Q&A: What Is a Prerequisite?

Answer: A prerequisite is a "pre-course" or introductory course that must be taken prior to another course. College courses are categorized by numbers. For example, there are 100-level courses (i.e., ENG 101 - Introduction to English); 200-level courses (i.e., COM 225 - Public Speaking); and 300- and 400-level courses (i.e., PSY 357 - Developmental Lifespan). Most classes that are 200-level and above require a 100-level prerequisite and classes generally become more difficult with advancing numerical level.

A prerequisite is required when a particular course includes higher level concepts and materials, beyond the basics of the subject. The basics are generally provided in a lower-level course. Here are some examples:

  • Introduction to English may be a prerequisite for Creative Writing
  • Introduction to Psychology may be a prerequisite for Behaviors and Psychology
  • Introduction to Algebra may be a prerequisite for Geometry
  • Introduction to Art History may be a prerequisite for Art in the 17th Century

Progressing to higher-level courses is part of the college process, but it's also important to be prepared for these courses. Prerequisites and/or introductory level courses can provide the foundation needed for the upper-level courses. There are times when a student has taken a similar course to the prerequisite, maybe at the current school or at a school attended in the past. Some schools and/or colleges will allow students to provide authentic documentation for this course. Authentic documentation could entail providing a school transcript or official letter from the school where the course was completed successfully.

Some students can take a test on the subject and may be allowed to "test-out." This means as long as the grade is passing (determined by the school), a student may be permitted to progress to a higher course. Schools, colleges and universities want students to be successful. Their goal is to make sure learning is happening progressively and that students have a good understanding of the subject knowledge and how to apply what they are learning. Prerequisites assist students in both being prepared and making sure they have the best chances for succeeding in future classes.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!