Courses, Subjects and Qualifications

Courses, Subjects and Qualifications


Year 2014 2015



Key terms explained

For a full list of terms see the Glossary of terms.

Definition of a qualification, subject and course

At UC you enrol in courses on particular topics within wider subject areas. Successfully completed courses build towards a degree or other qualification.


A qualification is the successfully completed outcome of a programme of study that allows you to graduate.

For more information on qualifications see Types of qualifications.


A subject is a particular area of study that the University offers courses in, eg, Accounting, French, Geology or Mathematics. While you can study many subjects at 100-level, some subjects, eg, Counselling, Diplomacy and International Relations, Fire Engineering and Journalism are only available at honours, graduate or postgraduate level. See subject list A-Z for a complete list of subjects.


A course is the study of a particular topic within a wider subject area and is the basic building block of a qualification. Once you have decided on the degrees and subjects that interest you, you need to decide on the courses to enrol in for your first year. A typical course includes lectures; assessment such as assignments, essays, reports, tests and exams; and either tutorials or laboratories. Most first-year courses are taught by a team of lecturers and tutors.

Most courses are taught in Semester 1 (February–June), Semester 2 (July–November), throughout the Whole Year (Semester 1 and Semester 2, February–November) or over summer (November–February). However, dates for College of Education courses may differ. Some courses are offered more than once in the same year, for example, in Semester 1 and in Semester 2.

The building blocks of course levels

At UC course levels range from 100 – 700-level. This covers a range of first degrees, certificates and diplomas (undergraduate qualifications) and further qualifications at postgraduate and graduate level. One or more courses may be offered across different levels in each subject.

Courses are grouped into levels. Courses which you will usually study in your first year are called 100-level courses, eg, SPAN 101 is the code for a first-year Spanish course. Courses at 200-level begin with a ‘2’, eg, SPAN 201 is the code for a 200-level Spanish course, and 300-level courses begin with a ‘3’, eg, SPAN 301. You usually have to pass certain courses in a subject – called prerequisites – before you can continue on to 200-level courses in your second year. For instance, if you want to take CHIN 301 (a 300-level Chinese language course), you have to pass CHIN 201 first.

Four letter course codes

Each course has a four letter course code which represents the subject area. For example, the four letter course code for courses in Biological Sciences is BIOL (lower case biol works too).

Each course has an occurrence

A course occurrence code – eg, CHEM111 - 12S1 (C) – tells you:

  • what subject area the course is in (CHEM: Chemistry)
  • at what level (111: 100-level)
  • when a course will be offered (12S1: 2012, Semester 1)
  • where the course will be offered (C: Christchurch).  

Some courses may display more than one occurrence (eg, semester one (12S1) and semester two (12S2)). You will need to use the correct course occurrence code when you apply to enrol.

See how to read a course occurrence code for more detail.


Each course has a point value that reflects the workload for the course. All courses have a point value of 15 or multiples of 15.

When you pass a course the points are credited towards your degree. If you fail a course you do not get any points. You must complete a certain number of points to complete your degree.

Definition of undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate


The first degree you study towards at university is called an undergraduate degree, eg, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws. Certificates and diplomas are also undergraduate qualifications. An undergraduate student is one who is studying for for their first (bachelor’s) degree, or a certificate or diploma.

Graduate and postgraduate

A graduate is a person who has met the requirements for a degree and been awarded it.

Postgraduate and graduate courses can only be taken by students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree, ie, graduates.

Postgraduate qualifications involve more advanced study in the area of your first (undergraduate) degree. They include honours and master’s degrees, postgraduate certificates and diplomas, and doctorates (PhDs).

Graduate qualifications normally involve study in an area other than the area of your first degree. They allow you to change subject areas and some prepare you for employment in a certain field, eg, journalism, teaching. Graduate qualifications include graduate certificates and diplomas.