This is a listing of all academic policies in Cary Academy Upper School. The following information is provided in this document:

Academic Policies and Procedures

Graduation Requirements

Online Course Policy

Full Academic Schedule

Honors and Advanced Classes

Drop-Add Policy

Summer Courses

Marking System and Grading

Early Graduation

Registration and Scheduling

Course Credits

Academic Departments

Computer Science


Experiential Learning

Fine and Performing Arts

History and Social Sciences


Physical Education and Wellness


World Language

Academic Policies and Procedures

A minimum of 21 credits is required for graduation; however, most students will complete 25 or more credits during their four years in the Upper School.  Students must also fulfill the following departmental requirements:

English: Two full-year courses in grades 9-10  to include:
ENG 102-SY: English 9: Coming of Age (Gr 9)   and
ENG 201-SY: English 10: Identity and Change (Gr 10)

An addition 2 English credits to be taken in junior and senior year through English semester-long electives.

Fine and Performing Arts: ART130-SY: Art & Design (Gr 9) and 1.5 additional arts credits in grades 9-12. May include up to 1 credit of Computer Science and/or courses in the Center for Community Engagement and at least 0.5 credit from any course that starts with ART in its course code.

History and Social Sciences: Three full years of courses in grades 9-12 to include:

SOC 102-S1: WH: Historical Thinking & Analysis S1 (Gr 9) and three (2)  WH electives (Gr 9 and 10) and
SOC 300-SY: U.S. History (Gr 11 or 12) or
SOC 350-SY: Advanced U.S. History (ADV) Gr 11 or 12)

Mathematics: Three full-year courses in grades 9-12 to include a minimum of Algebra II.  Students interested in a school in the University of North Carolina system will need to pass one course beyond Algebra II.

Physical Education and Health:

Grade 9: Year-long Health & Wellness (PEH100-SY)

Science: Three full-year courses in grades 9-12 to include one year each of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics

World Languages: Three consecutive years of one world language throughout grades 9-12.

Online Courses

The growth of online courses offered by external organizations provides students the opportunity to take courses not offered at Cary Academy and the experience of working independently and online. Students may take online courses that count toward Cary Academy graduation requirements. Please note that students who go on to play sports at the NCAA level should review current NCAA guidelines when considering courses that count toward CA graduation and/or college admission.

Policies for online courses which may be counted toward Cary Academy graduation requirements

  • Courses must be approved by the Department Chair and the Assistant Head of Upper School. Requests for approval must be made 15 days before a semester course begins and 15 days before the end of the term. Students must provide a link to the course.
  • Online courses may take the place of elective courses at Cary Academy
  • Students with extenuating curricular circumstances who wish to take an online course in place of a required course must speak to the Assistant Head of Upper School for approval.
  • Students must still meet CA required course and graduation requirements. Earned online credits may count toward the total number of credits required for graduation (21).
  • Students must take a minimum of 5 courses per semester. This may include one online course. If the online course is approved as a 5th course, the student may drop one of his/her elective courses. Students may take an online course that is in addition to the minimum course requirements.
  • Drop-add policies apply to online courses that are counted as one of the 5 minimum required courses.
  • Students must still meet Cary Academy requirements to take advanced online courses through approved online course providers.
  • Cary Academy may cover the cost for students taking online courses through approved online course providers.
  • If a student wants to take an online course through another organization, a student must speak to the Assistant Head of Upper School.
  • The cost of courses taken through organizations other than approved online course providers is the responsibility of parents.
  • CA faculty are not required to provide extra help.

Registration Process for Courses that meet CA Graduation Requirements

  • Courses must be approved by the Department Chair and the Assistant Head of Upper School. Requests for approval must be made 15 days before an S1 course begins and 15 days before the end of S2. Students must provide a link to the course.
  • In the spring, students register for a full schedule of courses at Cary Academy. If the approved online course meets the graduation and policy requirements above, it may be taken as a sixth course or counted as one of the 5 required courses. If the online course is approved as a 5th course, the student may drop one of his/her elective courses.

Reporting Online Courses

  • Courses taken through the approved online providers will appear on Cary Academy transcripts.
  • If a student decides to drop an online course, the student and family are responsible for the cost of the class.

Full Academic Schedule

Students are required to take a minimum of 5 credits each semester unless they qualify for one of the exceptions listed below.  The requirements for a full academic schedule are subject to two exceptions:

  1. With special permission, students may reduce their course load to four (4) credits of major academic courses each trimester if at least two of the four courses are Advanced (ADV) courses.
  2. Students who qualify for the Competitive Performance Program (described in CA Student Handbook) may be allowed to reduce their course load to four (4) credits, if approved.

