Prerequisites are used at all levels of education to gauge student preparedness. Schools broadly define prerequisite as a core competency that must be demonstrated before tackling a course that requires foundational knowledge. By meeting a prerequisite for a course, you are demonstrating that, based on past academic success, you are prepared to enroll and pass, which typically builds on prior knowledge gained.

What Is a Prerequisite?

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. Many colleges and universities also set prereqs for graduation that can include courses not related to the student’s major or minor. The idea is to provide a student with a well-rounded education. Examples of typical classes that must be completed before graduation include writing intensive courses, physical education activities and cultural diversity electives.

How to Locate Prerequisite

Prerequisites are often found next to course description in the catalog. The information also is often located on the registrar's page on college websites. Many universities are only using online course catalogs and the prereqs (if there is one) are 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.

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Exceptions to Prereq Requirements

A prerequisite may say “ACCT 100 or equivalent.” For transfer or non-traditional students who feel they have already attained the depth of knowledge of accounting basics at either another institution or through professional experience, it may be worth visiting the department’s main office to discuss options. After careful review, prerequisites may be waived for students who believe they took a class elsewhere that is the course equivalency of the prerequisite. Or you may be offered an opportunity to take a prerequisite exam to test out of the course you would like to skip. The prerequisite exam meaning can vary. Often it refers to the standard Accuplacer placement exam given to incoming students or to a challenge exam available in certain subjects at some schools. If you achieve a satisfactory score, you may be exempted from taking the prerequisite you are lacking.

How Schools Define Prerequisite and 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. A corequisite also refers to two interrelated classes that must be taken the same semester because you unlikely to pass one without the other.

Common Prereqs 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. Further, students must receive a passing grade or higher in the prerequisite course. Students who do not pass the prerequisite class may retake it in accordance with their school’s course repeat policy.

About the Author

T.R. Cotter is a novelist and poet living in Kentucky. She received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has published a variety of articles in both print and online journals.