Advising Tips for Completing the BA in History

Last revised: July 2013

 Frequently Asked Questions


1) When should I take ENGH 101/HIST 300/ENGH 302/HIST 499?

Staying on track with this four-semester sequence is the best thing you can do to make progress towards your degree. Here's approximately when you should take each course:



Optimum Time to Take



ENGH 100 or 101

Freshman year


Take this as soon as possible!

HIST 300: Introduction to Historical Method

Fall of sophomore year

30 credits


Cannot be taken concurrently with HIST 499 and is unlikely to be offered in summer.

ENGH 302

Spring of sophomore year

45 credits; a C or better in ENGH 101; completion of the Literature requirement.

Take a section for the Humanities or Social Sciences only!

HIST 499

Senior year

90 credits; ENGH 302; a C or better in HIST 300; completion of or concurrent enrollment in ALL general education requirements.

Cannot be taken concurrently with HIST 300 and is never offered in summer.


2) What's the difference between 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400-level History courses?

100- and 200-level History courses are "lower-division." They are introductory survey courses with the same degree of difficulty.

300- and 400- level History courses are "upper-division" courses that are generally more difficult than lower-division courses, but 400-level courses are not necessarily more difficult than 300-level courses. Some upper-division courses have prerequisites and, for the most part, 400-level courses are more specific in their focus than 300-level courses. But 400-level courses are not meant to be more difficult than 300-level courses, so don't be afraid to take some!

3) How many History courses should I take each semester? How many courses should I take overall?

The answers to these questions are specific to every student, because they depend on your abilities, the time and money you can commit to college in a given semester, and how long you want to take to graduate. If you want to graduate in the traditional 4 years/8 semesters, you need to take a minimum of 15 credits each semester. The History major requires 36 credits, so if you spread those out over 4 years/8 semesters, you would need to take at least 1 History course each semester, and half the time you would need to take 2. The bottom line, though, is that you need to give yourself optimum conditions for success, so challenge yourself each semester, but be careful not to take on more than you can handle.

Here's some good advice: “Eat a frog for breakfast, but don't eat frogs for lunch and dinner too.” Translation: do the unpleasant thing--your general education classes--early in your college career, but even then, strike a balance between courses you HAVE to take with courses you WANT to take. Try to make sure you have one class you're really excited about every semester!

4) I'd like to declare a minor or second major. How can I maximize the number of electives I get to take?

An elective is a course that isn't counting towards any particular requirement. If you add up all the credits required of the History major, plus all the credits it will take to satisfy your general education requirements, it still wouldn't add up to the 120 credits you need to graduate. Everything else will be an "elective." The number of electives for every student will be different.

If you plan carefully, those extra, elective credits can be packaged into a minor or second major without delaying your graduation. You have to take a separate course for each of the University's general education requirements, but you can in some cases use the same course to count for a University and a CHSS requirement, or to count for your major and either a University or CHSS requirement. There are many History courses, which you have to take for your major anyway, that count for several different general education requirements.

• The University Global Understanding requirement can be met by:

•    several History courses listed here.

NOTE: The same course cannot be used to fulfill this requirement and the CHSS Non-Western Culture requirement.

• The University Social/Behavioral Science requirement can be met by: 

  • HIST 121 Formation of the American Republic
  • HIST 122 Development of Modern America

NOTE: The course you use to meet your University Social/Behavioral Science requirement has to be in a different discipline than the one you use for the University Social/Behavioral Science requirement.

• The CHSS Social/Behavioral Science requirement can be met by:

Any course in CRIM, ANTH, ECON, GGS (except 102 or 309), GOVT, HIST (except 100 or 125), LING, PSYC, or SOCI.

NOTE: The course you use to meet your CHSS Social/Behavioral Science requirement must be from a different discipline than the one you use for the University Social/Behavioral Science requirement.

• The CHSS Non-Western Culture requirement can be met by several History courses listed here.

NOTE: The same course cannot be used to fulfill this requirement and the University Global Understanding requirement.

One of your History electives can be met by an upper-division Art History class.

This option is only available if you're on the Fall 2011 catalog or later. This course can also count towards your Fine Arts general education requirements. You can find a list of courses that can do double-duty here. Be sure to check the course's University Catalog listing for any prerequisites. NOTE: ARTH 394 is a general education Synthesis course and students need the required prerequisites: completion of other general education requirements (especially ENGH 302) AND completion of TWO other 300-level ARTH courses.

Go here for an exact list of all the courses that satisfy general education requirements for the 2013-2014 catalog. If you're on a different catalog (it's usually the year you started at Mason), use the links at the bottom of the page to search the appropriate list.

5) What's a "catalog year"?

