Course Proposal - Prerequisites

Any course proposal (new or change) that is approved by the University Curriculum Committee after September 1, 2015 must have prerequisites (if any) that are enforceable by the enrollment system.  Not sure how to write a good prerequisite?  Here is a short set of questions that might help.  A list of standard prerequisites and their definitions are available here.


Why enforce prerequisites?
What can be used in a prerequisite?
Unenforceable Prerequisites and Consent of Instructor
Using grades in a prerequisite
Prohibited phrases
Phrases to use
Enrollment limits based on course number
Courses that might be considered equivalent for requisites

 Why enforce prerequisites?
Students with the necessary preparation or background perform better in courses than students who are not prepared.  Students should be clearly and completely informed as to the preparation that is expected in order for them to determine whether they should or should not take a specific course. In the past there has been very uneven enforcement of course prerequisites and given the achievement gap that exists in some large courses this is something that needs to be addressed.
  • D/F/DR rates are higher for targeted minority and first generation college students
  • Overall, 8% of undergraduate course outcomes are D/F/DR – this represents a large number of seats that do not result in students making progress toward degree

 What can be used in a prerequisite?
  • Completion of (or concurrent enrollment in) a UW-Madison course or courses   (ex. MATH 101)
    • All courses deemed equivalent to the course should be included
    • All courses crosslisted with the course should be included   
  • Transfer courses that are equivalent to a UW-Madison course 
  • One from a list of courses  (ex. one of STAT 201, 224, 301, 324, or 371)
  • Student Groups 
  • Program/Plan code   (ex. Declared in Athletic Training)
  • Participation in an honors program
  • Class standing (freshman, sophomore etc. determined by credits)
  • Grade in a course  - If grades are used as part of a prerequisite the department must have data that clearly shows that students who have a lower grade are not successful in the subsequent course. Students who earn a grade of D or better in a course receive credit and if a specific grade is not mentioned this is the default standard.
  • GPA - Use of GPA as part of a course prerequisite must also be backed up by significant data.
  • Advanced Placement scores - AP scores (and other advanced standing credits) are automatically included as part of an enforced prerequisite if an equivalent course is used in the prerequisite.
  • UW Placement test scores - Are automatically included as part of an enforced prerequisite if an equivalent course is used in the prerequisite.  (ex. If MATH 112 is a prerequisite, students who exempt from MATH 112 are automatically included)

 Unenforceable Prerequisites and Consent of Instructor

If the required preparation for the course includes factors that are not enforceable in the enrollment system (ex. Ability to run 20 miles per week for a course on training for a marathon) then the factors that would be considered should be mentioned at the end of the course description but the prerequisite would be "consent of instructor" and individual permissions would be given to students.  It is never necessary to list "or consent of instructor" at the end of a prerequisite as faculty always have the purview to override the stated prerequisite and permit a student to enroll.

 Using Grades in a Prerequisite
When completion of a prior course is used as part of a course requisite, earning a grade of D (i.e. getting credit for the course) is the default and in these cases it is not necessary to include language referring to grades in the prerequisite text. In rare circumstances it may be necessary to require a grade higher than a D. Requiring a grade threshold higher than the standard impacts student progress toward degree and requiring a student to repeat a course in order to progress in an area of study should only be done when there is clear evidence that it is necessary for student success in subsequent course work. In these cases data that shows that the higher threshold is required for reasons related to student success (not enrollment management) must be presented as part of the course proposal. 

When a requisite includes completion of a course with a particular grade or higher, transfer courses (which posted to the student transcript as a T) will be calculated as a C. Therefore, in a prerequisite of B, no transfer course (regardless of grade earned at the previous institution) would satisfy the requirement. All test credits (AP, IB, retro credit), are posted as T (equating as a C). Any transfer course receiving credit will have a grade of a T, including courses where the grade from the previous institution of a D.

When a requisite includes completion of a course with a particular grade or higher, courses taken on a pass/fail basis (which posted to the student transcript as a S) will be calculated as a C.  If a student fails a pass/fail course (receives a grade of U) they do not receive credit and therefore the course can not be used to meet a prerequisite.


