Arkansas – High School to College & Careers


College and Career Readiness

Arkansas’s Academic Standards define the knowledge and skills Arkansas’ students should have in order to be ready for college and careers. Arkansas requires that student’s must be assessed for college and career readiness before graduating from high school. If they do meet established benchmarks for college and career readiness at least one of the approved assessments (ACT, PLAN, PSAT, Compass, ASSET or PARCC) the school must provide a transitional course designed to help them reach college and career readiness. All Arkansas 11th grade students enrolled in a public or charter school are given the opportunity to take the ACT during the spring of their junior year at no cost to the student. Parents may request that their student not participate.

College and Career Planning

High School Graduation Requirements 

Course and Diploma Requirements for Current Seniors

The state requires districts to enroll high school students in the Smart Core unless parents sign a waiver to opt their children out of the default curriculum, in which case they will participate in Basic Core. While the two diploma paths require the 22 course credits in each subject area, specific course requirements vary.

Subjects Smart Core Diploma Core Diploma Common Requirements
English 4 4

English 9th grade
English 10th grade
English 11th grade
English 12th grade

Mathematics 4 4

Algebra I or equivalent;
Geometry or equivalent;       Algebra II

Fourth math beyond Algebra II

Science 3 3 Biology, and two credits from the following: Physical Science, Chemistry, Physics or Technology I and II 
Oral Communication 0.5 0.5 Debate, Forensics, Honors, state approved or concurrent course
Physical Education 0.5 0.5 JROTC
Health and Safety 0.5 0.5 JROTC Health
Fine Arts 0.5 0.5
Career Focus 6 6
TOTAL 22 22  


Smart Core Diploma

Core Diploma


• Algebra I or first part and second part Algebra I (grades 7-8 or 8-9)
• Geometry or first part and second part Geometry (grades 8-9 or 9-10)
• Algebra II
• A fourth math unit chosen from:
Advanced Placement math
Advanced topics and modeling in math
• Algebra III
Calculus or pre-calculus
• Linear systems and statistics
Mathematical applications and algorithms

• Algebra I or its equivalent
• Geometry or its equivalent
All math units must build on the base of algebra and geometry knowledge and skills.
• Note: A two-year algebra equivalent or a two-year geometry equivalent may each be counted as two units of the four unit requirement.



Two units from the following three options:

• Physical Science

• Chemistry

• Physics or Principles of Technology I and II or PIC Physics

• At least one unit of Biology
• At least one unit of a Physical Science

The state requires high school students to take a half-unit digital course.

The Academic Challenge Scholarship (ACS) provides scholarships to Arkansas residents pursuing a higher education. Students who graduated from an Arkansas public high school and made a 19 or higher on the ACT or an ACT equivalent are eligible for the ACS. Unconditional admission to more selective public universities requires the completion of the Smart Core.

Assessment Requirements

The state requires ACT Aspire for Grades 9 and 10. ACT participation in Grade 11 is optional.

Accelerated Learning Options

Dual and Concurrent Enrollment

High school students may enroll in college courses and earn high school and college credit for their work, as long as they meet institutional eligibility requirements and attend districts with established concurrent enrollment programs. Students in grade 12 who possess at least an ACT sub-score of 17 in English, reading or mathematics may enroll in remedial developmental courses at a postsecondary institution.  Students and families bear the cost of concurrent enrollment, unless the costs are paid by the district or a private foundation. 

Advanced Placement

The Advanced Placement Incentive Program provides state funds to ensure that districts provide students access to at least one AP test in each of the four core subject areas English, math, science and social studies. The program encourages broad student participation by paying all or part of the testing fees. Schools benefit by receiving a one-time reward for each student that passes an AP exam. 

Early High School Graduation

Arkansas law allows students to graduate early if they have earned the number of credits required by the school district for graduation.  

Career and Technical Education

The state offers career and technical education courses in agriculture, business education, computer science, family and consumer science, marketing and medical professions. 

