If you’re a high school student or parent wondering whether trigonometry is a required course, you’re not alone. Trigonometry, with its focus on triangles and trigonometric functions like sine, cosine, and tangent, has a reputation for being challenging. So is it a class you can avoid taking?

Let’s take a detailed look at trigonometry requirements in high schools across the United States.

The quick answer is that trigonometry is usually not an explicitly required course in most U.S. high school curriculums. However, some advanced math and science classes that are required for graduation or college admissions do involve trigonometric concepts.

So taking a dedicated trigonometry course can be very helpful for students aiming for selective colleges or STEM-focused careers.

Typical High School Math Course Progression

High school math courses are designed to gradually build upon the knowledge and skills acquired in previous years. The typical math course progression in high school includes:

Algebra I

Algebra I is often the first math course taken in high school. It focuses on foundational algebraic concepts such as equations, inequalities, functions, and graphing. Students learn how to solve linear and quadratic equations and work with variables.


After completing Algebra I, students usually move on to Geometry. This course introduces students to the study of shapes, angles, lines, and planes. They learn geometric theorems, proofs, and how to calculate areas and volumes.

Algebra II

Algebra II builds upon the concepts learned in Algebra I. Students delve deeper into topics like functions, polynomials, rational expressions, and logarithms. They also learn about complex numbers and quadratic equations.


Pre-Calculus is a comprehensive course that prepares students for advanced math. It covers topics such as trigonometry, exponential and logarithmic functions, matrices, sequences, and series. Pre-Calculus provides a strong foundation for higher-level math courses.


Trigonometry is a branch of mathematics that focuses on the relationships between angles and sides of triangles. It is often taught as a separate course or as part of a Pre-Calculus curriculum. Trigonometry is essential for a variety of fields, including physics, engineering, and navigation.


Calculus is an advanced math course that involves the study of change and motion. It is divided into two main branches: differential calculus and integral calculus. Calculus is used in fields such as physics, engineering, economics, and computer science.


Statistics is the branch of mathematics that deals with the collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation, and organization of data. It involves concepts such as probability, sampling, hypothesis testing, and data visualization.

Statistics is used in various fields, including business, social sciences, and healthcare.

How Trigonometry Fits In

Trigonometry is an essential branch of mathematics that plays a significant role in high school education. It builds upon concepts learned in geometry and prepares students for more advanced mathematical courses like pre-calculus and calculus.

Let’s delve deeper into how trigonometry fits into the high school curriculum.

Trigonometry builds on concepts from geometry

Trigonometry is closely intertwined with geometry, as it involves the study of angles and relationships between sides and angles in triangles. In fact, trigonometry can be seen as an extension of geometry, where students explore the measurement of angles and the properties of triangles in more detail.

By understanding trigonometric functions such as sine, cosine, and tangent, students can solve complex problems involving angles and distances.

According to Math is Fun, trigonometry is like a toolbox that provides students with a set of mathematical tools to solve real-world problems. Whether it’s calculating the height of a building using the angle of elevation or determining the distance between two points using trigonometric ratios, trigonometry equips students with practical skills that they can apply in various fields, including engineering, physics, and architecture.

Trigonometry prepares students for pre-calculus and calculus

Another reason why trigonometry is a crucial part of the high school curriculum is that it serves as a foundation for pre-calculus and calculus. These advanced math courses heavily rely on trigonometric concepts and functions.

By mastering trigonometry in high school, students are better prepared to tackle the more complex mathematical concepts they will encounter in college and beyond.

Trigonometry is particularly useful in calculus when it comes to solving problems involving rates of change, motion, and periodic functions. Understanding trigonometric identities and their applications allows students to analyze the behavior of functions and solve more sophisticated mathematical equations.

Some states require 3-4 years of math, but don’t specify courses

While the importance of trigonometry in the high school curriculum cannot be underestimated, it’s important to note that specific course requirements may vary from state to state. Some states mandate a certain number of years of math education, typically ranging from three to four years.

However, they do not explicitly specify which courses students must take.

The lack of explicit requirements regarding trigonometry does not diminish its significance. Many high schools offer trigonometry as an elective or as part of a broader pre-calculus course. Even if it is not a compulsory subject, students who choose to study trigonometry gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and enhance their problem-solving skills.

