Are you a college student wondering whether prerequisites are important to your career path? Do you need clarification about what the whole concept stands for? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re in the right place.
This article addresses everything you should know about prerequisite courses, including their importance and how to choose the right prerequisites for your chosen course. We’ll also explain the consequences of failing a prerequisite, so you’ll know what you’re going into beforehand.
What Does a Prerequisite Mean in College?
Also known as pre-reqs, prerequisites in college are specific subjects or courses that students must take (and earn a passing grade in) before moving to the next level of the course. In college settings, it qualifies you for another course in the next grade level.
Some college courses feature different parts to be taught in different grade levels. So to be accepted into the advanced parts of such courses, you must prove that you have completed a similar course as a prerequisite in the same course or a similar one at a lower level. For example, a student must complete PHYS: 1611 (Introductory Physics I) or PHYS: 1511 (College Physics I), to be eligible to take College Physics II. Such courses typically come in 100-, 200-, 300-, or 400-levels, with the higher levels showing advancements in the said course.
Why Do Colleges Have Prerequisites?
It’s simple: prerequisites are one of the methods colleges use to ensure students have prior knowledge of a course before entering the advanced level. It does not only help professors to know where to begin when teaching at a certain academic level. It also helps students to feel more comfortable and confident while venturing into the subject.
In addition to providing prior knowledge about an advanced course, prerequisite subjects also help to prepare your mind for the task ahead. Thus, schools often make them compulsory before moving to the next course level.
How Do Students Benefit from Prerequisites?
At the beginning of their college journey, most incoming freshmen often see prerequisite courses as annoying hoops they must jump through to earn a degree. However, pre-reqs serve more than that purpose. They typically serve as introductions to various courses, so undergraduates can choose courses to enroll in from an informed position.
Other benefits of prerequisites to students include:
Building a base for knowledge
As you compare colleges, you’ll find that most colleges have their unique general education requirements. Nonetheless, these schools will typically require you to take courses in several subjects. This will help open students up to a broad knowledge base before earning their bachelor’s degree.
Yes, you’re probably enrolling in college to gain knowledge in specific courses related to your desired career. But it’s also important to strive towards being a well-rounded person capable of impacting society in many ways, and that’s where prerequisites come into play. Prerequisites for college freshmen are designed to build strong foundations in the major areas of human study and endeavor before moving to advanced courses. They also help you to fully understand and better appreciate the world.
Enhancement of communication skills
In addition to building a solid foundation in specific areas, many college prerequisite courses also include written and oral communication lessons. The importance of communication skills in today’s business world cannot be overemphasized, and that’s why most schools require you to take several courses that’ll enhance your communication ability as prerequisites. Some colleges even include practical communication courses like professional writing and presentations in their list of prerequisites for certain courses.
Prerequisites can help improve critical thinking skills
Another vital benefit of prerequisites for students is their potential to improve critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate issues from a neutral position to form the right judgment. It’s also the ability to resist acting on impulse and instead carefully study all available information to arrive at a rational conclusion. Critical thinking is an important skill in the modern world. So it’s not surprising that schools target some of their prerequisites towards improving this skill. Enrolling in prerequisites like ENGL001 (English Composition) can help you learn how to analyze issues from different perspectives before concluding.
How to Know If a Course Has a Prerequisite?
Although prerequisites are pretty popular in college, not all courses have them. Hence, the need to know how to identify courses with prerequisites beforehand. The truth is that pre-reqs and admission requirements typically vary from school to school, although most colleges and universities want students to complete a standard core curriculum. While registering for a new grade level, there are two methods to know whether a course has or requires prerequisites:
- Check the college website: most colleges list vital information like this on their websites. So you can always refer to the section of their website containing courses and requirements to see which prerequisites you’ll need for the course you’re applying for. For example, Cornell University discusses Prerequisites and lists some prerequisites for certain courses in this link. Please note that some courses may not have prerequisites, so you won’t see any information on prerequisites attached to such courses on their website.
