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Course Prefixes and Numbers

Graphic with the course descriptors color-coded

At first glance it can be hard to unpack the shorthand used for courses at William & Mary. Here's an explanation.

Course Title

In the example above, note the Short Course Title "Worlds of Music." Sometimes there's a longer Full Course Title that gives a better sense of the course. Check the Undergraduate Catalog.

Course Reference Number (CRN)

The 5-digit Course Reference Number is the unique identifier assigned to every course and section. This is the number you use to register for a specific class. CRNs that start with a 1 indicate a fall course, 2 indicates spring courses, and 3 is for summer courses. The numbers contain no meaning beyond that. In the example above, 11360 is the CRN for this course and section.

Course Prefix

The four-letter Course Prefix indicates the department or program offering the course. Knowing the academic discipline can give you some insight into how it will be taught (e.g., methodologies, perspectives, approaches). Most of the prefixes are easy to figure out: ECON is Economics, PSYC is Psychological Sciences, and so forth. In the example above, ANTH means the course is offered by the Anthropology Department.

Course Number

The 3-digit course number following the prefix gives some information about where a course falls in that department's or program's curriculum. Courses at the 100 or 200 levels are usually introductory and have a broader scope. Courses at the 300 level are mid-level, likely to be narrower in scope, and might require a lower-level introductory class as a prerequisite. Courses at the 400 level are likely to be very focused and assume that you already have a good amount of knowledge in that academic area. Numbers in the 500s, 600s, and 700s are used by graduate-level courses.

In the example above, 241 indicates that Anthropology considers this an introductory course. This is confirmed in the course description: "This course will introduce students to musical cultures of the non-Western world." The full course listing indicates that this course can serve as a prerequisite for upper-level courses.

Section Number

Occasionally a course is taught with more than one "section" or class, usually by different faculty and usually at different times. You'll want to keep track of both the course number and section number to make sure you're referring to the right class. In the example above, 01 is the section number.

COLL Courses and Attributes

Image showing the Course Attributes section of the course description in the Undergraduate Catalog

Courses that are part of the COLL curriculum can be any prefix or course number. The COLL designation is carried by an attribute attached to the course listing. For example, the listing for CLCV 355 – The Roman Family carries attributes for COLL 200, the ALV requirement, and the domain elective CSI. You can search for attributes directly in the course listings.


Sometimes two or more courses have the same course number and are listed in more than one department or program. This is called cross-listing. For example, ENGL 204: The Study of Language is also listed as ANTH 220 and LING 220, with the same title. These are all the same course taught by the same professor. Cross-listing a course can help different groups of students find it and get appropriate credit for it in their major.

Topics and Seminar Courses

Content in these courses varies from semester to semester. Often these are experimental courses that allow faculty to try out new content. Sometimes you can repeat a topics course, but only if the topic has changed. Course descriptions in the Dynamic Schedule explain the content in topics and seminar courses.

You may also want to check out our Glossary of Terms.