Class vs Course – What’s the Difference


Starting college means a lot of changes. Beyond choosing a school, there are nuances in college that don’t exist elsewhere. Knowing small differences between things like a class vs. course can help you plan better for your future.



Small discussion group with adult studentsSmall discussion group with adult students
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What is a Major?

Most college degrees entail choosing a major. A major is your specialized area of study. Another word for a major is a concentration. This subject makes up a student’s core curriculum, or the bulk of the courses taken.


At the same time, students are usually required to take elective courses. Elective courses are outside of one’s major, but help contribute to a well-rounded education.



What is a Course?

A course is a series of classes. These classes are all in one area of study. Therefore, when choosing a major, you will take courses geared towards that major. Courses are assigned credits. Colleges dictate how many credits you need to take to graduate.


Sometimes, there will be lower division courses and upper division courses.


In general, lower division courses focus on general education and occur in the beginning of college. Once students earn enough course credits, they move up into upper division courses. These courses are major-specific. Therefore, they may be more in-depth and often provide more of a challenge because they are specialized.



What is a Class?

The word class is often misused as a synonym for a course, but it is different. In college, the word “class” is used to describe a particular instance of a course. For example, a student may say, “I have to go to my Algebra II class now.”


Most of the time, class is used to informally describe a course. For example, students may ask, “How many classes are you taking?”



Class vs Course: Main Differences

This is an easy roadmap to tell the difference between a course or class.

  • Courses are made up of multiple lessons (and, in turn, classes)
  • Lessons are the building blocks of a course that are taught during class
  • Lessons are the subject matter or course material that is taught progressively
  • A class is the particular time and day that a lesson takes place


College lecture hall with theatre-style seatingCollege lecture hall with theatre-style seating
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All You Need to Know About Courses

When it comes to courses, there’s a lot to know. There are various types of courses, numbering systems, and differentiators.


Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about courses:



Kinds of Courses

1. Lecture


A lecture generally takes place in a large room with theatre-like seating. A professor stands in the front and talks for most of the time. During this time, students take notes. A lecturer may use a PowerPoint presentation, whiteboard, handouts, etc.



2. Discussion


Many institutions supplement a lecture with a discussion. A discussion may also be called a section. In a discussion, it’s a small setting that’s more like a classroom. In discussions, you talk with peers, go over homework, ask questions and work with a teacher’s assistant.



3. Seminar


Seminars are when a professor meets with a smaller group of students. More often than not, seminars happen in advanced courses. For example, seminars are typical in graduate school. They are more personal and teach students on-the-job skills and research methods.



4. Lab


Laboratory is part of many science curricula. This is where students apply what’s learned in class to practice hands-on in a lab setting.



5. Studio


A studio is to arts and humanities students what a lab is to science students. It’s a place for students to apply theory from class to their work. For example, there may be a drawing studio or painting studio.



6. Independent Study


Sometimes a university may not offer exactly what a student is interested in learning. At times, you can design your own study through independent study. In this case, a professor and student will meet outside of regular classes. Independent study tends to be research-heavy.



Elective and Required Courses

Courses are often broken up by major-specific classes and non-major-specific classes. In this way, institutions designate how many units, or credits, of each must be attained to graduate. Required courses are also called core courses. Elective courses are outside of one’s major and allow students a chance to learn about other subjects that interest them.



Course Numbering

Colleges and universities have a system for naming and numbering courses. In the United States, a course is often named after an abbreviation of the major and then given a 3- to 4-digit number.


For example, for History majors, a course may be called HIS246. The first number can either refer to the level at which the course is intended to be taken, or it could refer to a particular topic.



How Do Online Classes Work?

While most traditional universities tend to follow similar models when it comes to classes and courses, online institutions are inherently different. This is because classes are all digital. While online institutions are less conventional than in-person campuses, they offer many benefits.


Some of the biggest benefits of attending college online include:

  • A flexible schedule
  • A less expensive alternative
  • A more accessible setup
  • Democratized education for students around the world

For example, at the University of the People, students can enroll in four degree programs: Computer Science, Health Science, Education, and Business Administration. Depending on the level of study (i.e., Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s), the required number of courses, and thereby credits, vary.


However, for every class that is taken, the work is 100% online – and tuition-free! There are discussion forums where peers can work together and all class information is transferred or uploaded digitally. The coursework is strategically designed by experts and professors from around the world to prepare students to enter the workforce.



The Bottom Line

No matter where you enroll in college, you will undoubtedly sign up for courses that consist of classes. There is no need to stress about what to take though! This is because schools design curriculum that outline course options and requirements for you. In addition, they offer administrative support to help you through the choices.


Remember, when choosing a major (and, in turn, your courses), it’s useful to pick something you genuinely are interested in learning about. From electives to core classes, you will graduate with a degree and a vast amount of useful knowledge to be applied in work and in life.




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