Honors and Advanced Courses

Cary Academy offers opportunities for students with exceptional talent and motivation to advance beyond the scope of the typical college-preparatory curriculum.   Honors (H) Mathematics courses are offered and Advanced (ADV) courses are offered in all departments except Physical Education and Wellness.

Honors courses designated (H) in mathematics go into greater detail and depth than the corresponding non-honors course.  Students enroll in an Honors (H) course with the understanding that the work requirements are more rigorous than typical Cary Academy courses.

Cary Academy offers Advanced (ADV) courses in lieu of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  Advanced (ADV) courses are taught with the rigor and expectations (especially in terms of time needed for study out of class) of college courses.  These courses differ from AP courses in that teachers have the ability to modify the AP course syllabus and emphasize depth of research and study, or specific areas of study not prescribed in the AP syllabus.  Most Cary Academy students enrolled in Advanced (ADV) courses choose to sit for the corresponding Advanced Placement (AP) examination offered by The College Board.

Each May, Cary Academy administers AP examinations to interested students in all academic areas represented in the school’s curriculum.  Advanced Placement (AP) examinations are graded on a scale from 1 to 5.   Many colleges award credit or recognition to students who achieve a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam.  Consult the catalogs of prospective colleges for their policies regarding the Advanced Placement Program.

Students who are interested in a particular Advanced (ADV) course should discuss their interest with their current teacher in the academic area, faculty advisor, college counselor, and their parents.  Students enroll in an Advanced (ADV) course with the understanding that the work requirements are more rigorous than typical Cary Academy courses.  The decision to admit a student into an Advanced (ADV) course is made at the department level after consideration of the student’s grades, teacher recommendations, standardized test scores, motivation, total course load, and extracurricular involvement outside and within the school.  Individual departments create their own criteria for entrance into Advanced (ADV) courses.  Advanced (ADV) courses in the sciences meet for additional class periods to accommodate the demands of a rigorous laboratory program.

Normally, students are allowed to take up to three Advanced (ADV) courses in the junior year and four Advanced (ADV) courses in the senior year.  Exceptions may be made for students who demonstrate appropriate levels of achievement.

Drop-Add Policy

The drop-add period takes place the first two weeks of each semester. Students will need to complete the form found in the registration materials on Blackbaud and submit it to the Assistant Head of Upper School.  In some cases, students may need to have a conversation with the Assistant Head if there are scheduling conflicts.

Summer Courses for Advancement

Students may take courses for advancement during summer school at schools other than Cary Academy, but Cary Academy will not give graduation credit for such courses.  It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the other school sends an official transcript, showing the grade and credit, to colleges, scholarship programs, summer programs, etc.  Cary Academy does not attach transcripts from other institutions to the Cary Academy official transcript.  Current and newly enrolled Upper School students interested in taking a summer course at another school in order to advance in an area of study (e.g., a student might take Geometry in order to advance from Algebra I directly to Algebra II), must obtain approval in writing, from the appropriate department chair, prior to taking the summer course.  The student will also be expected to complete the final exam of the Cary Academy course and earn a score of 85 or better to obtain higher placement.

Marking System and Grading

Students receive two marks for each course: one for achievement and one for effort.

Achievement marks Effort marks
Mark Numeric equivalent Mark Level of Effort
A+ 97 to 100 4 Superior effort
A 93 to 96 3 Satisfactory effort
A- 90 to 92 2 Unsatisfactory effort
B+ 87 to 89 1 Seriously deficient effort
B 83 to 86
B- 80 to 82
C+ 77 to 79
C 73 to 76
C- 70 to 72
D+ 67 to 69
D 65 to 66
F Below 65
Each academic department establishes its own criteria for assessing achievement and effort.  These criteria are shared with students at the beginning of year each year-long and trimester course.

Calculating Final Grades for Year-Long courses:

Courses will have each semester weighted as 1/2 of the final year grade.

The minimum passing grade at Cary Academy is “D.”

No student may graduate from Cary Academy, nor may an Upper School student advance from one grade to the next, with an unresolved failure in a course that is required for graduation. Although the grade of “F” will not be replaced on a student’s official transcript, a student must resolve the failure in a required course in one of the following ways:

  • repeat the course in a summer school session immediately following the course failure and take the appropriate Cary Academy course final exam and score a minimum of 70.
  • repeat and pass the course in the following academic year at Cary Academy.
  • a means agreed upon by the teacher of the course, the Department Chair, the Upper School Head, and the student and parents.

