What Are University and College Courses?

College and university courses are the basic building blocks of higher education. All types of degree programs, including associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees, are made up of college and university courses. View article »

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  • 0:04 College and University Courses
  • 0:29 Course Types
  • 1:28 Course Lettering and Numbering
  • 2:26 Degree Program Courses
  • 3:12 Who Offers Courses?

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Video Transcript

College and University Courses

When choosing between college courses, it can be helpful to understand the formats and levels at which they are offered as well as the institutions that offer them. Colleges and universities offer courses that can be used for credit toward undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates. Some colleges and universities also offer non-credit courses, such as continuing education or personal enrichment courses.

Course Types

There are a variety of courses that college and university students can choose from. Courses that lead to academic credit may be lecture courses, discussion courses, or lab courses. In lecture courses, the professor or teaching assistant generally presents information while the students take notes. Discussion-based courses typically emphasize learning through student engagement. Lab courses are often combined with science lectures. Students get hands-on training conducting experiments. There are also online courses that deliver course materials through virtual platforms. Some colleges and universities also offer personal enrichment programs for individuals that are not enrolled in formal degree or certificate programs. They are typically offered in interest areas such as art, dance, culture, foreign language, music, writing, computers, health, and personal finance.

Course Lettering and Numbering

Often college courses are designated with a combination of numbers and letters. The letters usually refer to the department or the program, though this varies from school to school, while the number indicates where the course falls in a sequence of courses. For example, in AAE 200, 'AAE' indicates the course is part of the aerospace engineering program and the '200' denotes that it is the core 200-level course. At the undergraduate level, courses usually are 100-, 200-, 300-, or 400-level. Generally, the higher the course number, the more advanced the course. Higher level courses may be numbered between 500 and 999. Courses that are at the 500-799 level are classified as graduate-level courses. Courses numbered between 800-999 are considered to be professional-level courses.

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Degree Program Courses

Students in degree programs usually complete some combination of general education courses, major requirements, and elective courses. Students' general education courses are commonly lower-level introductory courses, and may be numbered at the 100- and 200-level. Students are required to complete more and higher-level courses with their major field of study, and during students' junior or senior year, they may be taking 300- and 400-level courses in their field. For graduate degrees, individuals must usually complete a certain number of graduate-level courses in order to earn their degrees. Sometimes, if they have not met the prerequisites for a graduate program in a particular subject, they may also take undergraduate courses during their first term.

Who Offers Courses?

A university is made up of multiple colleges or schools. For instance, a single university may contain a college of liberal arts, a college of business, and a college of engineering. Colleges, in turn, are frequently made up of multiple departments. A university's college of engineering could contain a department of aerospace engineering, a department of computer engineering, and a department of mechanical engineering.

Departments, in turn, offer courses that students complete as part of a program or major. Colleges function similarly in that they have multiple departments that offer programs and courses. They differ in that there is usually a single college without the overarching structure of a university.

There are many different types of college and university courses available to meet the academic needs of undergraduate students, graduate students, and community learners.

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