Where ever there is a placement exam, AP, IB, CLEP equivalent score, or direct transfer equivalency, this will automatically be included in the coding of what can be used to fulfill the prerequisite.

When listing a course, use the short description for the subject + course number  (ex. MATH 221)

No abbreviations  ("so st"  should be written "sophomore standing")

No periods

Use the Oxford comma with 'and' and 'or' statements.

Use semicolons to separate a course list from other requirements such as academic standing or declared program  (ex. Declared in honors program; not open to students who have credit for POLI SCI 106)

Reference to UW-Madison admission standards, or high school preparation  (ex. high school algebra) may not be used.

- Where there is a list ending with “or X” then all course in series are considered “or”  (ex. STAT 201, 224, 301, 324, or 371)
- Where there is a list ending with “and X” then all courses of the series are required  (ex. GEOG 378, 572, 574, 575, 576, and 579)
- Where there are combinations of values that are required as well as a series of alternative values incorporated in the same requisite, the “and” combinations should be listed together, followed by the “or” alternatives (ex. Declared Physics major; PHYSICS 202 and STAT 224, STAT 301 or STAT 324).
- You may wish to consider using parenthesis to group courses and make it clear where multiple courses are all required or are considered interchangeable.  (ex.  DS 120 and (ME 160 or ART 112)  )

If there is a limitation on taking two courses that have significant overlap in content (in the past this would often read "can not receive credit for X course and Y course” there must be an enrollment control that prevents students who already have credit for course X  from enrolling in course Y and vice versa.  (ex. "Students with credit for PHYSICS 201 may not enroll in PHYSICS 207" and the enrollment system is encoded to prohibit enrollment in both courses).

For crosslisted courses that are part of a prerequisite, all crosslisted units should be included  (ex. SOC/PSYCH 530); order crosslists alphabetically by subject.

Where standing is a prerequisite it is assumed that that level and above are permitted unless the word “only” is used.
- Sophomore standing = 20, 30, 40, graduate and professional students, and special students
- Sophomore standing only = 20
- Not open to undergraduates (used only on courses numbered 300 - 699 that are intended for graduate or professional students)
- Not open to special students (used to exclude non-degree seeking students who are included unless it is specifically stated otherwise)

If the course is limited to entering students  you may consider the student groups of First-Year Student, First-Year Freshmen, or First-Year Transfer, as using standing alone will include or exclude students who have a significant number of advanced standing (AP, IB, retroactive etc.) and transfer credits.

Any recommended (but not required) preparation for a course should not be listed in the prerequisite but at the end of the course description.

If there is a list of courses from the same subject, put the subject at the beginning of the list and do not repeat it.  Pull out crosslisted courses and list them first.  (ex. PSYCH/SOC 401, SOC 102, 202, 302, 506)

Where possible, when student groups are used, in the text say  "Members of [name of student group]"  (ex. Members of WES-Comp Sci)

Where the requisite includes reference to a student being declared in a specific program and/or plan (ex. Declared in Sociology) it may be assumed (unless otherwise stated):
- for courses is numbered 100-299 this refers to undergraduates only.
- for courses numbered 300-699 this refers to undergraduate and graduate programs
- for courses numbered 700 and above this refers to graduate programs
The official, approved program or plan description must be used.


"or consent of instructor"  ALL courses are open to all students with the consent of the course instructor
"or equivalent"  - all course equivalents should be clearly stated in the prerequisite
"Open to freshman" (or any derivative of this) - all courses are open to all students unless there is a specific limitation

 Phrases to use

Satisfied Communications A requirement
Satisfied Communications B requirement
Satisfied Quantitative Reasoning (QR) A requirement
Satisfied Quantitative Reasoning (QR) B requirement

Declared in an honors program - required for all courses numbered between 100 and 699 and a middle digit "8" and any course with an HON (H) designation
Declared in [X] program
Declared in [X] certificate
Declared in [X] graduate program

Classified in [X] program - where there is a pre-major code and a major code and you want all students with either code to be able to enroll
Member of [X] - where there is a student group that defines who may enroll in the course

Concurrent enrollment in [CRSE ###] is required.

