Types of College Classes & Sample Workloads

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the different types of college courses you might encounter throughout your post-secondary education. We cover broad categories and specific types of courses.

College

College is one of the more unique times of life for most Americans. For many, it is their first time living alone, or at least outside of their parents' home. There are newfound responsibilities, new choices to be made, and many things to discover about the world, other people, and themselves.

Oh, there are also classes. Lots of them. In fact, most full-time college students will take anywhere from three to six courses every semester. In this lesson, we discuss the different types of courses and gain a feel for what to expect in each.

Broad categories

Before we get into the types of courses themselves, let's talk about the broad categories into which all college classes fit.

Lower Division

Lower division courses tend to be introductory courses. Students take them in their first few semesters although they sometimes take them later to fulfill general education requirements. Most schools have classification systems numbering their courses, and lower division courses tend to have lower numbers. Many schools, for instance, number their courses in the 100s, 200s, 300s, and 400s. If they follow this system, lower division courses are in the 100s and 200s.

Upper Division

Upper division courses are more advanced and usually cover specific topics within a major in greater detail. While most students take lower division courses in several areas, they mainly take upper division courses in their major.

Major Courses

These are courses that count toward whatever the requirements are for your degree. You will likely have to take a few of these while you are taking lower division courses, but the majority will be specialized upper division courses.

Minor Courses

If you plan to graduate with a minor in a certain subject, these will be courses that count toward that. Usually it takes between four and six upper division courses to gain a minor.

General Education Courses

These are courses, usually lower division, that everyone throughout the entire university or college is required to take. These generally cover basic skills that all students should have when leaving university, like basic math and English skills, and an understanding of U.S. history. For example, most universities require at least one or two English or literature courses even if a student is majoring in the sciences.

Course Styles

Within these broad categories, there are several different styles of college courses you will encounter. How many of each one you take will vary greatly depending on what you choose as a major and what courses you choose to take.

Lecture

Lecture-based classes are what you often see portrayed in the movies as a stereotypical college class, and many college courses are lecture-based or have a lecture component. Lecture usually takes place in a medium-sized or large room, where anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred students sit facing the professor. The professor spends most of the class talking and teaching although he or she may periodically take questions. Assignments tend to be few and are often paper or test based.

A typical lecture hall
A Typical Lecture Hall

Average course workload:

  • One to two textbooks
  • One to two papers
  • Two to three tests
  • A final exam

Seminar

Seminar classes are often upper division courses and are much smaller. Usually only a handful of students and a professor meet, and most of the class period is spent discussing and discovering assigned reading material. The course workload can be reading intensive, but seminar classes generally have fewer tests.

Average course workload:

  • Eight to 16 textbooks
  • Two to four short papers
  • Two to four long papers
  • Possibly a final exam

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