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The Meaning and Necessity of Prerequisites

written by: Haley Drucker•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 5/26/2010

If you need to know just what does prerequisites mean, you’ll find the simple answer here. We define the prerequisite, talk about the major types you might encounter, and discuss planning out your courses in advance.

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    The Prerequisite

    You’re searching through the course catalog, trying to decide which classes to take next semester, and a strange word catches your eye. That word is “prerequisites” (or some obscure abbreviation for it). What does prerequisites mean, you wonder, and is it important? Is it going to affect me and the classes I take?

    The answer is absolutely. A prerequisite is a requirement for taking a class, some condition you have to fulfill before you can sign up. They appear in all colleges and a lot of high schools, and make planning out your schedule at least a year in advance necessary. It is best to plan out all four years, or however long you plan to be in school, before you sign up for classes the first time. After all, you don’t want to try and sign up for a class in the future just to find out you don’t meet all the requirements, but could have if you had taken a different class the previous semester.

    So check the classes you hope to take throughout your school career for prerequisites, and plan accordingly. Prerequisites are most commonly found with higher-level classes: those you might want to take your junior and senior year. Also, they are almost always a part of the description for any class that is a “Part 2” or “Level 2” or something similar.

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    Types of Prerequisites

    There are three major types of prerequisites.

    School year: Especially in colleges, some courses require you to be at a certain grade level and/or number of credit hours before you can register. For example, a particularly tough science class might say “junior/senior required,” meaning that you have to be a junior or senior to sign up for it.

    A previous class: Some courses require you to have taken another class first, or even a couple of classes. Cognitive Psychology might require that you first take Psychology 101, and a class like Photography 2 will almost always require that you first complete Photography 1. Calculus 3 likely requires Calculus 2, which in turn will require Calculus 1. Generally you will see higher-level, tougher classes that have lower-level classes as prerequisites. Pay special attention in college to the general education program (if you have one) since there are often prerequisites that force you to take those classes in a certain order.

    Grade in a previous class: When a previous class is a prerequisite, it means you need to have passed that course. But other higher-level courses require a certain grade in a related class, not just a pass. Spanish 2 might require a B or higher in Spanish 1, and Creative Writing might require a C or higher in English 101. If you don’t have the grade you need, you may have the option to retake the lower-level class to try and achieve a better grade.

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    Be Aware

    Prerequisites often play a major role in shaping the way your education plays out, so make sure you are aware of them. They might determine the order in which you take major/minor classes, or even whether it is possible for you to take a particular class. Not planning around prerequisites can mean a delayed graduation. So be sure to talk to your school counselor or subject advisor for information about the prerequisites that will affect you.