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What Does a Degree Program Really Entail?

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Instructor: Michele Chism

Michele is presently a part time adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in the Counselor Education Department where she teaches Measurement and Assessment and Diagnosis and Treatment. I formerly taught at the University of West Alabama where I taught School Counseling and College Student Development Counseling. I was also the Student Success Coordinator for the College of Education.

Degree programs can vary depending on the program that you take. Learn more about general education hours, which are taken in freshman and sophomore years, before taking courses in later years that are related to a college major or college minor. Also, learn about accreditation and accreditation organizations for most colleges and universities. Updated: 10/06/2021

Meet Bob

Bob is beginning his freshmen year at his local college. He is majoring in music education. When he signs up for classes, he is given a college catalog, which provides him with information about courses, majors, policies, and the school itself.

He talks to his friend who is at an out-of-state college and finds that his friend is taking the same courses he is. His friend who is taking courses at the local community college is also taking the same courses. Bob finds this surprising.

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  • 0:01 Meet Bob
  • 0:30 General Education Hours
  • 1:35 College Major
  • 2:21 College Minor
  • 3:09 Accreditation
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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General Education Hours

The next time he meets with his freshmen orientation class, he asks Dr. Brown, his professor, how and why the students all seemed to be taking the same courses although they were majoring in different subjects. Dr. Brown explained to the class that almost all college students will take a basic curriculum of courses.

Most students will take similar courses the freshmen and sophomore years, and then the student will begin their major courses their junior and senior years. The courses are designed to give every student a broader background than they would have just with their major courses. Note that some courses have a prerequisite, or a basic course you need to take before you can enroll in a more advanced course.

Although the list of required general curriculum courses may vary from school to school, they will generally include the following:

  • Six hours of English composition
  • Six hours of higher-level composition courses
  • Six hours of computer science or foreign language
  • Twelve hours of humanities and fine arts
  • Eleven hours of mathematics and science

College Major

Although the student may begin taking major courses as early as their freshmen year, most students will really concentrate on their major coursework the last two years. Many programs, such as education and nursing, may require a student to apply for an upper division of coursework. Once a student is accepted into the upper division, they are considered to be majoring in that subject. Not everyone who applies is accepted. Those not accepted will have to choose a different major.

The college major usually consists of several courses specific to the major course of study, which may include internships, practicums, and other experiential courses. Students may also get academic credit for work and life experience in some programs.

College Minor

Dr. Brown explained that although not all programs may provide for a minor as part of its coursework, for many students, a minor or multiple minors may be a way to specialize their degree. A minor requires significantly fewer academic hours than the major. It is usually in a field closely related to the major, such as English and journalism.

Some majors, which tend to vary at different colleges, may have such a tight academic schedule that their program is an exception to the general curriculum. For instance, many colleges with an education degree program require so many experiential courses that the education department may have set its own general curriculum. This may also be true of engineering, which may require students to enter with higher-level math requirements than those in the general curriculum.

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