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What are Core Classes?

Diane Goettel
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Core classes are classes in math, English, natural science, and social science that make up the bulk of most academic curricula, especially in high school and university-level programs. In addition to these classes, students generally are required to take classes in subjects such as the arts and foreign languages. Depending on the academic institution, there may also be physical education classes required as well.

Although it is often requires for students to take classes in the core subjects, they often have some choice in which classes they take within those subjects. For example, under the umbrella of English are classes in composition, speech, and sometimes even creative writing. Furthermore, the literature classes offered within an English department usually vary quite a bit from semester to semester. Therefore, a student might be able to choose from classes in Victorian literature, the Romantic poets, the 20th-century novel, and West Indian literature one semester while being able to choose between courses in Shakespeare's sonnets, feminist literature, post-colonial literature, and Asian literature the next. Sometimes these choices are only available after completing a prerequisite core class such as freshman composition.

There may be a bit less variety in core classes that fall under the umbrella of math, natural science, and social science, but there are usually still some options from which students can choose. Much like with English core classes, the elective classes in these fields are often available only after completing prerequisite courses, which are often completed in the first year or the first two years of the academic program. Math core classes usually include geometry, algebra, statistics, trigonometry, and calculus. Core classes in the natural sciences often include physics, biology, chemistry, and earth science. History, sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, geography, and political science are often clustered under the umbrella of the natural sciences.

Depending on one's academic focus or major, more classes may be taken in one core field than the other. For example, a student hoping to complete a major in psychology will likely take far more classes in the social sciences than a student hoping to complete a major in physics. Furthermore, some students will load up on core classes in one particular field in preparation for a second degree that they hope to complete after finishing the requirements for the present one. Students hoping to go on to become doctors, for example, will take many core classes in the natural sciences such as biology and anatomy.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon939427 — On Mar 13, 2014

Make the decision you want to make. Only you can make your future bright.

By GenevaMech — On May 16, 2011

@framemaker- My advice to you is to ignore your friend’s advice. You are making a large investment in your future so the wisest decision is to challenge yourself and make the best of your investment.

Like you, I was undecided for my first year of school. When choosing a course, I would try to decide if it was the best course for my money, if it was something that I was interested in, and if it was something that would help me build transferable skills. I agree with aplenty's point that choosing the more difficult courses at a school will better prepare you for when you do choose a major.

By aplenty — On May 13, 2011

@Framemaker- I found out that my core classes were more important to forming a solid curriculum than I thought. Many of my core classes became prerequisites for classes within my major. I took classes in areas like science and mathematics that were in the exploratory level that did not end up meeting those prerequisites. I graduated a semester behind schedule because I had to re-take my sciences. The science and mathematics courses I had taken were not rigorous enough for the related upper division classes I would take in my final years.

I would recommend that you discuss your options with an adviser and take courses that are more challenging than other courses in the same subject area. It can be tough to decide what you want to do for a career, but by taking more challenging course, you will not need to make up for as many deficiencies when you do come to a decision. Good luck to you as you work towards your degree...whatever it may be.

By FrameMaker — On May 11, 2011

I am choosing my first set of college classes as an undeclared first year student. How important are my core classes? I mean, how much thought should I put into choosing my core classes? I was thinking that I should choose a variety of classes for my first year since I do not know what I want to study. My friend told me that core classes do not matter though, so I should choose easy classes that I will get an A in.

Does anyone who has actually graduated from college have any opinions on the importance of core classes? I would love to start my college career with straight A's, but I do not know if choosing easy core classes will hinder me in the long term.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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