What Is a Course Description?

Jul 14, 2018

Course descriptions provide students with basic information to evaluate and enroll in courses. Schools provide course descriptions for classes in all degree programs, including bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificate programs. View article »

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  • 0:03 Course Description Components
  • 1:10 How Course Descriptions Work
  • 2:51 Sample Course Description

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Video Transcript

Course Description Components

Learn about where you can find course descriptions, what information they include, how they work, and details about various components of a course description. Course descriptions report information about a university or college's classes. They're published both in course catalogs that outline degree requirements and in course schedules that contain descriptions for all courses offered during a particular semester, quarter, or year. These schedules also contain the course meeting times and the instructor or professor teaching each section.

Many schools offer this information online as an electronic document or directly through their website, along with, or instead of, printed catalogs. Course descriptions include information about available courses, such as:

  • Name of the college or department offering the course
  • Semesters or quarters offered
  • Course name and number
  • Number of credits
  • Restrictions or prerequisites
  • Brief summary of topics covered in the class
  • Additional costs or fees, if applicable
  • Registration information

How Course Descriptions Work

Most colleges and universities group course descriptions by the department or college that offers the courses. Each course is typically assigned a letter abbreviation and number; the letters usually refer to the college or department that offers the course, and the numbers reflect where the class falls in the program sequence.

Course Numbers

Course numbers are commonly 3 digits, though some larger schools use 4-digit course numbers, with the first digit approximately tracking students' class standing and the remaining digits signifying the individual course. Courses numbered in the 100s or 1000s are commonly taken by freshmen and 400-level or 4000-level course courses are taken by seniors majoring in that subject, while courses beginning with digits 5-9 are for graduate students.

Credits to be Earned

The number of credits reflects the hours per week the class meets, taking outside preparation time into account. The credits record progress toward degree requirements and facilitate coursework transfer between schools.


Class restrictions and prerequisites inform students of prior coursework that must be completed or other constraints on class enrollment. For example, advanced or upper-level courses may require students to complete 100-level courses as a prerequisite. Some courses may only be offered to students enrolled through a specific department or college, which would be noted as a restriction in the course description.

How to Enroll

Registration information may also be provided as part of the course description. This information could include enrollment deadlines, deadlines for adding or dropping classes, and instructions on how to enroll.

Sample Course Description

Let's look at a sample course description:

ACC 201: Principles of Financial Accounting (3 credits)
Basic concepts of financial structures are discussed. Transaction measurement, analysis and summation, financial report creation and interpretation are covered
Semester: Fall, spring, summer
Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or instructor permission

Course descriptions provide students with information about individual courses, such as prerequisites, credits to be earned, what topics will be covered, and more. These descriptions are available in the institution's course catalog and are usually posted online as well.

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