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How do American universities manage to provide such a large variety of courses?

Where I live most courses are set in stone the moment you are accepted into it, that is, everyone doing one "major" get to study the same subjects. This is not how it works in the US is it? From what I have gathered, it seems that you can pretty much choose any subjects as long as you have already done the prerequisite subjects. Which would mean that every student has his own times table.  So my question is, how do American universities manage it all? Wouldn't it be a logistical nightmare to agree everyone's times tables so that two classes that one student is taking don't occur at the same time?


Yes, I did indeed mean schedule/timetable

Update 2:

Dear @CarolOkla, I do not thumb down answers. Stop being paranoid. 

11 Answers

  • MS
    Lv 7
    1 month ago
    Favorite Answer

    First - I didn't thumbs down you either Carol, but you're incorrect about schedules always being planned so far in advance.  I'm a professor at a mid-size state university and am in charge of the course offerings for our undergraduate program.  Our schedule is set one semester at a time.  We just turned in our department's fall schedule last week.  Until then, the university had no idea what we were teaching or when.  SOME places set their schedules far in advance, but many do not. 

    Anyway, to answer the original question:

    Yes, students have some choice in the courses they take in many majors.  There are usually some classes that everyone in that major has to take, but then there is some flexibility.  This is because some students may want to specialize differently within the same degree program or may need different courses for their particular career goals and plans.  Some fields of study are quite broad and there are a lot of sub-fields that students can study.  

    At my university, students have to be flexible in their scheduling and planning.  They may have a conflict in class times, so they have to choose something different and maybe put off a class until another time.  Sometimes they may not be able to take a class they want.  If it's a class they need, then sometimes individual accommodations can be made for a student; for example, I once taught a student a course individually as an Independent Study because it was required for their graduation that term and did not fit into their schedule.  Popular classes are usually offered at several different times during the same semester.

    It's certainly different from one university to another, and even from one department to another within the same university.  Some majors offer more choice and some offer less.  

  • ?
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

     The aim of all american universities is to get you to attend - cos thats how they earn their money (not many have alumni rich enough to endow colleges with enough money to pick and choose WHO they want to attend)

     the best way to get you to attend is to provide a course you will be happy to pay for

  • 1 month ago

    Yes, it is complex. In my department, we work out a schedule of classes that allows for many different times and days for the required courses, and that offers course for the majors that don't overlap in time. Then the student, with the help of an advisor, works out a plan for each semester. For example, there may be 20-30 section of Freshman composition, and the student can choose one that doesn't conflict with other courses. If may be that a student can't take a course in the Fall semester because of other courses, but they can take it in the Spring, for example. We believe in choices in the US, and personal freedom, and personal fulfillment. My daughter didn't like any of the majors at her university, so they allowed her to work out one that combined class in math and physics for a personalized major. 

  • ?
    Lv 6
    1 month ago

    simple they charge you for them , easy money .

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  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    You are incorrectly using the expression "times tables."  It does not apply to the schedules of college students.  The times tables are used in teaching/learning of elementary school multiplication:  2 x 2 = 4, 2 x 3 = 6, etc.

    At a university, students have schedules:  the time and day they take different courses, and they have study plans:  referring to what courses they need and in what year they will take them.

    It sounds like you are confusing colleges with universities.  A university is composed of colleges such as:  Liberal Arts, Education, Engineering, Performing Arts, Architecture, etc.  Having many colleges gives universities the opportunity to offer many courses.

  • 1 month ago

    ha -- student is in charge of avoiding conflicts.  frequently, from the uni's viewpoint, if student has to wait a semester to take some specific class -- that's student's problem.  that said, for programs that have a set series of courses with limited elective choices, someone in the Dean's office makes up model schedules that fit all the needed courses in over the usual four year period.  The various sections are then day/time fixed according to the schedule.  [the schedule is then frequently given to the academic advisors to ease their task].  When i did this for one college, we carefully arranged the schedules (there were four or five sections of every required class) to accommodate known variables in student availability -- for example, one schedule was taught entirely at night to permit students who work full time days to attend and another avoided all classes that completed after 430pm (for students who had to rush across town to pick up their children from child care after the kids' school).

  • 1 month ago

    Class schedules for each term are plannedvayearcor more in advance by eachbuniver duty or college. There is NOTHING standardized about course curriculums in the United States

     Each student USUALLY chooses which courses to take in the next term along with the help of at least one academic adviser and often 2 people have to approve which courses a student tales for the next term.