Postsecondary Admissions

Four-Year Institutions

Students must have a high school diploma or GED credential. For unconditional admission, students must complete the high school curriculum requirements with a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 2.0. All students must meet the “Smart Core” requirements with college preparatory mathematics, social studies, and science requirements unless parent/guardian waives student’s participation, in which case the student will complete the “Core” requirements.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

Applicants must possess a high school diploma or an equivalency credential. While community and technical colleges are open-access institutions, admission does not guarantee entry into specific academic programs. Applicants who score below 15 on the ACT Composite must take an assessment to demonstrate their ability-to-benefit from postsecondary instruction.

Postsecondary Placement


In January 2016, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Coordinating Board adopted a new Student Placement Policy requiring all IHEs to submit and have approved a student placement plan. IHEs are encouraged to use multiple weighted measures to determine placement in college-level courses if a student’s scores fall below the minimum ACT scores for the subject matter. These measures may include high school GPA, the number of years since a student took a specific course or was in school, other test scores (such as SAT or high school end-of-course exams), or other non-cognitive information such as motivation, time management skills or family support, writing samples and successful completion (A or B) of transitional courses in high school.

Arkansas Department of Higher Education Minimum ACT Scores


ACT (score predicting student success at a rate of 75 percent or greater)
English Composition 18


Math-College Algebra 22

Whichever placement criteria the IHE chooses must predict a better than 75 percent likelihood of the student’s ability to earn a “C” or better in the course in which the student is placed. A student’s reading level should be strong enough for them to earn a “C” or better in courses that require substantial reading. At some institutions, STEM majors must meet higher standards for placement than non-STEM majors. IHEs are required to use data-driven practices, provide data to support their placement decisions and allow for follow-up evaluation of placement effectiveness.

Postsecondary to High School Feedback Reports

Annual feedback reports provide information on Arkansas high school graduates enrolled in college, subdivided by district, school, and institution. The reports include data on (1) high school and first-semester college GPAs; (2) scores on college entrance and placement tests; (3) the percentage of students who completed the Smart Core; and (4) the number of students enrolled in remedial courses. 

State Financial Aid

The state lottery funds the merit-based Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Program.  Freshman students receive $2,000. Students receive $1,000 more dollars for every 30 credit hours completed. Students may receive up to $5,000 if they have senior standing. Students receive financial aid only if they maintain a 2.5 GPA and earn 30 credit hours per year.

Students qualify for aid in two ways: (1) high school grades and assessment scores or (2) college freshman GPA.

Recent high school graduates must complete the Smart Core curriculum and achieve one of the following: GPA of at least 2.5 or an ACT composite score of at least 19 (or SAT equivalent).  Full-time college students can earn the merit scholarship if they receive a first-semester GPA of at least 2.5 or produce an ACT composite score of at least 19. Academic Challenge Scholarship recipients must maintain a 2.5 GPA to continue receiving aid.

Two other merit scholarships exist on a more-limited basis.  The Arkansas Governor’s Scholars program rewards up to $4,000 a year to the most highly qualified student in each county. Selection is based on a weighted formula that includes ACT or SAT score, high school GPA, class rank, and leadership skills. Renewal of the Governor’s Scholarship is contingent on maintaining a 3.0 GPA. Depending on available funding, Arkansas also gives up to $10,000 to 300 Governor’s Distinguished Scholars. Governor’s Distinguished Scholars must have a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher and score at least 32 on the ACT or SAT score of 1410. To retain the reward, students must maintain a 3.25 GPA in college. Recipients of both awards may renew the scholarship for up to three additional years based on GPA and hours earned.

In addition to the Academic Challenge and Governor’s Scholars programs, Arkansas provides a number of other merit- and need-based scholarships to students based on family attributes or specific programs of study.

Special Thanks

SREB would like to thank the staff at the following agencies for their assistance in carefully reviewing and confirming the accuracy of the policies and programs described in this document:

Arkansas Department of Education

Arkansas Department of Higher Education


ACT Inc.
Arkansas Department of Career Education
Arkansas Department of Education
Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE)
Arkansas General Assembly
College Board
Say Go College