One of the things that I love about my college is that there are hundreds of classes available for students to take that cover a wide variety of topics and areas of interest. While there are certain classes that a student may need to take for their major, there are many cases where students can choose to take a different class as a direct substitute, or to receive a course waiver and take another class entirely to fill credit requirements. Here are my tips for how to request a course substitution or course waiver in college, based on my own experiences.
What is a college course waiver? What is a college course substitution?
A course waiver is an exemption from a required course, which may be granted due to prior training, education, work experience, or with substantial documentation for a disability-related reason. Students will still need to take a class that fulfills the missing credits. For example, my friend who has dyscalculia received a course waiver for their college algebra class and took a history class instead to fill in the missing three credits.
A course substitution is a course that takes the place of a required course in a curriculum, and typically has similar course content or topics that are taught. This is different than credit by exam, testing out of a class, or taking a class at a different college and transferring the class in. I chose to do a course substitution which I will go into more detail about below, but another one of my friends received a course substitution when they requested to take an environmental policy class in another department that covered their area of interest.
Why I was requesting a course substitution
When I was majoring in IT, students had the option between taking a discrete mathematics class or a discrete structures class to fulfill one of their major requirements. I chose to take the discrete structures class to fulfill that requirement and passed the class. Later on, I changed my major to data science and learned that I had to take the discrete mathematics class to graduate. Since the discrete mathematics class and discrete structures class were treated as equivalents in the other department, I requested a course substitution for my current department so that I wouldn’t have to take the class again.
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How can I figure out if a course can be substituted?
Check for course equivalencies or different names for courses
In my previous major, the discrete structures and discrete mathematics courses were treated as course equivalencies for students, so I was able to show that these courses were similar enough that other departments accepted them as equivalencies. Some courses may also be cross-listed under different departments- for example, a class on the history of film may be listed under one name in the history department and in a different name in the film department, which may cause some confusion if the college system does not recognize them as being the same class.
Another potential thing to look at is if course names have changed in previous semesters- for example, a class I took during my freshman year is now known under a different name and is in a different department. If I was going to use that class in a course substitution or waiver request, I would mention the new name and department for the course as well as what the class was called when I had taken it. Most departments publish a list of course name changes at the beginning of the semester, i.e when the code for the introductory IT class changed from IT 103 to IT 104.
Locate the syllabus for the course or courses and show how they are similar
While it is not a formal requirement at my college, most colleges require course substitutions to have at least 50% of the content covered in each class to be identical. In order to figure out whether my classes fit this requirement, I found a copy of the syllabus for each course online and highlighted the topics and course goals that were similar. While the topics were not necessarily covered in the same order, I was able to list out the shared topics that were there.
Look at a transfer matrix
Many colleges have a transfer matrix for students that are coming in from another college that can help them figure out which classes are equivalent to the classes they have already taken. It can be helpful to see what classes are listed as equivalencies by the college, such as if the college accepts HIST 100 and HIST 125 for basic history requirements, while a department might only list HIST 100 as being an acceptable basic history class. If a student has already taken HIST 125, this can be very helpful for making a case as to why a class should be accepted.
Sharing additional reasons for a waiver/substitution
There may be additional reasons that go beyond the classroom that can determine if a student is able to request a course waiver or substitution. While this was not in college, I was granted a course waiver from physical education following a volleyball accident that led to me having eye surgery, and my friend received a course waiver from college algebra due to their dyscalculia diagnosis. In a different case, another friend substituted two chemistry classes as they wanted to work with a professor who had experience with their vision loss and that was able to help them use assistive technology on their labs- they did not want to take a class with a different professor. In these cases, it’s helpful to talk to Disability Services as they can help facilitate conversations with the registrar or department.
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Fill out the form from the registrar or department office
The first official step to take when figuring out how to request a course substitution or course waiver in college is to go to the college registrar or department for your major and locate the course substitution/course waiver form. At my college, the first half of this form involves filling out student information and major, followed by the course names for the given substitution or waiver. Once that part of the form is filled out, students will have to attach documentation such as the syllabi for the two courses and/or a letter that states why the course substitution/waiver should be granted.
Meet with the department advisor
Once a student determines that they have a case for filing a course substitution or waiver, they will need to meet with their department advisor or send an email detailing their request. In my case, I sent an email that stated why I was requesting a course substitution and that listed out the shared topics between the two classes. The advisor then had me send the form and copies of the syllabi so that they could sign off on it.
Contact the dean of the department, if required
In some cases, the student may have to contact the dean of their department in addition to contacting their advisor to determine if they can get a course substitution or course waiver. I originally tried to contact the dean directly about my course substitution, but they told me I had to talk to my advisor first and that my advisor would have to sign off on the form before they could do anything.
When will I hear if my waiver/substitution request is granted?
In most cases, students are not notified whether their course waiver or substitution request is granted- they will have to check their academic record to see if the equivalent course has been added or not. In my case, it took a little over two weeks for the course substitution to show up on my academic record, and the credits had to be manually added by the professor. For my friend who was exempt from a math class, they received a letter from their case manager saying that their request had been granted and that they would have to choose different classes.
Summary of how to request a college course waiver or course substitution
- A course waiver exempts a student from taking a required class, though they will still need to take a different class to fulfill the credit requirements
- A course substitution allows students to take a different class instead of a required class for their major
- Students can see if they are eligible for a course substitution by checking for existing course equivalencies in other departments, looking at a transfer matrix, comparing course syllabi, or by meeting with Disability Services
- Students will have to fill out a form from the registrar’s office to submit their request
- To submit a form for a course substitution or waiver, the student’s academic advisor will need to sign the form and send it to the dean for the department.
- In most cases, students will not be notified whether their course substitution or course waiver is granted, and they will have to manually check their academic record.