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Upper School Curriculum

Grades 9–12

At Durham Academy Upper School, we consider personal development as important as academic achievement. Students engage with complex ideas and diverse perspectives across a robust curriculum designed to reveal and deepen their intellectual passions.

Upper School faculty are committed to guiding students as they explore the balance between authority and independence, responsibility and freedom. Students test their potential for growth and leadership in such diverse areas as athletics, the arts and service to school and community. Through all these endeavors, we encourage students to recognize the value of pursuing challenges and defending principles. 




Upper School Courses

Core courses provide students with the foundational knowledge and analytical skills they need to be confident, critical, independent thinkers. In their four years at the Upper School, each student charts a unique academic journey in which they both follow their interests and discover new ones. Because our most challenging coursework is not limited by the AP program, students ask genuine, relevant questions and then pursue those questions with depth, rigor, scholarship and creativity. With students at the center of their learning, that learning becomes meaningful and enduring — and serves as a launchpad for success in college and beyond.

All courses at Durham Academy Upper School are college preparatory. Our most intellectually rigorous courses are labeled Advanced (ADV). We also offer courses that meet or exceed expectations for an introductory college course. These courses are labeled College Level (CL). In addition, several courses offer Honors sections, which are accelerated versions of those courses. 

An Advanced Math Modeling student works on a problem on a whiteboard.

Advanced Curriculum

Advanced (ADV) courses build on the skills and knowledge of core courses and represent the top level of work in their department. ADV courses require students to practice a significant amount of independent problem-solving, time management, and creative thinking. ADV courses focus on deep explorations of complex topics. They encourage students to ask open-ended questions and provide the means to develop original and sophisticated responses to those questions. These courses provide students with ample opportunities to take ownership of their learning and to demonstrate their learning in ways consistent with professional work in the discipline. 

Learn More About DA's Advanced Curriculum

Student Support

College Counseling

Our college counseling team helps students make smart choices for course selections and activities — with an eye toward eventually finding their "perfect fit" college or university. 

Explore Our College Counseling Program


The transition from middle to high school can be a big adjustment, as students experience greater independence, more responsibility and an abundance of opportunities to get involved in the life of the Upper School. Our Bridge program offers guidance and resources for ninth-graders who may benefit from extra support. 

Learning Support

Durham Academy is committed to supporting students with learning differences. Our Upper School faculty includes a dedicated learning specialist and learning support coach who guide students toward confidence and self-advocacy, while helping them gain a better understanding of their learning strengths and weaknesses. 

Learn About DA Learning Support


Graduation Requirements

20 credits are required for graduation.

Twenty credits are required for graduation. One credit is awarded for a full-year course; one half credit is awarded for a one-semester course. The minimum course load is five courses each semester. Students are not allowed to drop a full-year course at the end of the first semester. Physical education courses are not counted toward the minimum load or toward the 20-credit requirement; nor is a course that is being repeated. Students must pass the equivalent of eight semester courses (four full-year courses) in their senior year.

Global Online Academy

Durham Academy is a member of Global Online Academy (GOA), a consortium of leading independent schools from around the world. As a student at a GOA member school, you will have the option of taking high-level online courses with classmates from around the globe as part of your Durham Academy Upper School coursework.

GOA courses are our courses, taught by experienced faculty from DA and renowned peer schools all over the world. This is a new kind of online class in which relationships and connections drive students to share their perspectives and learn from those of others.

Explore GOA at Durham Academy