For a course not required for graduation, a course failure may stand unresolved: the student’s transcript will reflect an “F” for the failure and a zero for the credits earned.

A student in the Upper School who has two or more course failures for an academic year will not be allowed to continue as a Cary Academy student.

Early Graduation

Cary Academy endeavors to prepare students for college by exposing them to four years of study in the Upper School program.  However, in special cases, with the approval of the student’s Faculty Advisor, Upper School Head, and Head of School, a student may be eligible to graduate from Cary Academy after the junior year.

To graduate early, Cary Academy students must complete a minimum of 21 credits and fulfill departmental requirements by the end of the junior year.  To graduate following the junior year means that a student must annually complete seven (7) Cary Academy courses in Grades 9, 10, and 11.  This is a very rigorous course load that does not allow for any study or free periods.

Requests for early graduation must be submitted to the Assistant Head of Upper School by May 1 of the student’s sophomore year (grade 10).

Registration and Scheduling

During the spring semester, students request courses for the following academic year.  Each student’s advisor will review course options and work with the student, parents, the Assistant Head of Upper School, and the College Counselor(s) to help assure that the student has met all graduation requirements and has chosen a course of studies appropriate to his or her academic achievement and plans.

In spite of the School’s best effort to satisfy students’ course requests within the academic regulations of each academic department, students may not be able to enroll in courses they have chosen due to enrollment, class size, scheduling conflicts, and other factors beyond the control of the School.  In this event, the School will make reasonable efforts to accommodate student requests for alternative courses.

Course Credits

Unless otherwise specified, each course listed is a year-long course which follows the US Rotation, which means that could meets 2-3 periods a week and carry 1 credit for the year.  Courses which meet during the full US Rotation for one semester carry ½ credit.  Other courses that meet once per week for a semester, carry ¼ credit.


Computer Science

The Computer Science Department courses are designed to teach Upper School students modern theories and problem-solving skills while introducing them to various topics within Computer Science. The Computer Science curriculum covers topics within Web Development, IT Infrastructure, and Programming.


The English Department in the Upper School offers a series of challenging courses designed to instill in students an affection for books, to prepare students for the rigors of reading and writing at the college level, and to acquaint students with major works of world literature. As a department we work toward carefully articulated goals in the areas of vocabulary building, the mechanics of English composition, speaking and listening, literary comprehension, writing in a variety of styles, technology use, research, and media literacy.

Freshman and Sophomore year 

During their 9th and 10th grade years, students take two required year-long courses, English 9: Coming of Age and English 10: Identity and Change. Both courses expose students to diverse cultural and literary viewpoints while shoring up grammar, vocabulary, and writing skills. For more information on these two courses, see the full course descriptions.

Junior and Senior year

For their fall and spring semesters, juniors and seniors choose from a range of English electives designed not only to inspire passion for reading and appreciation for literary complexity, but also to refine critical thinking and analytical expression. Juniors and seniors who have received the requisite recommendation from the English Department—one contingent on a proven track record of excellence in analytical writing—can receive advanced designations (ADV) on their elective courses by completing two extra, teacher-assigned analytical writing assessments per elective course. For more information on these fall and spring electives, see the full course descriptions.

Graduation Requirements:

Four full-year courses in grades 9-12.

Required courses for graduation are italicized. All courses are full year in length unless noted otherwise.
Sequence Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11 Grade 12
English 9: Coming of Age English 10: Identity and Change Two semester English  electives . Two semester English electives.
A junior or senior, if prerequisites and scheduling permit, may take more than one English course.


Fine and Performing Arts

The Arts at CA foster a diverse community of creative, empathetic students who embrace their unique passions and talents to make purposeful impact.

We believe that:

  • Studios are safe spaces for students to discover techniques and skills to create original, exciting, inspiring and relevant works.
  • Students will thrive in an atmosphere that is collaborative and inclusive and supportive of their journey in discovering their artistic voices.
  • The artistic process encourages play, curiosity, experimentation and risk-taking.
  • Art making is essential to our humanity.

Through the arts, students develop lasting collaborative relationships while exploring creative expression and problem-solving skills. Discovery through the creative process allows students to develop confidence and self-discipline, use their imaginations and talents, and generate original works.

Performing Arts

Vocal Music Program

The vocal music program promotes the development of both individual and ensemble voices.  Students develop their ability to sing with proper tone, diction and intonation, as well as their music reading skills.  It is our hope that students develop a life-long love for singing, not as an activity but as a vital means of human expression.  Choirs perform at school and in collaboration with other schools and community organizations. Choirs may participate in district choral festivals and/or in choral competitions as a means to be evaluated by adjudicators.  Repertoire is selected from the broadest possible styles and traditions.

