How to Write a Course Description for a School Catalog

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The descriptions of courses that appear in college or university catalogs can often dictate the success of the course. Write a compelling description, and enrollment will soar. A poorly written or boring description could cause a course to be cancelled before the first class. While some general course descriptions don't vary between instructors, higher-level courses or major-specific courses are often designed by individual instructors, who are charged with creating course descriptions for the catalog. Follow some basic guidelines, and you'll likely find that your courses are filled every semester.

  • Detail the course name, the course number and the number of credit hours. This information may be already provided by the school or university; check with your department head or dean for specific information and requirements.

  • List the major topics the course covers in short, descriptive phrases. Use sentence fragments to provide a general overview of the course content. Do not include information about every single topic the course covers, but instead hit the highlights to encourage interest in the course.

  • Include details about when the course is offered if it is not a regularly scheduled course, i.e., only in the spring semester or every other year. If there are enrollment limits to the course, include that information, such as "Class limited to 10 students."

  • Add information about any prerequisites required for course enrollment. Confirm the prerequisite course numbers before listing in the catalog.

  • Detail any equipment or supplies that are necessary for the course, such as specific computers, calculators or art supplies. If there is an additional fee for supplies or labs, include that information in the description.

  • Include information about special projects or experiences outside of the classroom if they are unusual or time-consuming. For example, if the course requires several hours of laboratory or observation time each week, include that information in the course description to allow students to plan their time.

  • Avoid words that are vague or that repeat the title of the course. If the course title is "Introduction to Sociology," there is no need to describe the course as "An introduction to the major sociological theories of the 20th century." Detail specific topics and avoid redundancy.

  • List any requirements that taking this course will fulfill, if appropriate. Let students know if the course can be used to fulfill general education requirements or major requirements in another program.

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