Everything You Need To Know About College Prerequisites

The word order written in red on a white backgroung. You need to take prerequisites in the right order.

Prerequisites, frequently called Pre Reqs, are classes that all students will need to take. They serve an important purpose. Here at Your College Sensei, I like efficiency, particularly when it comes to getting through college in a timely manner. Time is the most valuable commodity we have. We all have 24 hours in a day and how we choose to use them is what sets us apart from each other. Prioritizing time and using it efficiently is the key to graduating quickly and with the least amount of debt possible. Knowing what your prerequisites are can save you both time and money.

What is a Prerequisites in College?

A prerequisite course is a required class that must be completed prior to enrolling in a more advanced course within the same subject. Prerequisites essentially prepare you to be successful in a related course. Generally, the prerequisite course is taught at a lower level and covers information and concepts that you will be expected to know before taking the higher-level class. Completing the prerequisite course demonstrates that you are proficient enough to advance to the next level of coursework.

Like pesky little bugs, prerequisites can invade, disrupt, and annoy your academic plan. If not properly planned and scheduled, they can wreak havoc on your graduating timeline. Some majors, like nursing, engineering, and computer science are riddled with them. Even if you don’t have a lot of required prerequisites, they still may force you to take classes you don’t want to take and during times that are inconvenient to your schedule. However, with a little bit of planning, you can navigate them without too much trouble.  

It’s Important To Know The Exact Prerequisites You Need

Since Pre Reqs require you to take classes in chronological order, it is essential you know what you need to take and when. Often classes are offered once a year, or they are very impacted and hard to get it. If you miss taking a prerequisite class, it can throw your entire semester off and potentially your graduation schedule.

Remember, the saying Through In Two, Finish In Four. This means that if you are at a community college earning your associate’s degree it should take two years—four semesters. If you start a university as a freshman, it should take you four years—eight semesters, to earn your bachelor’s degree. It will be very hard to graduate on time if you don’t take a full semester load and know exactly what your prerequisites are.

How Do I Know If A Class Has A Prerequisite

Sometimes it is difficult to know if a class has a required prerequisite. Classes that require a previously completed course as the prerequisite are typically indicated in the class schedule with an asterisk (*) symbol. Usually, you will be able to click on the asterisk or hover over it to read what the prerequisites are. Sometimes there is a dropdown menu. Some course descriptions will state if there is a prerequisite and what it is.

Many colleges have a chart located on their website with all the courses that have enforced prerequisites. Generally, the rule is English, Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics classes will have prerequisites. Every student will have to take one of these subjects at some point. Therefore, everyone will have to take a prerequisite.

Identifying prerequisite classes early on in your academic plan can get them out of the way so you have more freedom to build your class schedule. If you don’t know what your major will be, that’s okay. Almost every student, no matter their major is, will need to take an English and a Math class. As a freshman, these are the first two subjects you focus on.

Be sure to read, How To Create A Academic Plan For College.

Community college is one of the best places to take prerequisite classes. It’s more affordable and transferring to a university is smoother as you are ready to take upper-division courses.   

Will My Prerequisites Transfer

When a student decides to transfer it is their responsibility to meet all prerequisite requirements for enrollment. Often there may be a concern about whether a prerequisite will transfer. Most colleges have an articulation guide that you can use to see how your classes will transfer. Some colleges require a student to submit transcripts for verification. If you can’t find anything on your college’s website, I strongly advise you to reach out to a counselor. If you went to a California college, you could use www.assist.org, which is the site that I used.

Can I Skip The Prerequisite Class

If a student tries to register for a class that has a prerequisite that they have not taken the registration will be blocked. The student will not be cleared until the prerequisite class is completed with a passing grade. At the community college level, a passing grade for a prerequisite class is usually a “C” or better, since most community colleges don’t have a plus “+” or minus “-” grading scale. At the university level, a “C-” or better is typically required as they do implement the +/- scale.

However, specific departments may have different requirements. If a department’s policy requires a “C” or better and a “C-” grade is earned it will not be accepted and the student will be required to repeat the class to try and earn a higher grade. Departments must specify what grade they will accept in the catalog course description; a student should be able to easily find it. At my alma mater, California State University Sacramento, the Business Department required a “C” or better for all prerequisite courses.

For example, at my alma mater California State University Sacramento, one of my required upper-division courses, GM 105, Strategic Management, had prerequisites of “Completion of all upper-division core courses, except MIS 101.” This is considered a capstone course as it is usually taken in the last semester and encompasses concepts previously introduced throughout the other upper-division core courses.

California State University Sacramento class description for a Strategic Management course. It lists prerequisites and units for the class.

There are 8 total required upper-division core courses for my Business Major. This includes the capstone course GM 105 and MIS 101 which are excluded from being a prerequisite for GM 105. This leaves six total courses as prerequisites for my capstone class. Each class is 3 credits making a total of 18 prerequisite credits.

Plan Carefully

If not carefully planned, a capstone course can delay graduation. This is because, in addition to these Pre Reqs, there are other requirements such as major electives and general education requirements. These must be considered too. The capstone class may not be taken unless those 18 prerequisite units are completed. This required me to take prerequisite classes over the summer and each semester leading up until my final semester. Then during my final semester, I took the capstone class and 4 other major elective classes which I had delayed taking for my last semester.

Sacramento State upper division core classes for business majors prerequisites