How to deal with prerequisite courses
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For many admitted students, the letter of admission for MS includes a clause that the admission is contingent on successful completion of some courses. These courses are typically advanced courses of the undergraduate curriculum.
The concept: The US university may estimate the undergraduate preparation for some incoming MS students as weak based on their transcripts, or simply because they are from not very reputable universities. So the student needs to strengthen certain areas by taking courses during the first semester. The prerequisite courses cannot be counted towards the MS degree, so they are additional courses, that need additional time, energy to take and extra fee needs to be paid. If one has more than two prereqs, then it could prolong the MS study by at least one semester, thereby leading to additional cost in terms of living expenses. Prerequisites are more common when one is applying to a different field. If you get an A, it does not help much, but getting a C or worse will spoil your GPA and can even lead to academic probation.
Good prerequisites: In this case, the student really needs to take the specified courses to do justice to the graduate curriculum. It is in the best interest of the student to take these courses.
Unnecessary prerequisites: Sometimes prereqs are assigned due to lack of clarity in the transcripts. For example, if your undergraduate transcript includes a course Mathematics 1, the university can only guess what all was in the curriculum.
Admission offers are emailed early but the prerequisite information is informed much later. The key to success is being proactive. As soon as you get an admission offer, find out from the department office whether or not you are assigned any prerequisites. Then analyze if you really need to take those courses.
Different ways to deal with unnecessary prerequisites:
1. Go ahead and take the course(s). But if you do not really need, it is a pure waste of time and money.
2. Schedule and appointment with the graduate advisor of the department, soon after arrival. Carry with you the detailed syllabus of the similar course you took in college and explain to him/her that you do not need to take that course. Confidently state that you know the area, the graduate advisor may ask you some questions, be prepared to answer those correctly. Most likely (s)he will waive at least a few.
3. Ask the graduate advisor if you can audit the prerequisite courses. Auditing means you will go and attend the classes with the permission of the instructor, but need not enrol, pay the fees or face the exams!
4. If you have multiple admission offers that are comparable, do not accept the offer where there are prerequisites.