College Course Selection

college phase 5 Aug 25, 2022

By Kimball Bullington, Ph.D.

If you will be transferring or even considering transferring, make sure the courses you take will transfer for required courses in your major at your target university.  It is not sufficient to have courses that will transfer, they must transfer for the right courses.  Otherwise you will exceed the number of electives and courses will be wasted as far as your plan of study is concerned.  

Not all required courses are created equal. Generally, there are university requirements, college requirements, and major (departmental) requirements. University requirements are courses that are required for all degrees at that institution. You can schedule the university requirements at your target institution even if you are uncertain about the direction of your study. For instance, if you are still undecided between business and engineering, you can register for university-required courses and defer your decision.  Most, but surprisingly, not all, colleges will have English requirements and perhaps mathematics requirements.  It is often good to register for these in the first semester as other classes build on these pre-requisite courses.  

College requirements are required courses within a college, such as the college of arts and sciences or the college of business.  If you have decided upon a career in business, but are choosing between accounting and management you may register for college of business required courses and defer the choice of a major without risk.  

Consider taking only required courses at first to save your elective courses for later semesters. Deferring electives preserves your flexibility and gives you more opportunity to learn about courses you might not consider early in your time at college.  Also, should you change majors, the decision to take only required courses can reduce your time to graduate.  

There are exceptions to the advice to delay your electives. If you are deciding between majors, then choosing relevant electives early on may help you decide on a major. Another exception is to take an elective course (e.g., math or foreign language) that will better prepare you for a required course.   Your test scores may make you eligible to take a course for which 

Though you may have a good deal of uncertainty, declaring a major early has advantages.  It gives you some focus, even if the result is that you eliminate that choice.  There are also scholarships that are available to certain majors.  Once you have declared a major there will be major requirements to deal with.  

It may be helpful to work backwards in a plan of study, beginning with the courses required in the senior year.  Open (paper or digital) your university catalog and find the course requirements for your chosen major.  Go to the course descriptions of each of the courses in the senior year and note the pre-requisite courses.  Repeat this process for the junior year and so on back to the freshman year.  Give particular attention to chains of pre-requisite courses.  These pre-requisite chains help you to identify courses that are most important to take early in your college career.   

Identifying required courses at your target university can help you to graduate sooner with fewer unnecessary hours.  Start with required courses and save your electives for later in your career.  


Dr. Kimball Bullington was a professor in the School of Business at Middle Tennessee State University for 20 years and now is a professor of Supply Chain Management at Belmont University.

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