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Types of College Classes 

February 1, 2018

College classes and high school classes look very different. Check out what kind of classes you’ll experience in college!


General education classes

Everyone on campus will be required to take these classes, so the class size will be large. Writing and speech classes, a math and/or science course, and a social studies class of some kind are usually included in this list. Each college’s curriculum or list of classes will be slightly different, but they will be required to graduate, so make sure you get them all in. Some people prefer to take them all in the first few semesters of college, while others wait until their senior year to finish. Most likely this kind of class will be offered every semester, with multiple sections, so you can shop around if you want. Sometimes one professor is known for making these classes really exciting, or you can take them with a friend or roommate! It might be easy to think that these classes are boring, but they are important. They provide a foundation for both the college experience and many skills that will be useful in your other classes.


Major/minor classes

Classes that cover material specific to your field of study are often called major-related classes. This is where you really get to dive into your interests. Your department will also have a list of classes you are required to take to complete your major, but you also have a little bit of control over the rest of your classes. Are you studying graphic design? You could take a typography course. History majors interested in United States history can take a class that studies the Civil War. Many of these classes are set up on a rotation, so they aren’t necessarily offered every semester. Your advisor can usually provide you with a schedule of these classes, so you can plan when to take them.


Elective courses

Getting a degree in college requires completing a certain amount of credit hours. Many of these hours will be fulfilled by your general education courses and major-related classes, but you may find yourself with a few free credit hours that you need to fill. This is where elective courses come in. These classes can cover a variety of topics and you can pick and choose from what interests you. One of the electives that I chose to take was a film studies class. We watched and analyzed all kinds of movies, both new and old. My roommate took an astronomy class that met at night so that they could actually go out and observe the constellations.  Most degrees will have a few credit hours set aside as free electives just so that you have a class or two that you enjoy.


Independent study

Perhaps there is a specific topic in your field that you really want to learn more about, but there isn’t a class that is dedicated to that topic. Ask your advisor or department head if you can do an independent study. Independent studies are not very common and are basically design-your-own classes. They are not built into the course schedule, and they are supervised by a professor rather than taught by one. Oftentimes a student will propose goals, topics and different projects to be completed. They can meet regularly with the professor who is supervising, but it is largely self-paced. You won’t have a room full of classmates either, so you won’t be able to have study groups or consult with other students. This kind of class requires a lot of self-discipline, so beware of starting one if you can’t keep yourself accountable.


Online classes

General education classes can sometimes be held online because of how common they are and how many students have to take them. You could end up taking online classes during the semester as well as regular course that meet weekly. Online classes will have a professor that monitors everything and takes care of grading. Regardless of not being face-to-face with your teacher and classmates, there is still a structure to these classes. You will still have required reading and papers to write. Many online classes have discussion forums that you are expected to interact with weekly. It will be up to you to make sure you accomplish the classwork according to the deadlines, so carving out specific time during your week to do this work is advisable.



Labs are hands-on classes that directly apply what you are learning. These classes are more about working and applying concepts than sitting and taking notes on a lecture. They are more common in science classes, like pre-med or chemistry, though they do show up in some humanities classes like music and art. Your assignments in this type of class will be about producing work, like a specific project or final presentation.


College classes are very different from high school, but that’s ok! Knowing what kind of classes there are and what to expect can be extremely beneficial to your learning process.  


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