    Each student hasctgeir own class schedule each tee.. Incoming freshman students often have their first classes set by the college administration and staff. However, students can change the time and which section of class they take either before or at the beginning of the term. One individual course can have as many as 20 different sections taught. By 1 different faculty members at different times and plsces, some times at the same times but different locations. 

    Some totally online schools do dictate which courses you take when but you do have a limited choice as to which course you take when along with a studentcadviser who usually is not a faculty member. 

    Each college and university is different. Some courses ARE required for all degree programs, like English composition for freshman students unless they test out if class. A specific.student  may or MAY NOT receive college credit for the classes they place or test out of. 

    Unknown to many students, students who are about to graduate in 3 terms have?staff member who double checks that are taking or have taken the courses that are required for BOTH the degree program and their major . if they are double majoring, 2 degree checkers. Mistakes Do happen. The administration and staff may realize a specific student has NOT taken a required course a week before graduation. They don't graduate that term. Everyone is pissed off. The course they have to take may not be offered in the next term.

    To the person who thumbed down this answer, especially if it is the OP:

    My best and closest friend of almost 50 YEARS and her husband are both MDs AND full time faculty members at a health sciences university. The class schedules?are?set up over a YEAR ahead of the term. For over 10 YEARS she tried to earn a?second masters degree at the University of New Orleans in either geography with a?speciality in meteorology OR music education. She finally gave up when UNO rescheduled a REQUIRED 1 week long intersession course that conflicted wok an anatomy and physiology course she HAD to teach. SHE is my source. and my own personal life experience at both Tulane at the University of Oklahoma for OVER 20 YEARS are my sources?for this?answer.

  • 1 month ago

    It is a bit different of a model than you describe. But it also depends on the school. Every major in the US will have required classes that all students take, but there are also classes that are in your major that you can choose from (like a biology major might have a requirement to take an evolution course, but there may be 4 different evolution courses that fit that requirement so the student can choose). Also there are often out of major requirements that usually involve most any class. In addition, usually you are also free to take any course, it just may not earn credit towards your degree.

    So yes, two students can have the same major and while they will take many of the same classes, they might also have many different classes.And as others have said, the university makes a master schedule and it is up to the students to be sure the schedule works for them. I did know a student who took two classes at the same time but that's a different story.

  • drip
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    No, you don’t have it quiet right. The student makes their own schedule from the available classes.   A student takes general educational classes for their first two years of college.   Some of these will also be prerequisite classes for their major.  Starting their junior  year of college student take classes for their major.

    During a students first two years doing mostly gen eds no two student are going to have the exact same schedule.  A senior chemistry major is going to have a very similar schedule as another senior chem major.

    For freshman English class there will be multiple teachers and class times to pick from. Almost all freshman will take this class and so the university will offer more times (more classes) for the class.

    For a senior chemistry classes a class may be taught by only one professors and have one or two optional times for the class.   Students need to think ahead when planning out their class schedule.

    It is up to a student to make their schedule. 

    There is a Master schedule of all university classes.  The day and times the class meets and who is teaching it.  This is why most schools require all freshman to meet with a college adviser to make their schedule. The majority of classes meet two to three times a week.

    My daughter was a double major with dance. Dance majors start taking classes in their major freshman year.  So she plugged those classes in her schedule and then worked her other classes about those times. Only dance majors and minors are allowed to dance classes at her university. 

    A second semester junior is going to be able to register for their fall senior classes before any other student. Then sophomore register for  junior fall semester and last freshman register for sophomore fall semester classes.  

    Every university can vary in how they handle registration. 

    My daughter was in Honor College at her university. One of the perks was she was able to register earlier than most of the students body. 

    Not every thing set in stone.  You could find a senior taking a freshman gen ed class they missed. Or a sophomore being able to take a junior level class.

  • y
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    The students have a list, an advisor, and then it is on them.  It does seem like the old four year average for a degree is now 5. But that ability to play around in other areas of interest, is actually beneficial. Many do not end up in the fields they got their degree in, life changes, interests changes, opportunities change. My daughter is on a 5 year plan, then again, she has two majors. Now she is talking about branching out even more.

  • DON W
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    The school doesn't try to agree to everyone's timetables.  It's up to the student, looking over the available courses and the courses they need for their degree, to make choices that work for him or her.  For some courses in high demand, there are multiple sections, so that if one time creates a conflict for the student, the other time may work.

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