In the United States, what is the difference between lower division and upper division in colleges and universities?


1 Answer 1


"Lower division" courses are those typically taken by freshmen and sophomores (first and second year students at a typical 4-year bachelor's program).

"Upper division" courses are those typically taken by juniors and seniors (third and fourth year students at a typical 4-year bachelor's program).

Given that you've used the community college tag, it may also be relevant to point out that often community college credits are equivalent to lower-division courses and may be transferrable to a four-year school to substitute, as mentioned in answers to your previous question.

You could also possibly use the terms to group the students into 1st+2nd year and 3rd+4th year students, though these are also often referred to as "upperclassmen" and "lowerclassmen" (I'm not familiar with other gender-neutral substitutes - would appreciate an edit or comment if someone could add one).

There are not typically strong barriers to students taking upper division courses in their first two years (provided they meet necessary prereqs) or lower division courses in their second two years (especially electives outside their major).

  • Hm re: strong barriers, IME upper-division courses are often restricted to majors-only or majors-only for a a long time that can make them challenging to get into. One reason i didn't get a stats minor at my alma mater Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 19:08
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    @AzorAhai-him- - seems to vary. As a EE, I happily took upper level English and History courses - much nicer experience than the lower level classes, and there were no barriers to registration.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 19:20
  • @AzorAhai-him- Yeah I would say my experience is more like Jon's. There tended to be more strict progression in sciences because of prereqs (with a lot of upper-division biology courses already requiring a year of physics and 2 years of chemistry). A lot of people majoring in those fields might have come in with pre-college credit in some of those courses so they might be ahead, but it would be harder for someone outside the major to break in. In contrast, I took upper-division courses in History of Science & Medicine that were available to me immediately.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 20:21
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    @BryanKrause My school was famous for a PITA major system. But, I do know of similar problems in other places. Just adding info for our readers :) Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 20:29
  • Was, but still is. Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 20:29

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