6 Things You Need to Know about School Catalogs

A College Catalog discuss everything from admission requirements to course descriptions. (Photo courtesy of selcouths on flickr)

A College Catalog discuss everything from admission requirements to course descriptions. (Photo courtesy of selcouths on flickr)

Annually, colleges around the nation issue updated versions of their Campus Catalog. Students probably do not read these publications as often as they read their friend’s Facebook status, but there are some important items to acknowledge regarding the content.

1. Course Descriptions

Each school offers brief course descriptions in the campus catalog. Typically only a sentence or two – a paragraph, tops – this tiny insight into the course’s focus for the semester could be the determining factor as to whether or not you decide to take the class or select another one. In other cases, if the class is a requirement in order to graduate from your program, the course description can be used as a preparation tool to balance the work load you are getting yourself into for the upcoming term.

2. Student Calendar

Students often want to know the campus calendar prior to the start of the semester. The Catalog usually includes a full school year’s (July or August through June) worth of important dates. Anything from the first day of the semester, to holidays, to the final exam schedule can usually be found in the calendar section of the Catalog.

3. FERPA

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 protects student privacy and, unfortunately, oftentimes goes unknown to college students. Under the Act, did you know that despite being married, your spouse or significant other cannot contact your school and receive information pertaining to your education? Without prior written consent, your information remains private regardless of who is inquiring. In addition, students are allowed to review their academic records, request amendments, and understand information that is allowed to be released without prior consent (Directory Information).

4. Program and Graduation Requirements

To provide and outline for students to use as a guide for their studies, the Catalog usually lists all requirements students must meet both in their program and overall in order to graduate. A list of required classes, and/or subject area requirements, can be found in the catalog and used to determine a student’s schedule, expected graduation date, and remaining degree requirements. In addition, students can review the University’s requirements for graduation, including Cumulative Grade Point Average and total earned credits.

5. Student Services

On-campus and online Student Services are also available via the Campus Catalog. For information pertaining to Academic Advising, Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office,  tutoring, tuition, the library, housing (if applicable), and Career Services.

6. The Catalog to follow

A college catalog can be a useful tool for students throughout their degree program. In addition to being a guide for academics and finances, students should keep campus policies, procedures, and requirements close at hand. For example, did you know that regardless of how many times a catalog changes while you are enrolled in school, as long as you do not drop and re-enter, the graduation requirements for the initial term of enrollment are what you need to satisfy?

Example:

If you enroll in a Business program in August 2011 and maintain constant enrollment, you must satisfy the requirements that were in effect for the August 2011 catalog.

 –however–

If you enroll in a Business program in August 2011 and drop out for a year and re-enter in August 2012, you must satisfy the requirements that were in effect for the August 2012 catalog.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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