The course catalog is essentially the set of rules that governs your degree. Some of its policies stay the same from year to year, but some of them change. For example, starting in Fall 2011, History majors enrolled in Mason under that catalog were allowed to use an upper-division Art History course to count towards one of their History electives, but prior to Fall 2011, this was not allowed. Your catalog year is the catalog that is governing your degree—usually the year you arrived at Mason. But it is possible, and very simple, to update your catalog year to a newer catalog, if you think that would benefit you. This is something to research carefully and discuss with your advisor.

6) Where can I find information about minors?

Go here for general information on minors. You can minor in almost anything, but given your major, you might be interested in other CHSS minors. Some minors are interdisciplinary, so you might be able to use some of your History courses for them. Find a list of minors here.

7) How many credits will it take to complete my Foreign Language requirement?

Anywhere from 0-12, but usually 9 credits in two semesters.

The requirement is that you have one course at the 202-level or above. Most students achieve this by taking FOR LANG 110 for 6 credits and FOR LANG 210 for 3 credits, for a total of 9 credits. For Latin, you have to take LAT 101, 102, 201, & 202, a total of 12 credits in 4 semesters. Students who already have some foreign language under their belts might be able to take a shorter path. There is information on other options here.

Is there anything I can't take?

There are several types of courses that will not count towards a CHSS degree. You can take them, and they will appear on your transcript, but they will not count towards the 120 credits you need to graduate. They are Physical Education activity courses; Parks, Recreation, & Leisure Studies activity courses, and most Military Science courses. (MLSC 400 & 401 will count towards a CHSS degree.)

9) I'm not sure what I still need to do to graduate. Where do I go for help?

Patriot Web! And then your advisor!

The best way to track your degree is to use Patriot Web's "Degree Evaluation," which gives you a real-time view of how the University understands your progress. If you're a transfer student, you should also use the online Academic Transcript in Patriot Web, then "Display Transfer Equivalency Worksheet" to make sure that all of your courses transferred correctly.

To view your Degree Evaluation:

Log on to Patriot Web, then >> Student Services and Financial Aid >> Student Records >> Degree Evaluation. If you want to see what happens if you declare a minor, use the non-binding "What-If Analysis" option at the bottom of the page.

To view your online transcript:

Log on to Patriot Web, then >> Student Services and Financial Aid >> Student Records >> Academic Transcript.

After you have looked at your degree evaluation, think about what questions you still have about your progress, what you should register for, administrative procedures, or the study of History itself. THAT’S when you should email your advisor:

To contact your advisor:

Visit our advising page here.

10) How do I keep track of all of this?

Build a paper fort!

Part of your college education is about learning skills that will serve you throughout your adult life. One of those skills is record-keeping. It is important for you to carefully monitor your progress towards your degree and save all relevant documentation, including old papers and exams, in case you need it later. This documentation is your "paper fort," to protect you in the event of trouble. What happens, say, if you get a final grade that you think is based on a professor's computational error? Or what happens if you need a letter of recommendation from a professor you took two years ago, but the professor doesn't remember you? If you have saved all of your graded work for each class, it will be a small matter to resolve these concerns. Another example is your degree evaluation in Patriot Web. What happens if you pull it up online and suddenly a bunch of your courses are missing? If you print a hard copy of the degree evaluation each semester, it will be much easier to get the Registrar to fix it.

Buy a file box and some file folders, and start to keep a records system for your classes, academic advising, financial aid, etc. This rational, organized file system should spread to your digital files as well, including your emails. If you save your correspondence with your professors, you will have a record of any special dispensation they promised you. And providing previous correspondence in the body of an email will save your advisor a lot of time in trying to remember the particulars of your situation.

BONUS) I’m totally new at this college stuff. Is there anything else I should know?

Here are some quick tips for getting off on the right foot:

• A university is a place of work; be professional in all of your interactions, including email.

• All of your professors, in History at least, have PhDs. You should address them as “Dr.” or “Professor,” unless they tell you otherwise. If you’re not sure whether to call someone Dr. or Mr./Ms., err on the side of being more formal, and never assume you can call someone by their first name unless they tell you to. This is true of email as well as face-to-face communication.

• When you go to an office on campus, look to see whether there’s a person’s name on the door. If there is, you should knock before you enter. You never know who’s in a meeting or taking a nap in there!

• Be engaged in the classroom. Sit in the front, ask questions, take detailed notes, and talk to your professors outside of class. Make sure, by the end of the semester, that they know you as more than just a line in a grade book. This is an investment in your future; who will write letters of recommendation for you later on, if no one remembers who you are?

• Pick up an extra-curricular activity. This is a great way to practice working in a group, to show leadership, and to manage a project—all valuable skills on the job market. Plus, you’ll make new friends!

• It's never too early to start thinking about life after college. Make contact with Career Services early and often.

• Learn as much as you can while you're at Mason. This is your last chance to learn about anything you want from people who are experts in their field. Make the most of this opportunity, and have fun with it!