How degrees are structured

Understanding how undergraduate degrees work, their majors, subjects, courses, and specialisations is important when planning your study.

There are lots of new terms you'll come across when you're looking at study options for university. Understanding what they all mean and how they make up a degree is a good starting point before you begin planning your degree.


Undergraduate degrees are also known as Bachelor’s degrees and take three or four years of full-time study to complete.

Most degrees are very flexible—they allow you to mix and match different subjects to form one degree. They even give you the chance to choose majors from other degrees.

Some are quite specialised and focus on one particular area of study—often to prepare you for a more specific career, for example, a lawyer or engineer. Most of your first-year courses in these degrees are already set, which leaves a small amount of space for elective courses.

For a typical degree you’re required to major in at least one subject (this is the main subject you’ll focus on) and complete 360 points worth of courses (around 120 points each year).

You can also complete two degrees at once with a conjoint programme.


Majors are the main subject(s) you’ll focus on throughout your degree. For example, you can take a Bachelor of Arts (BA) with a major in History, or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) with a major in Marine Biology.

You will take courses in your major through to your final year—these make up at least a third of the courses in your degree.

For some degrees, you can choose to study two majors and still complete your degree in the same amount of time.


A minor is another area of study you want to focus on in addition to your major but with fewer courses—choosing a minor within your degree is optional.

If you’re unsure what you want to major and minor in, you can study the required courses for both subjects in your first year. Then you can decide later whether to change one to a minor.

A minor is made up of 60 points at 200 level or above, with at least 15 points at 300-level. Make sure you include any 100-level prerequisite courses for your minor in your first year. You’ll need these to get into your 200-level courses.

Only these degrees let you include a minor:

Your minor will appear on your academic transcript but not on your final degree certificate.


A subject is an area of study within your degree that you can choose as your major(s) or minor(s). Each subject is made up of a range of courses and specific requirements.


Courses are blocks of work that are taught over one or sometimes two trimesters—they’re often referred to as ‘papers’ by other universities.

Each course is taught at a certain level: 100 level is first-year and 200 and 300 level are more advanced, although there are some exceptions.

Explore our range of available courses using the course finder.


When you pass a course, you gain points. Each course is worth a number of points, which reflects the amount of work required—most are 15 or 20 points.

To complete a standard Bachelor’s degree, you need to gain a total of 360 points. This is an average course load of 120 points per academic year.

Course codes

There is a unique course code for every course—four letters and three numbers. The letters show the subject and the numbers show the level of study.

For example: CHEM 113 is a Chemistry course at 100-level, and ENGL 234 is an English Literature course at 200-level.

A majority of the time, first-year students will only study courses at 100-level.

Number Level
000 Pre-degree courses
100 First-year undergraduate courses
200 Advanced undergraduate courses
300 Advanced undergraduate courses
400 Honours courses and some Master's courses
500 Master’s courses
600 PhD courses
800 A few diploma and certificate courses

Core courses

A core course is a compulsory course that you need to take as part of your major or minor.

Elective courses

Along with taking courses that will go towards your major or minors you can also take courses in other subjects you are interested in, these are often called electives.


View a complete glossary of terms used at Victoria University of Wellington.