Students who wish to audition for Honors Chorus or All-State Chorus must be enrolled in at least 5 periods of singing each week.  Because the state only allows ten per cent of an individual school’s enrollment to audition for Honors Chorus, it may be necessary to have an audition to determine which students are most qualified to audition.

Instrumental Music Program 

The primary objective of the music program in the Upper School is to promote the enjoyment, creativity, and skills of making music cooperatively as well as independently. Music is an integral part of human history, past and current cultures, and everyday life. Our lives are enriched by the skills, knowledge and habits acquired in the study of music.  Learning to listen with understanding and to play with confidence broadens cultural and historical perspectives.  The program provides music instruction at the intermediate and the advanced level.  Performing ensembles include Symphony Orchestra, Honors Chamber Orchestra, Band, and Ensemble Jazz.  Individual music lessons can be arranged.

Speech and Debate Program 

Students who participate in speech and debate acquire important skills that help them succeed in college and in careers that value clear communication. Leaders in such diverse fields as law, newscasting, and business management attest to the contribution speech and debate made to their careers. All Speech and Debate courses consist of lectures, discussion, individualized and small group work, as well as presentations. As an academic co-curricular activity, there is homework. The dedicated student will see improved research, writing and public speaking skills. They will also develop vital skills in time management and thinking clearly under pressure. All courses have a competition requirement that requires students attend tournaments on weekends and commit to after school practices to prepare for those tournaments. There are fees associated with the expenses of competing at these tournaments that go along with participating in the program.

Graduation Requirements:  

All 9th Graders will take one year of Art and Design. This course is project based and provides opportunities to work collaboratively in 2-D, 3-D, Digital and Combined formats while developing Design Thinking skills and habits. In addition, students in the Upper School must complete an additional 1.5 arts credit.

History and Social Sciences

Cary Academy introduces students to several of the social studies disciplines:  history, political science, and economics as avenues for understanding human nature, society, and civilizations. Students are taught to connect current events with their historical and geographical studies, as well as to explore history through connections with the other social sciences. Students are introduced to the broad cultural perspectives that enable them to make connections between the various social science disciplines, as well as other fields and disciplines, which combined together, allow them to develop a coherent understanding of the world and its history.

In the Upper School, history students are presented with a substantive base of historical information from which they gain insight into how cultures develop, expand, and regress. Students examine themes that recur throughout history and learn to evaluate their own culture in view of these themes. Students also develop important research skills as they learn to gather and analyze evidence from primary and secondary sources, appreciate the complexity of historical causality, and construct historical arguments.

In particular, the department introduces these themes through the PATH (Passages Across Themes in History) program.  Through PATH, ninth and tenth graders have the opportunity to choose from a variety of electives.

Graduation requirements:

  • WH: Historical Thinking & Analysis S1 (9th grade year)
  • Three (3) WH Semester Electives (over 9th and 10th grade years)
  • SOC 300: U.S. History or SOC 350: Advanced U.S. History (11th or 12th grade year)


“Mathematics as an expression of the human mind reflects the active will, the contemplative reason, and the desire for aesthetic perfection.”  – “What is Mathematics?”, R. Courant & H Robbins

The Cary Academy Upper School Mathematics program strives to provide all students with a greater appreciation for mathematics as a discipline and as an integral part of the world in which we live.  Students will be asked to actively participate in their work to develop a deeper understanding of the mathematics. Throughout the curriculum there will be an emphasis on logical reasoning and deductive skills. In addition, students must recognize that attending to detail is an essential component of producing thoughtful, quality work.

While mathematics is an engaging and beautiful discipline in and of itself, there is often a need for the sciences and other areas of study to rely on mathematics. As such, the curriculum emphasizes the value and importance of mathematics in the mathematical sciences and other areas of study. Appropriate technologies are regularly integrated into classes to demonstrate the practical and beneficial use of technology, thus supporting and extending student understanding of concepts and processes involved in the study of mathematics.

Honors and Advanced Courses 

All courses have high expectations, but there are different prerequisites and expectations for Honors and Advanced courses. Compared to regular mathematics courses, students in Honors or Advanced courses should expect to encounter topics at a faster pace, which will be investigated in greater depth. Students in an advanced or honors class can expect a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding and abstract thinking with less focus on review and practice. Beyond the expectations of regular mathematics courses, students are expected to be more self-motivated as well as interested in devoting time and energy towards more challenging and thought-provoking problems.