CRSE ### or concurrent enrollment

A grade of [X] in [CRSE ###]  (this assumes that the grade stated or any grade higher is acceptable).

Not open to students who have credit for [CRSE ###]

 Enrollment limits based on course number

All courses with a number that ends in x89, x98 or x99 will be set to require instructor consent to enroll.

All courses with numbers between 100 and 699 and a middle digit "8" will have a requisite that limits enrollment to students in an honors program.

Courses numbered 681 and 682 or 691 and 692 will be set to require instructor consent to enroll.  The course descriptions for 682 and 692 will also state that 681 or 691 respectively are required in order to enroll.

All courses numbered 700 or above will have a requisite that limits enrollment to students with graduate or professional standing.

 Courses that might be considered equivalent for requisites include:

Algebra: MATH 112 is College Algebra. Students can elect to take MATH 114, a combination of MATH 112 and 113, and therefore any requisite which MATH 112 can fulfill should allow MATH 114 to satisfy the requirement. Math also teaches MATH 171/217, a two course hybrid sequence which blends pre-calculus and calculus I (MATH 221). Departments may wish to consider if completing MATH 171 would satisfy its requirement, or if MATH 171 and 217 would be needed. For more information on MATH 114 v. MATH 171, visit:

Introductory Biology: BIOLOGY/ZOOLOGY 101 and BIOLOGY/ZOOLOGY 102, BIOLOGY/BOTANY 130, BIOLOGY/BOTANY/ZOOLOGY 151 and BIOLOGY/BOTANY/ZOOLOGY 152; Biocore (curricula vary on how much Biocore is needed for an “intro biology” equivalency)  BIO SCI x52 will automatically be added but not displayed in the prerequisite text to any course that lists BIOLOGY/BOTANY/ZOOLOGY 152 as a prerequisite.

General Chemistry: Chemistry courses to consider in your requisite include CHEM 103 and CHEM 104 (the standard two-semester introductory sequence for STEM majors), CHEM 108 (often considered a terminal chemistry course for non-STEM majors, CHEM 109 (an accelerated version of CHEM 103 and 104 combined), and CHEM 115 and CHEM 116 (completion of 115 and 116 is the equivalent of general chemistry and an analytical chemistry course)

Organic Chemistry: Chemistry offers a single semester, terminal Organic Chemistry course (CHEM 341) as well as a two semester sequence (CHEM 343 and CHEM 345). CHEM 341 is not equivalent to either CHEM 343 or CHEM 345 and it does not satisfy the prerequisite for enrollment in CHEM 345.

Introductory Psychology: PSYCH 201, 202, and 281 are considered equivalent

Introductory Sociology: SOC 181, C&E SOC/SOC 210, and C&E SOC/SOC 211 are all considered equivalent. Often C&E SOC/SOC 140 (Intro to Community & Environmental Sociology) is considered equivalent as well.

Microeconomics: ECON 101 and ECON 111 are considered equivalent. Sometimes AAE 215 (Introduction to Agriculture and Applied Economics) is also considered as a microeconomics equivalent.

Introductory Physics: STEM majors vary on which Physics course they will accept in their programs. There are 4 sequences which are often considered, including: PHYSICS 103 and 104 (an algebra-based introductory series), PHYSICS 201 and 202 (a calculus-based introductory series primarily for engineering majors), PHYSICS 207 and 208 (a calculus-based introductory series for math and science majors), and PHYSICS 247 and 248 (a calculus-based introductory series for Physics, Astro-Physics, and AMEP majors). EMA 201 and either EMA 202 or ME 240 are often considered a substitute for the first semester in the introductory sequence.

Calculus I with Analytical Geometry: MATH 217, 221, and 275 are all considered equivalents. MATH 211 is also Calculus I, taught without a trigonometry requisite and geared more towards business and social science majors. 

Keywords:prerequisite, prereq, prereqs   Doc ID:25566
Owner:Michelle Y.Group:Courses and Academic Programs
Created:2012-08-10 09:37 CDTUpdated:2016-05-24 19:21 CDT
Sites:Courses and Academic Programs
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