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Pre registration.

It might be the summer, but a lot of you seem to be eager to get back to school. How do we know? Because about 80 percent of the posts on the Columbia and Barnard class of 2021 pages are questions about pre-registration, what it means to shop for classes, and how to pick courses given your AP/IB/dual credit/life experience credentials.

Since pre-registration for all incoming first-years is just around the corner, here’s everything you need to know (and do) when it comes to course registration.

How is pre-registration any different than regular ol’ registration?

In a few weeks, Barnumbians will receive a course catalog and some instructions on how to go about pre-registering. Now choose your own adventure:

Columbia College

Start getting friendly with our good pal, the Core Curriculum—it’ll define your academic experience these next four years.

Your pre-registration package will have two courses already decided for you: Literature Humanities and University Writing/Frontiers of Science. Why? Because you’ll definitely take Lit Hum and UWriting or FroSci your first semester (whichever one isn’t on your schedule for the first semester will be on your schedule in the spring). The remaining slots are left for you to fill in with your personal interests.

Even though these two Core classes won’t have a time or location associated with them, don’t worry about that yet—you’ll be told once NSOP rolls around.

Q. I hear UWriting sections center around a “theme”—can I indicate my preference for one of them?

The UWriting themes are Contemporary Essays, Gender and Sexuality, Human Rights, Music, American Studies, Medical Humanities, and Data Sciences. There’s also a special UWriting class for international students that focuses on the specifics of the American academic writing culture.

If you land in UWriting your first semester, you’ll be assigned to a section at random, but you can talk to the Core Office about changing your section if you’d like. If you take it in the spring, you’ll be able to sign up for a section that interests you. That being said, there’s no way to indicate whether you want to take UWriting or FroSci first—it’s completely random, so hope for the best.

What pre-registration looks like for you:

  • Lit Hum (mandatory)
  • UWriting/FroSci (mandatory)
  • Two to three classes of your choice


Though SEAS students have slightly looser Core Curriculum requirements, you still have your fair share of mandatory courses. (This is what a first-year engineer should expect to take.)

Keep these two courses on your radar, as they must be completed in your first year: UWriting and Art of Engineering. You’ll take one of them your first semester and the other in the second.

Make sure you remember your two-semester physics requirement. There are three tracks you can take: 1400 (the easiest), 1600 (a little bit harder), and 2800 (accelerated, meant for people in physics-heavy majors). To see where you place, take the placement exam during NSOP, or scroll down to the physics section in this article.

Since the glamorous life of an engineer includes its fair share of mathematics, the University also wants all SEAS-folk to complete Calculus IV by the end of their second year. If you’re just starting at Calculus I or II, that means you need to get started this year. (Where do you place? Figure it out here.)

To top it all off, many engineers will take Computing for Engineers and Applied Scientists their first year. It’s not an official requirement to graduate, but it is a required class for most SEAS majors and a pre-requisite for some of your upper-level classes.

What pre-registration looks like for you:

  • UWriting/The Art of Engineering (mandatory)
  • Physics (mandatory)
  • Computing for Engineers and Applied Scientists (likely)
  • Calculus (depending on your level)
  • If you still have room in your schedule, a non-technical class


Barnardigans have a decent amount of free reign when it comes to their first-year schedules. There are three requirements to keep in mind: By the end of your first year, you must have taken First-Year Writing, First-Year Seminar, and one semester of PE.

During pre-registration, you can indicate which sections of each (Writing vs. Seminar) you’re most interested in. There are generally three First-Year Writing courses: Legacy of the Mediterranean, Women & Culture, and The Americas. (Need help deciding which one to take? Check out our quiz.) First-Year Seminar classes are not available yet, but you’ll be able to read a course description for each once it’s time to pre-register.

Pro tip: First-Year Writing sections generally stay the same from semester to semester (meaning if you miss out on Legacy of Mediterranean in the fall, you should still be able to take it in the spring). First-Year Seminar sections are more likely to change due to the fact that the course material is more niche and the professor who taught it in the fall may not lead the same seminar in the spring.

Q. What’s the difference between First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar?

First-Year Writing teaches you how to write a college-level essay by reading texts, discussing them in a group, and then analyzing them in a paper. The number of essays written per semester is generally the same from section to section (two medium-length essays around five pages and one research paper around ten pages).

First-Year Seminar focuses more on group discussion of texts that pertain to one theme. (For instance, my FYS was called Literature and Justice and we read books like “Antigone,” “Hamlet,” and “The Trial.” Another one offered my first year was called On Dreams and Nightmares and the syllabus included “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”) The amount of writing done in each seminar is up to your professor; I only ended up writing one essay in my FYS, while other sections wrote multiple.

A quick note on PE: Only 50 percent of you will have PE on your schedule in the fall—the other half will exercise in the spring. If you know for certain that you don’t want to take PE your first semester, you don’t even have to put an option on your schedule. Leave it blank and that will automatically defer you to the spring semester.

What pre-registration looks like for you:

  • First-Year English/First-Year Seminar (mandatory)
  • PE (if you want)
  • Three to four classes of your choice—might be a good time to get started on your Foundations requirements

When will I know who my adviser is?


Columbians will get the name of their adviser before arriving on campus. Some advisers will schedule a phone conversation with you, while others will wait to meet you in person. Regardless, you’ll definitely meet with them at least once during NSOP to talk about some of your academic goals and first-year classes.


Unlike CC/SEAS/GS, Barnardigans get faculty and administrators as their advisers. You won’t know who your adviser is (read: can’t stalk them on LinkedIn) until youroll up to MoHi for NSOP. Once you get their name, your adviser will reach out to you to set up a time and location to meet. Some advisers like to set up a meeting with all the other advisees assigned to them, others will go straight to the one-on-ones. This is your chance to get advice on what classes to take, how you’ll want to space out your schedule, and any other academic goals you have.

What can I do after I pre-register?

Besides wait until the first week of school? Not much.

Keep in mind that by pre-registering, you’re really only finalizing your Lit Hum and UWriting/FroSci (CC), UWriting/Art of Engineering (SEAS), or First-Year Writing/Seminar (Barnard) sections—everything else can still be mixed around and swapped during the shopping period in the fall.

BUT WAIT—what is this previous unmentioned “shopping period?” What does it mean?? Don’t worry—we’ve got plenty more on the subject. Read part two: How to shop ’til you drop (or at least get all the classes you want) here.


What else do you want to know about registration or life in CU’s academic scene? Ask us right here, or on our Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum.

Veronica Grace Taleon is Spectrum’s editor and a Barnard junior. As a first semester first-year, she ended up changing about 50 percent of her courses during the shopping period, so don’t fret if you’re not entirely happy with your schedule come September. Reach her at

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