: Tips for a Successful Transition
Now You’re an Online Learner, What to Do With Your ‘Extra’ Time



Common Core State Standards Initiative, Development Process

Common Core State Standards Initiative, Read the Standards

National Center for Education Statistics, State Course Credit Requirements for High School Graduation, by State: 2018

PrepScholar, “Is Online High School Right for You? 3 Steps to Deciding”

PrepScholar, “What’s the Standard High School Curriculum You Should Take?”