Overview of Classes Required in College
The types of classes colleges require you to take fall into several general categories, including general education, core, major core, and electives. Within these categories, you may be required to take lower division, upper division, or prerequisite courses before moving on to more advanced courses, as well as a final capstone course to demonstrate what you've learned throughout your degree program.
Lower Division Classes
Some of the classes you'll be required to complete in an associate program or bachelor's degree program are lower division courses. Lower division courses are usually at the 100 to 200 level. For example, your general education and core courses are typically considered lower division, as well as some of your introductory major courses. Lower division classes often serve as prerequisites to more advanced courses.
Upper Division Classes
Upper division classes are at the 300-level and above, with graduate-level courses usually starting in the 500s. You may take 300 and 400-level classes later in your bachelor's degree program as these are more advanced courses.
General Education Classes
Approximately 30 credit hours of general education (gen ed) classes are required for an associate or bachelor's degree. In addition to your major courses, general education classes help you develop a well-rounded skill set. These courses promote literacy skills and competencies that can carry you through college and your career regardless of major. Student outcomes include improved oral and written communications, critical thinking, and math and quantitative reasoning.
Gen ed classes include those in the following disciplines, many of which are in the humanities, that can help you develop the soft skills employers often desire:
Basic Competency Requirements
Within gen ed classes, colleges require that you fulfill basic competency requirements. These competencies include classes in writing and math, and they vary depending on the associate or bachelor's degree. They may include writing and composition and argumentative writing courses as well as general math or algebra courses.
General Education Electives
You may be able to choose which gen ed electives you take within a discipline. For example, you may be told you can choose any three classes from the subjects above, or your school may create a list of other classes from which you can choose.
Colleges require you to complete approximately 40 to 45 credit hours of core classes as an undergraduate. Colleges require all students to complete designated core classes regardless of major. These courses are similar to ged ed classes, with some that are college or university-specific, such as new student orientation or library services courses. However, while gen ed courses are generally transferable, core courses may not be if they are school-specific or you are transferring between a public and private school.
Approximately 30 to 36 credit hours of major classes are required in a bachelor's degree program. Major classes are courses you choose from that are related specifically to your course of study and discipline. You may select classes in specific areas of interest, depending on your career path. For example, if you are pursuing a marketing degree, you may choose from the following major classes to graduate:
- Promotion and Public Relations
- Consumer Behavior
- Strategic Marketing
- Digital Marketing
- Product and Brand Management
- Market Research
Major Core Classes
Major core classes are courses within the major classes category that everyone in your major is required to take. For example, in a communications degree program, you and your peers may be required to take courses such as Introduction to Communications, Communication Theory, and Interpersonal Communications.
Prerequisite (prereqs) classes prepare you for more advanced coursework and can be required at the undergraduate and graduate levels. You may need to take a 100-level course to learn foundational skills before progressing to a 200-level course. For example, a student in a nursing degree program may need to complete basic biology, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology classes before they can move on to advanced technical courses. Sometimes, your gen ed, core, or electives may serve as prereqs to other courses if your school allows you to use them to fulfill multiple requirements.
Depending on your course of study, you may have to complete a capstone class in your final year so you are eligible to graduate. In a computer science bachelor's degree program, for example, you will most likely complete a capstone course where you'll identify a problem and work to solve it by applying skills you've gained throughout the computer science program. You may work on this project within a team of your peers and then deliver an oral presentation at the end of the term. Other degree programs may require you to write a final research paper as part of your capstone.
You're usually allowed to complete approximately 20 to 30 credit hours of electives in an undergraduate degree program. Electives — also called free electives — are classes of your choice and don't have to be major-related. Courses run the gamut from physical education and philosophy to art design and pottery. Electives can be a great way to learn something fun while still earning college credit. They can also give you a break from heavier subjects and can help you balance your workload.
Frequently Asked Questions About College Classes
How Many Math Classes Are Required in College?
Colleges require the completion of three or four math classes, ones you may complete in high school. This usually includes classes such as algebra and geometry, with some students completing math courses up through calculus. Most colleges require you to pass Algebra 2, at a minimum, as part of your general education requirements.
What High School Classes Are Required for College?
College admission requirements include the completion of English, foreign language, math, science with a lab, and social studies classes in high school. Some schools have also started requiring a year of visual or performing arts classes.
How Many English Classes Are Required in College?
Two English classes are generally required in college to graduate, including English composition and college composition.
How Many History Classes Are Required in College?
You typically have to fulfill a three-class social science requirement as part of your gen ed coursework that may include history if you choose. If you are a history degree major, at least one gen ed history class will be required in addition to major requirements.
While still in high school, focus on which classes you need in English, math, a foreign language, natural science, and social studies for college admissions. You can work with your school guidance counselor, who can help you determine which classes you may need to be accepted into the college of your choice. This practice may eliminate the need to take additional classes when starting college. Once you're enrolled in college, your academic advisor can help you plan your course load to fulfill general education, core, major, and elective requirements, and they can help you select the classes that will matter most to you.