Careers & Education

The course catalog: where to start?

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Deciphering Your Course Catalog
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Understanding your course catalog and knowing where to start

Now that you've been accepted and enrolled in school, one more important task lies ahead: finding the location of the start-of-the-year kick-off party.

Actually, that makes two important tasks that lie ahead: first, finding the aforementioned party and second, trying to figure out how to use the 3-inch thick course catalog you were either sent in the mail or given on day one.

Early on in your college career, many of the courses you take are pre-determined based on the major you've chosen. However, even within each major decisions will need to be made. There are often several, similar courses offered; each of which will satisfy your curriculum needs. And there are core and elective options that need to be decided upon as well. So, which to choose and how to choose them?

To make things a bit easier, and allow more time to search for the all important "Welcome to School" function, here are a few hints for traversing your course catalog and where to start.

  • Review the instructions and table of contents usually found near the front of the catalog. The instructions will give you a better idea of what to look for and the table of contents a better sense of where to look.
  • Many course catalogs also include a Glossary of Terms you should become acquainted with. For example, how does your particular school define advanced or upper level courses? For newbies, once this information is determined there are whole pages of options you need not concern yourself with. The Glossary will also help you become familiar with Corequisite courses. These are classes that must be taken in conjunction with another class. The Glossary will help you with what are often new terms for incoming college students.
  • Take a few minutes to read the sections relevant to all students, regardless of grade. In addition to valuable general school policy information (you know, like when food is served), this section of the course catalog will often include an overview of required classes based on your year and major.
  • Now page over to the section specifically devoted to your major for a detailed breakdown of all the courses available. This area highlights the pre-requisites each course is applicable to, and provides a description of the curriculum. Finding and enrolling in these first will ensure you're able to get them, as well as minimize the need to search for other courses.

It is likely you'll see course titles such as Eng225 or some variation thereof. Information on enrolling in this particular course, 200-level English, can be found in the English section under the course # 225. Some colleges may use 2000-level courses in lieu of 200, but the result is the same.

As a rule, you need to have completed a 100-level English course before you're eligible for a 200-level class, which needs to be completed before taking a 300-level course, and so on.

When in doubt, and even if you're not in doubt, schedule an appointment with your school's counselor. She can help you decipher the course catalog as well as provide direction among the many class choices. She is also able to provide guidance in the development of a rough outline for your entire college experience.

This can be an extremely valuable exercise for several reasons. First, this will make navigating the course catalog that much easier since you'll have a good sense for what classes are needed and when, even next year and beyond. Also, providing a bit of structure in classes and scheduling helps students to keep their eye on the "big prize" only a few short years away.

Now that you know which courses you're going to take, let's go find that party!

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