Basic to planning a college education, rather than just a semester-by-semester picking of classes, is an understanding of what components make up a college degree. Most four-year college degrees are made up of about 40 courses. These courses generally are 3 credit hour courses, though some are 1, 2, 4, 5, and even 6 credit hour courses. Each hour of credit generally means four hours of academic work (i.e., one hour per week in class plus three hours of study time outside of class), though in some programs, especially in the sciences, there are additional credit hours for laboratory or recitation work.

Courses fall into three categories: general education requirements, major or concentration requirements, and electives. The exact courses that may be used in each of these areas vary according to the program of study.

First-year students generally begin with a learning community, general education courses, and introductory courses in their majors. Courses required for college degrees are often sequential (that is, they build on the content, concepts, and skills learned in lower-level courses). As a result, most schools number their courses 100, 200, 300, and 400 to indicate the order in which students should take the courses. First-year students should generally take courses in which the first number in the course number is either a 0 or 1; occasionally, first-year students might take a 200-level course.

Some courses require students to take prerequisites or lower-level courses before enrolling in the higher-level courses. Prerequisites are listed in the course descriptions in this bulletin. General education requirements and the specific major requirements are listed in school sections of this bulletin. University College advisors also have checksheets of requirements for the different degree programs. Electives, generally five to ten courses depending on a student’s program, are usually taken during the junior or senior year.