- Inquire at the admissions office: another way to learn about courses and their prerequisites is by inquiring at the admissions office. Admission officers are usually familiar with such information and are always ready to put you through. So, if there’s something confusing about prerequisite courses, you can walk into the admission office and inquire.
When Do You Take Prerequisite Classes?
Pre-reqs aren’t that difficult to understand, especially once you’re sure about what you want to study in college. But one question that keeps coming up is, “when are prerequisites required?” Prerequisite courses can be completed at any time before moving to a new grade. The only rule is that you must complete a prerequisite course and earn a prerequisite grade before moving to the next course. Prerequisites are often implemented in all grade levels to measure students’ comprehension and readiness for the next level.
Prerequisites are essential for the individual and the course. For students, enrolling in a course without taking prerequisite courses or earning prerequisite grades can set them up for failure and hinder general academic excellence.
Generally, prerequisites can come at any time. For example:
The prerequisite for a first-year college-level science course might require you to take a grade 12 Biology or Chemistry class. The same applies to most other courses in other departments.
What Happens if You Fail Prerequisite Classes?
Failing a prerequisite class is far from optimal. However, there’ll be times when it’ll be out of your control due to excruciating circumstances. It could be because of a health issue or a family problem. It could also be because you’re trying to balance your studies with a part-time job. It’s one thing to know why you failed and another to know what lies ahead. So if you fail, here are some of the consequences to expect.
Lower GPA/Academic Standing
The most likely consequence of failing a prerequisite is its impact on your GPA. It also impacts your academic standing negatively. You already know how badly an F can affect your transcript.
GPA stands for grade point average. Most colleges GPA by assigning value to your grades across different courses and dividing its total by the total number of courses you enrolled for. A lower GPA isn’t necessarily a suicide prompt, so you shouldn’t stress it yet. But striving towards a better GPA is essential if you want to hunt for good-paying jobs from an advantaged position.
Extended college time and possibly more retakes
Like every other course, failing prerequisites can directly translate to an extension of your college stay. Failing prerequisites is often like failing a level in a computer game. You’d need to stay on that level and play it again until you’re successful. In the case of college prerequisites, you’ll not be able to move to a higher-level course if you don’t pass its prerequisite. That can extend the number of years you’d spend in college if you’re not careful.
Academic probation and possible expulsion
Different schools react differently to prerequisite failures. Distinguished schools like private colleges or ivy league schools typically have rigorous standards. This means that they’ll always set higher standards for students looking to remain in good academic standings throughout college.
For example, most schools in this category require students to maintain a certain GPA or face the risk of being expelled or punished. So, failing a prerequisite would pull down your GPA, extend your college stay, and cause possible academic probation.
Some colleges see low GPAs and failing grades as signs that you may not be able to handle the academic workload associated with the degree path you’ve chosen.
Are Prerequisites Required in College?
Yes, prerequisites play different roles in different colleges. Prerequisite courses often serve the purpose of measuring knowledge to determine a student’s readiness for the next level of their academic career. As discussed above, it’s important for both the individual and the course. For the individual, enrolling in a college course without meeting the prerequisites can set you up for failure and hinder your academic development. So, yes, prerequisites are important in most colleges.
Wrapping Things Up: Are Prerequisites Necessary in College?
Prerequisites are not just necessary for college but for every level of education. Prerequisite courses are designed to be part of the building block system. This means that higher-level courses are usually built upon the knowledge established in lower-level courses. For example, some college degrees require students to take calculus I as a prerequisite for college freshmen before taking calculus II as a sophomore.
There are many reasons prerequisites are essential for you as a college student. However, one of their most important benefits is preventing students from enrolling in courses they are unprepared for. Prerequisite courses serve as the basis upon which advanced knowledge is built. So it’s not surprising that some colleges mandate students to take them.
Thankfully, the whole pre-reqs concept isn’t so difficult to understand, especially once you’re sure about what you want to study in college. However, if there’s any part of it you still need help understanding or you run into a unique problem, we recommend reaching out to your academic advisor. Academic advisors can help you through the process of choosing the right college courses for your career path. They can also advise you on the best ways to handle each course as it comes.