While a student may meet the posted prerequisite grade, teacher approval and permission of the Mathematics Department Chair are necessary for a student to be able to enroll in an honors or advanced course.  The Dept. Chair will consider a student’s numeric average in a course but may also take into consideration scores on cumulative exams, standardized testing, performance in past years, and teacher assessment of self-motivation, conceptual understanding, and abstract problem-solving skills.  The goal is to ensure that students are placed in a challenging yet manageable mathematics course.

Identifying the appropriate mathematics course for a student 

For a student to earn the recommendation to move from a regular to honors course, the student must have consistently demonstrated the skills and habits of mind necessary to succeed in an honors/advanced course as described above. A student interested in moving from a regular to honors course for the next academic year should indicate her/his intent to her/his mathematics teacher as early in the year as possible. Over the course of the year, the teacher will monitor the student’s progress, give feedback and, if appropriate, recommend the student for promotion to an honors/advanced course.

At times, over the course of a year a student may struggle with the pace of learning and application of concepts in an honors course. The teacher of that course will communicate her or his concerns to the student and family and will give the student ample opportunity during the duration of the course to demonstrate what the student’s best course placement would be for the following academic year.

Graduation Requirements:

Three full-year courses in grades 9-12 to include a minimum of Algebra II.  [The vast majority of Cary Academy students take four years of Upper School mathematics.  Students interested in a school in the University of North Carolina system will need to pass one course beyond Algebra II.]

Physical Education and Health

The Upper School physical education curriculum emphasizes a diverse offering of fitness, lifetime, and team sport activities. By promoting healthy lifestyles through planned, regular exercise, students obtain the skills and knowledge to continue their physical activity in the years ahead.

The goal of health and wellness instruction at Cary Academy is to promote health and wellness literacy. Using traditional classroom resources as well as the Internet and appropriate software, each student develops the ability to obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services. The program provides the necessary foundation to enable students to make sound decisions regarding their physical and emotional well-being.

Graduation requirements:

Grade 9:   Health & Wellness


“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan

Our Upper School Science courses ask our students to practice science as inquiry by engaging in collaborative research and applying fundamental principles to solve problems.  Students learn to communicate effectively using graphic, verbal and mathematical representations of their learning.  All courses provide extensive hands-on experience. Laboratory activities include simulations, testing scientific models, collecting and analyzing data and reporting results. Community professionals and field trip opportunities augment instruction where appropriate.

Our science curriculum focuses on self-selected pathways through the graduation requirements of biology, chemistry and physics.  These core introductory courses can be taken in any order to best reflect each student’s interests and prerequisite preparations for success.  In the junior and senior years, students may opt to explore advanced courses in biology, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, environmental science or topical electives and independent work prior to graduating.

The science program cultivates our students’ abilities to use scientific inquiry to generate their own knowledge and understanding.  We seek to develop students who are confident, independent learners, who recognize how science permeates the world around them and who appreciate the evolution of scientific ideas and their impact on society. Through experience gained along their chosen path, students develop the scientific literacy necessary to become discerning global citizens.

Graduation requirements:

Students must take one year each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

World Language

The World Language Program at Cary Academy is designed to help students build communication skills in a new language (French, German, Mandarin or Spanish), while at the same time developing an understanding of and appreciation for the cultures surrounding that language.  Students begin the study of a world language in the Middle School and continue their studies in the Upper School (for at least three years), where the goal is to attain a high level of proficiency.  It is the belief of the department that students best learn a world language in context, immersed in the target language.  Classes are interactive and communicative, and course content is relevant to teenagers.  Emerging digital tools are used to enhance student learning and create a more authentic language learning experience. Course titles in the World Language Department reflect the ACTFL Proficiency Guideline level that students are working at or toward in the course.

The World Language Department endeavors to accommodate students who enter the school with an existing level of proficiency in one of the languages taught at the school. The faculty determines the correct placement which will allow students to be appropriately challenged and progress in proficiency. Students whose proficiency level is already very high in one language must take a different world language in order to fulfill their world language requirement.

A highlight of the department curriculum is the World Language Exchange Program.  This experience greatly enhances students’ cultural understanding and improves their language proficiency.

Graduation requirements: 

Three consecutive years in one world language in grades 9-12. This includes the expectation that juniors must take both semesters to meet the year-long graduation requirement.  After the requirement has been met, seniors can opt to take as many or as few of the semester electives as they wish.