Registrar 101: Definition & Use of Prerequisite, Corequisite Courses

I once had an aged Philosophy professor in my undergraduate program tell the class that we learn definitions and meanings of words by their repeated use. He gave us two words: heilsgeschichte and noumena, and told us that we were not allowed to look up their definitions but instead had to use them 5 times a day in conversation and then come back next week with our own definitions. Let’s just say that there was a rather lengthy stunned silence in class as we stared at him incredulously.

I'm sure this is Kant's definition of Noumena.
I’m sure this is Kant’s definition of Noumena.

I don’t remember any of the definitions we came up with, but he didn’t seem to care unless one of us had obviously cheated and came up with a rather Kant-like definition of noumena. Most of the time, when I said “heilsgeschichte!” people responded, “Gesundheit!” which seemed rather fitting somehow. I remember nothing else from that class, other than the prof holding up a chair and telling us it wasn’t a real chair after which I drifted off…

This is not a chair.
This is a real chair, but definitely not an ideal chair.

I personally believe that some definitions are important. I understand Wittgenstein’s theory of language and meaning (I think…). I also know Ph.D. students think their doctoral dissertations can’t be taken seriously unless they invent a new word or redefine an old word (I blame Immanuel Kant for popularizing this. Actually I blame Kant and Wittgenstein for most of the world’s problems). My point is this: if you want to be confused, read Kant or Wittgenstein without a dictionary of philosophy.

This is not Wittgenstein either.
This is not Wittgenstein either.

I’ve been a Registrar for 18 years now, and until 8 years ago I had never heard of the term “corequisite.” And, until two years ago, I had no personal need to use the term. And last year, I finally learned the definition and use of it. Assuming you might still be learning, let me propose two words and their definitions and then you can use them five times a day for the next week and come up with your own definition:

  • “Prerequisite course: a course that must be completed successfully prior to enrolling in a subsequent course.” For example, students must complete (and pass!) PHIL 101 Introduction to Philosophy before they are permitted to enroll in PHIL 201: Epistemology: Theories of Knowledge. This includes knowing the difference between a real chair and an ideal chair.
  • “Corequisite course: a course of study that must be completed at the same time as another course of study.” For example, BIOL 101: Introduction to Biology must be taken in the same semester as BIOL 101L: Introduction to Biology Lab.

Something else I have learned about these two terms is that there is a hard and a soft application for each. The hard, or strict, application of these terms is when there is no way out of them. For example, if students are required to take PHIL 101 first, no ifs, ands, or buts, then our student registration computer system blocks registration in any PHIL courses until that one is completed. The soft application of these terms is when they are intended to be recommendations (perhaps even strongly recommended) but not absolutely required. When this is the case, computer systems have challenges in managing them. We have chosen to have our computer system manage these as strict requirements, but we allow faculty members to waive the requirement for individual students (but not whole classes). Students can simply make a request to the faculty member, who can grant what is called an “Authorization to register” which basically overrides the pre-requisite requirement for that student. The student can then register for the subsequent course without a lightning bolt zapping them for not having the proper prerequisite.

If we learn that a pre-requisite is really soft (i.e., no one cares to enforce it), then we push it to the faculty or department and request that they review it for the next academic calendar or catalogue.

Do these definitions capture your understanding of these two terms? If not, help us all by suggesting some improvements by leaving a comment.


2 thoughts on “Registrar 101: Definition & Use of Prerequisite, Corequisite Courses

  1. Hi Grant,
    I don’t come here often, but here I am now (don’t get all philosophical on me). I thought your definitions were correct until about 10 years ago when I joined UBC. UBC has a way of showing you that until you saw things their way, you were merely misleading yourself. Now I get to be that guy. For us, your definition of co-requisite is “concurrent”. A co-requisite requirement could be taken either as a prerequisite, or concurrently. In other words, concurrent is the most restrictive. Mind blowing, or what?


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