Is "College Algebra" really just high school "Algebra II"?

In summary: I know that at my high school, Algebra II was only one semester. But regardless, it seems that College Algebra covers similar topics to Algebra II but goes into more depth and is more fast-paced. It may also depend on the university and the professor teaching the course. Overall, it seems that College Algebra is not just a repeat of Algebra II, but rather a more advanced and rigorous course.
  • #1
swampwiz
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I had learned everything in College Algebra in my Algebra II course in high school, and indeed (at least at my alma mater) in engineering, physics or math, no credit is even given for College Algebra.

Perhaps what is going on here is that colleges can't trust that someone who has passed (even done well in) Algebra II has really had that covered, and so anyone who doesn't do well enough on a tracking test (or by extension have a high enough score in Math on the ACT/SAT) can be told, "you need to take this as a prereq to everything else"?
 
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  • #2
Regardless of a student's history, having poor scores in a tracking test or the ACAT/SAT Math test should be enough to require some review. It means that they do not have a good working knowledge of the basics.
 
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  • #3
This probably depends on the university. My university did not offer "college algebra". At the same time, it did offer a course in algebra. This course treated group theory, ring theory, coset, ideals, principle ideal domains, geometric construction, fields and the beginnings of galois theory. Clearly, this is not "college algebra" at some other schools. You need to be careful what course you enroll in.
At the same time, I hope prospective employers know the difference. It may be hard to explain to an employer how you came out with a C in abstract algebra as a senior, and another applicant got an A in college algebra as a freshman. I had a similar experience when my employer saw courses in analysis, linear algebra, differential equations, functional analysis, mathematical physics, complex analysis, and probability theory, and then was asked, "But did you take calculus?" He did not know "honors" calculus (tests with proofs) was called analysis at my school.
 
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@mpresic that is frightening. What kind of job were you applying for if you don’t mind me asking?
 
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  • #5
Louis Leithold's "College Algebra" has in many American universities been a benchmark textbook. Difficult to find a copy today, but there must be one in your university's Library.
 
  • #6
I checked Amazon for Leithold. The one advertised there doesn't look to be the original. The latter is a hardcover, published by Macmillan; its cover is the following:
IMG_2582.JPG

Please, note that the book is about freshman's algebra, not abstract algebra.
 
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  • #7
mpresic3 said:
This probably depends on the university. My university did not offer "college algebra".
Same here. I recall that when I was there, some students were complaining that the university didn't offer such a course. The math department responded that a student admitted to the university supposedly had learned this material in high school and that they should go take college algebra at a local community college if they needed a refresher. I know one reason the department didn't want to offer a college algebra course is that none of the math faculty wanted to teach it. (I can't blame them.)

I think the university eventually gave in and offered a remedial math course, but it didn't count toward satisfying any requirements for earning a degree.
 
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  • #8
Often, college algebra is included in "precalculus" along with trigonometry, complex numbers, vectors and matrices, probability and combinatorics, etc.
The precalculus college course zooms through those subjects as a review.
 
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  • #9
The original posted question: Is College Algebra really just high school Algebra 2?

NO. It is just not that. Just one common example how differ: Polynomial Functions, their graphs, roots, studied in College Algebra but not in high school's Intermediate Algebra. Another common example is that Rational Functions are studied much more deeply in College Algebra, and not sure if or to what extent their instruction is placed in high school Intermediate Algebra.

The two courses do for sure overlap. You could say that College Algebra is just a more high powered form of Intermediate Algebra; but really they are two different courses.
 
  • #10
PhDeezNutz said:
@mpresic that is frightening. What kind of job were you applying for if you don’t mind me asking?
Technical Writer, I grant you the employer wanted me to write spec sheets, so he may not have been famiar with the names of technical subjects and how they may differ from university to university.
 
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  • #12
symbolipoint said:
The original posted question: Is College Algebra really just high school Algebra 2?

NO. It is just not that. Just one common example how differ: Polynomial Functions, their graphs, roots, studied in College Algebra but not in high school's Intermediate Algebra. Another common example is that Rational Functions are studied much more deeply in College Algebra, and not sure if or to what extent their instruction is placed in high school Intermediate Algebra.
That actually sounds like exactly what we learned about when I took Algebra II in high school (many decades ago). We also covered matrices, combinations and permutations, conic sections, complex numbers, and probably a number of other topics.

symbolipoint said:
The two courses do for sure overlap. You could say that College Algebra is just a more high powered form of Intermediate Algebra; but really they are two different courses.
One big difference (to students) is the College Algebra is one semester whereas Algebra II is typically two semesters.
 
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  • #13
I think you will see all those topics in the high school text I linked in post 11. I also had all of them in my junior year high school course. But the same course name means something different in everyones experience.
 
