Prerequisites are used at all levels of education to gauge student preparedness. By meeting a prerequisite for a course, you are demonstrating that, based on past academic success, you are prepared to enroll -- and succeed -- in the following course, which typically builds on knowledge gained.
Prerequisites are commonly used in colleges and graduate schools as a means of measuring knowledge to determine whether a student is ready to advance to the next level. This is important for the student and the course. Enrolling in a course for which you have not met the prerequisite can set a student up for failure and hinder the academic experience for other students. Some colleges also incorporate prerequisites prior to graduation. In an Oct. 30, 2007, article published in "Inside Higher Ed," University of Kentucky Provost Kumble Subbaswamy said, “The curriculum would likely also include a four-credit-hour writing course (already added by the university) as well an advanced writing seminar to be completed before graduation."
How to Locate a Course Prerequisite
Prerequisites are often found next to course description in the catalog. The information also is often found on the registrar's page on college websites. Many universities are only using online course catalogs and the prerequisite (if there is one) is always found either before or after the course description. This information can also be learned by asking the course professor, and the administrative assistant in the department also has the information. Learning the prerequisites for an advanced degree program can be found on the website, typically under degree requirements. Professional degree programs often have brochures and viewbooks, and the prerequisites for admission are usually found in the material for prospective students.
A prerequisite may say “BIO 110 or equivalent.” For students who feel they have already attained the depth of knowledge at either another institution or through professional experience, it may be worth visiting the department’s main office to see if you can take an exam to test out of the course listed as a prerequisite.
The Difference Between a Prerequisite and a Corequisite
Some courses at the college require a prerequisite to have been met before enrollment, and other courses may require a corequisite upon enrollment. Corequisites mean you must enroll in another course in the same semester. This is common in the medical/ health sciences where, for example, a student wishing to enroll in a three-credit BIO 110 must also enroll in a one-credit lab course. This information usually is found in the course catalog.
Common Prerequisites at the College Level
Prerequisites are found in many subjects but most often at the advanced level. For example, advanced English literature courses may require students to have taken sophomore-level courses. Science courses are known for prerequisites because of the amount of complex information that must be satisfactorily learned before advanced study.