history 101, sociology 415 etc.

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Hi all,
while reading US books I often encounter names of courses in American schools/colleges such as "history 101", "sociology 415", etc. I've come to learn that 101 stands for "for beginners", so I imagine the courses starting with 300 or 400 will be for more advanced students, but nowhere can I find an explanation of that system. Could anybody explain it to me shortly or point me to a web page that describes how the system works, so I could know what number refers to what level more or less? This system seems absolutely strange for me, as in my country it's simply "levels" - beginners, preintermediate, intermediate etc., so all those complex numbers mean nothing to me - the only thing I've been able to figure out is the higher the number, the higher the level. But why on earth is it 101, 415 an so on instead of just 1, 2 etc.?
  • WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    Some universities do use 1, 2 or 10, 20 etc. There is no required system; I think it's just tradition. As you have figured out, the most common system is 100's for introductory classes, 200's for intermediate (but not necessarily requiring a 100 class in that subject), 300's and 400's for upper-level classes (usually taken by 3rd and 4th year students). Graduate classes usually start with 500's and go up to 800's or so. The English Department might have 101, 102, 115, 116, 125, 126, 227, 248, 392, 402, 448 and 479, and the fact that there are lots of numbers missing in between doesn't mean that classes are missing or anything. In addition, "Introduction to Shakespeare" might be 245 at one university and 272 at another one, and 1053 at a third--there's really no way of telling!
    Perhaps some university professor will write into the forum and say that the original class at his/her university was assigned that number in the year 1937 because it was the birthday of the professor's wife and it has never changed since.


    Senior Member
    English - Australian
    Further to the above explanations, it is only '101' that has become a catch phrase; a glib throw away line for the basic level of anything under discussion.


    Senior Member
    English-American/New England
    The numbering system for courses in colleges and universities (at least in the U.S.) is, as Wyoming Sue says, not universal. Some colleges number courses from 1-300 or so (e.g., Harvard). Others number starting at 100, and still others at 1000. Just about the only thing you can tell from the numbering system is that the prerequisites for a course will normally have a lower number than the course itself. Why one numbering system was chosen over another is a question that is surely lost somewhere in the mists of time.

    Although I would agree that "Math 101" is, in popular language, used to denote the most elementary course in that subject, this need not be true at a particular college. At Harvard, "Math 101" is "Sets, Groups, and Topology." That's not an introductory course.


    Senior Member
    From Mathman:
    At Harvard, "Math 101" is "Sets, Groups, and Topology." That's not an introductory course.
    Dear Cantab,
    In that case, just in fun, I will pass on that the last I knew Yale had no Math 101 and started at Math 111; obviously the students in New Haven must start at a more advanced level :) .
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