When Trigonometry May Be Required or Strongly Recommended

For advanced math and science courses

In high school, trigonometry is often a prerequisite for advanced math and science courses. These courses, such as calculus, physics, and engineering, build upon the concepts learned in trigonometry. Understanding trigonometry is crucial for solving complex mathematical problems and analyzing various scientific phenomena.

Students who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields or those who have a strong affinity for math and science may find themselves taking these advanced courses, where a solid foundation in trigonometry is essential.

For college admissions, especially in STEM fields

Trigonometry is highly valued in college admissions, particularly for students planning to major in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Colleges and universities consider a student’s math background when evaluating their applications.

Having a strong foundation in trigonometry demonstrates a student’s ability to handle advanced mathematical concepts and problem-solving skills. Admission to competitive programs in STEM fields often requires a strong background in math, including trigonometry.

For high-achieving students and selective colleges

Trigonometry may be required or strongly recommended for high-achieving students aiming for selective colleges. Selective colleges often have rigorous admission requirements and look for students who have challenged themselves academically.

Taking trigonometry shows a willingness to go above and beyond the standard math curriculum, which can make a student’s application stand out. Additionally, some colleges offer advanced math courses that delve deeper into trigonometry and other mathematical concepts, providing an opportunity for students to further explore their interests in the subject.

Alternatives If Trigonometry Isn’t Offered or Required

Take pre-calculus after algebra 2

If your high school doesn’t offer a separate trigonometry course, one alternative is to take pre-calculus after completing algebra 2. Pre-calculus is a comprehensive course that covers topics such as functions, algebra, and trigonometry.

While it may not delve as deeply into trigonometry as a standalone course, it will still provide a solid foundation for more advanced math courses in college. It’s a great option for students who want to continue their math education beyond high school.

Self-study trigonometry

If trigonometry isn’t offered or required at your high school, you can still learn it on your own through self-study. There are plenty of resources available online, including textbooks, video tutorials, and interactive websites.

You can also join online forums or study groups to connect with other self-learners and ask questions. While self-studying may require more discipline and motivation, it can be a rewarding experience and allow you to learn at your own pace.

Online course

Another alternative is to take an online trigonometry course. Many reputable online platforms offer comprehensive math courses, including trigonometry. These courses are often self-paced, allowing you to study at your convenience.

They typically include video lessons, practice problems, and quizzes to test your understanding. Online courses can be a great option for students who prefer a structured learning environment or need additional guidance from an instructor.

Websites like Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) and Coursera (www.coursera.org) offer a wide range of math courses, including trigonometry.

Remember, even if trigonometry isn’t offered or required in high school, it is still a valuable subject to learn, especially if you plan to pursue a career in science, engineering, or mathematics. Exploring these alternatives will help you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in these fields.

Key Takeaways

Trigonometry is not universally required in U.S. high schools

Unlike core subjects such as math, English, and science, trigonometry is not universally required in U.S. high schools. Each school district has the flexibility to decide which math courses to include in their curriculum.

While some high schools include trigonometry as part of their standard math sequence, others may offer it as an elective or not offer it at all. Therefore, the availability of trigonometry courses may vary depending on the school.

But it can support advanced coursework and college admissions

Although trigonometry may not be a mandatory subject, it can play a crucial role in supporting advanced coursework and college admissions. Many colleges and universities require applicants to have a strong background in math, and trigonometry is often considered a fundamental concept in higher-level math courses like calculus and physics.

By taking trigonometry in high school, students can build a solid foundation for these advanced subjects and increase their chances of success in college.

Students should understand their school’s specific requirements

It is important for students to understand their school’s specific requirements when it comes to math courses. Some schools may offer trigonometry as an optional course, while others may require it for certain academic tracks or programs.

Students should consult with their school counselors or academic advisors to determine whether trigonometry is necessary for their individual goals and aspirations. It is also recommended to research college admissions requirements to ensure that they meet the necessary math prerequisites.


While trigonometry is not considered a core math course in most U.S. high school curriculums, it provides useful preparation for advanced math and science classes. Students aiming for top colleges, especially in STEM fields, would benefit from taking trigonometry.

Counselors can help students determine if it should be part of their high school plan based on their academic and career goals.

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