Posted in HS4CC

Advising 101: An Alphanumeric Primer

The alpha-numeric / alphanumeric is the course prefix and number. For instance, ENG101 is taught from the English department, and the course number is 101. Learn how to read any alphanumeric!

The Alpha

Always find the course’s assigned alphanumeric by the college teaching it. This is very important if you intend to use the course later as part of a degree. To classify a credit, the registrar of the new college will always start at the prefix (not title).

In a class listed as “PSY101” you’re looking at the “PSY” portion as the “alpha” which are the letters. In this case, “PSY” is the college’s abbreviation for “psychology.” Your college may use a different abbreviation like PSYC, or PS, or PSCH, or anything else, but you have to use those letters to trace back the course to the original department. In this case, those are all indicating that the course is taught from the “Psychology” department. (Note: This class will be a liberal arts since psychology is a social science)
Here are some examples of several courses, all taught from the Psychology department at this college:

  • PSY101
  • PSY199
  • PSY211
  • PSY301
  • PSY499
  • PSY501

Some of you live in states that use state-wide identification numbers for public colleges and universities, but it is much more likely that you’ll experience unique alphas from one college to the next. Here is a small sample of some you may see. There are millions.

  • ANT, Anthropology
  • ARC, Archeology
  • ART, Art
  • BIO, Biology
  • CHE, Chemistry
  • ECO, Economics
  • ENG, English
  • FRE, French
  • GER, German
  • GVT, Government
  • HIS, History
  • LIT, Literature
  • MAT, Math
  • MUS, Music
  • PHY, Physics
  • PSY, Psychology
  • REL, Religion
  • RUS, Russian
  • SOC, Sociology
  • SOS, Social Sciences
  • SPA, Spanish

The Numeric

The course’s numerical portion are the numbers after the department alpha. This is generally classifying a course according to its level. For most colleges, the number must be 100 or higher. Courses “under 100 level” usually indicate remedial or non-degree. The higher the number, the harder the class. This is not a hard rule, but we consider courses in the 100-199 range “freshman” level courses (year 1) and 200-299 range as “sophomore” level courses (year 2). Together, these 100 and 200 level courses make up the “lower level” portion of a degree.

Courses in the 300-399 range are typically “junior” level courses (year 3) and 400-499 courses are “senior” level (year 4). Courses identified as 300 or higher make up the “upper level” portion of a degree. If a college offers master’s or doctorate degrees, you’ll see even higher numbers (500-599, 600-699+), and there are even some colleges that allow students to use graduate level courses to fill requirements of a bachelor’s degree, but that is hyper-specific to the college allowing that option.

  • PSY101
  • PSY199
  • PSY211
  • PSY301 <– upper level
  • PSY499 <– upper level
  • PSY501 <– master’s degree level

When Math isn’t Math

The alphanumeric is so important, that you can almost always count on a college using it for classification. That can work to your advantage, or not, depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish. In the world of credit evaluation, a course taught from a liberal arts department (everything on the sample list above) will fall into one bucket, and everything not taught from a liberal arts department will fall into a second bucket. We care about this because students may take a course that has a title or description that creates confusion.

Take a look at the following “math” courses:

  • MAT101 College Math
  • NUR111 Math for Nurses
  • BUS111 Business Math
  • CMG111 Construction Math
  • CUL111 Culinary Math

Seeing the word “math” in the course title might lead a student to believe that the course is going to transfer as a math course, but only one of the courses above will transfer as a math course because it is taught from a math department. Can you find it?

  • MAT101 College Math —> Math course
  • NUR111 Math for Nurses
  • BUS111 Business Math
  • CMG111 Construction Math
  • CUL111 Culinary Math

The other courses may contain math, they may be “mathy” or even count as a degree requirement, but upon sending them to a new college for evaluation, they will be evaluated as courses in their respective departments like this:

  • NUR111 Math for Nurses –> Nursing course
  • BUS111 Business Math –> Business course
  • CMG111 Construction Math –> Construction course
  • CUL111 Culinary Math –> Culinary course

Resourceful High School Planning

When your teen is taking dual enrollment courses AND you do not intend for them to complete a degree at the dual enrollment college, you’ll need to pay close attention to the alphanumeric of any dual enrollment course they take. When the transfer of the class is desired, you’ll usually do better with liberal arts courses. If they’ll need a math course, they should take a math course taught by a math department. If they need a history course, choose a course from a history department, etc. This rule of thumb will help you improve their entire credit transfer process!


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit