Types of College Courses

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When a new freshman is looking at a college course catalogue, the dizzying array of available classes can be daunting. Understanding the structure of college classes can ease the transition from a formulaic high school schedule to a flexible college schedule. Which professors to take, on the other hand, are choices best made using the advice of older classmates. Regardless, all students will experience these various types of college classes within their academic career.

1 Orientation Classes

Orientation classes are usually conducted as a one-credit, pass-fail course. The goal of these incredibly easy, large-sized classes is to acquaint students with the university or with the desired major. An example of such a class might be called “The ASU Experience” or “The School of International Service Seminar.”

2 General Education Classes

Students from nuclear physics majors to dance majors must all take general education classes. No one is exempt from taking a wide variety of classes that seldom have anything to do with their chosen major. Most students take the bulk of these classes their first two years of college.

Most universities require 32 to 40 credit hours (usually 10 to 15 classes) of coursework that teaches basic science, math, economics, foreign language or cultural studies, history and writing. The purpose is to make students “well rounded” and provide a glimpse of various disciplines offered by the school.

3 Elective Classes

Elective classes are designed to save the sanity of stressed college students while offering some college credit. Many students take advantage of these courses as means of socializing. Examples of electives are yoga, choir, bowling and marching band. Some students, however, choose to take more rigorous courses for elective classes based on an interest in the subject.

4 Weed-Out Classes

Each major usually has a course or two that test the desire of a student to pursue that field. As explained by the Yale Daily News publication “The Insider’s Guide to Colleges,” weed-out classes are notoriously, yet intentionally, difficult. They have smaller class sizes and are often upper-level. These classes usually come in the early part of a student’s coursework in his major. This ensures he can switch majors with little ground lost if he finds he dislikes the field.

To avoid a weed-out class, students can usually opt to take the class at a sister school of the university where the class might be easier. They can also try to select an easier professor.

5 Major-Specific Coursework

At least eight major-specific 300- to 400-level classes must be completed. These in-depth classes analyze the chosen major through a variety of lenses. For example, an economics major at Arizona State might have major-specific coursework called “History of Economic Thought” and “Econometrics.” Though one assesses economics from a philosophical view, another class on the same subject might rely entirely on math and statistics.

The goal of these courses is to provide a well-rounded view of one subject. The student can decide on a career path based on one facet of the study, be it as an academic researcher of economics or a forecaster for a Fortune 500 company.

Since 2008 Catherine Capozzi has been writing business, finance and economics-related articles from her home in the sunny state of Arizona. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in economics from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, which has given her a love of spreadsheets and corporate life.