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  • #14
vela said:
That actually sounds like exactly what we learned about when I took Algebra II in high school (many decades ago). We also covered matrices, combinations and permutations, conic sections, complex numbers, and probably a number of other topics.One big difference (to students) is the College Algebra is one semester whereas Algebra II is typically two semesters.
Maybe some regional changes or changes through time. A kind of course which had been available for high school students was something with an imprecise title of "Mathematical Analysis" which was something in-between actual Intermediate Algebra and "PreCalculus"; the true colleg precalulus being a combination of College Algebra And Trigonometry taught in community colleges and universities. This "Mathematical Analysis" course at the high school was a year long, and contained some stuff more advanced than Intermed. Algeb but not as full as "College Algebr"; and also contained some significant Trigonometry.
 
  • #15
vela said:
One big difference (to students) is the College Algebra is one semester whereas Algebra II is typically two semesters.
My direct awareness was that at least for high school, Algebra 1 was full year. Algebra 2 (known as Intermediate) was a full year. Algebra 2 could easily be understood as a continuation of Algebra 1; in that some things were explored more thoroughly and a few new things were put in. Later, in colleges, Elementary Algebra was one semester, and Intermediate Algebra was one semester. For the more advanced students, "College Algebra And Trigonometry" alternatively called "Elementary Functions" was one semester.
 
  • #16
I thought about this again, and I might have said this before, but:
Intermediate Algebra is a subset of College Algebra.
 
  • #17
Yes, because some students haven't taken Algebra 2 yet but they have already entered college, and this is why colleges label the name of Algebra 2 as 'College Algebra' to sound more difficult, but in reality, it's the same as Algebra 2 in high school. I don't know too much about other countries, but in the USA, high school students only need to take up to Geometry in order to graduate from high schools, this is the minimum requirement for math completion at US high schools, especially if high school students don't intend to major in STEM fields at college.
 
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  • #18
Course descriptions? Syllabi? No other way to know for sure. What these might have been decades ago may have later changed. When I have insisted about what I said, that was for long ago; but currently, maybe have been changed.
 
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  • #19
Usually, "college algebra" is high school Algebra I and Algebra II if it is a one year course, and high school Algebra II if it is a one semester course. It is remedial and often doesn't count towards the credits required for graduation. Sometime, some pre-calculus is sprinkled in.
 
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  • #20
ohwilleke said:
Usually, "college algebra" is high school Algebra I and Algebra II if it is a one year course, and high school Algebra II if it is a one semester course. It is remedial and often doesn't count towards the credits required for graduation. Sometime, some pre-calculus is sprinkled in.
Way way different from my understanding. OR have times changed?

Too much in "College Algebra" is missing from "Algebra 2"; and my understanding is that College Algebra is not a remedial course.

edit: I really have no memory that I actually made post #18.
 
  • #21
ohwilleke said:
Usually, "college algebra" is high school Algebra I and Algebra II if it is a one year course, and high school Algebra II if it is a one semester course. It is remedial and often doesn't count towards the credits required for graduation. Sometime, some pre-calculus is sprinkled in.
That's my understanding of the course as well. UT Austin's description for the course "College Algebra" seems to lineup with that understanding as well. UT even says it does not count towards a math degree and is usually only offered in the summer, which to my mind is indicative of a remedial course.
 
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Related to Is "College Algebra" really just high school "Algebra II"?

1. Is "College Algebra" the same as high school "Algebra II"?

No, "College Algebra" is not the same as high school "Algebra II." While both courses cover algebraic concepts such as equations, functions, and graphs, "College Algebra" is typically more advanced and covers additional topics such as matrices, logarithms, and complex numbers.

2. Do I need to take "College Algebra" if I already took "Algebra II" in high school?

It depends on your academic goals and the requirements of your college or university. Some schools may allow you to place out of "College Algebra" if you received a high enough grade in "Algebra II" or if you pass a placement test. However, if you plan on pursuing a degree in a math-related field, it may be beneficial to take "College Algebra" to build a strong foundation.

3. How is the difficulty level of "College Algebra" compared to "Algebra II"?

Again, this can vary depending on the specific curriculum and instructor. However, in general, "College Algebra" is considered to be more challenging than "Algebra II" due to its more comprehensive coverage of advanced algebraic concepts.

4. Will "College Algebra" prepare me for higher level math courses?

Yes, "College Algebra" is an important prerequisite for many higher level math courses such as calculus, statistics, and linear algebra. It provides the necessary foundation and skills for success in these courses.

5. Can I skip "College Algebra" and go straight to Calculus?

It is not recommended to skip "College Algebra" and go straight to Calculus. "College Algebra" covers fundamental algebraic concepts that are essential for success in calculus. Skipping this course may put you at a disadvantage and make it more difficult to understand and apply calculus concepts.

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