Having gone to school in California, I assume we just liked saying "weed" as often as possible.
April 25, 2012 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Past and current university students: Did you ever use the specific term "weeder class" during your academic career? If so, where did you study?

I realize that the concept of a "weeder class" can go by different names, but I'm trying specifically to figure out if the term "weeder class" is a regionalism or not.
posted by C^3 to Writing & Language (65 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have never heard this term before, in almost twenty years in the academy. Can you describe what it means?
posted by pickypicky at 10:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Used at UC Berkeley to reference undergraduate chemistry and math classes.
posted by just.good.enough at 10:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you describe what it means?

It's a demanding class early in the program whose primary purpose is to "weed out" students without the fortitude or aptitude for the subject.

For example, when I studied computer programming, the courses were:

1. Introduction to computers
2. Introduction to databases

Something like two thirds of the people in my mainframe assembly course did not complete it, and presumably went on to study some other subject.
posted by kindall at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

We used "weed out" class, medium-to-large state university in the midwest.
posted by cooker girl at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I heard "weed out" and "weeder" alike at the University of Kentucky and Northern Virginia Community College circa 2006-2010.
posted by phrontist at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2012

And yes, agreed with cooker girl, I'd use "weed-out class."
posted by kindall at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to a mid-Atlantic university. We used the similar "weed-out class" to describe intro chemistry and physics classes used to get rid of quantitatively-disabled students from science majors.
posted by trivia genius at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2012

Everyone I knew in undergrad at different schools used this term, especially when comparing programs "So I'm in orgo, which is a weeder class for premed", say. I went to school in the northeast of the United States but I had plenty of friends who went to school on the west coast who used it as well.
posted by jeb at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

University of Minnesota here, we used "weeder classes." Also to hell with you for making me remember them :)
posted by MillMan at 10:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

We used it at my Ivy League school, almost exclusively for "pre-med weeder" courses like Organic Chemistry.
posted by brainmouse at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ah. The term that I've always heard is "gateway course."
It sounds a little like a euphemism, until you realize as a young teacher that you are the gatekeeper, and you are meant to turn a significant number of students back. Teaching these sucks.
posted by pickypicky at 10:46 AM on April 25, 2012

Southwest US, "weed-out" class, yes. For me it was applied statistics (for a B.S. in political science.) There was only one professor who taught it, it was a requirement for the B.S., and at least half the class failed and had to get a B.A. instead.
posted by celtalitha at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

(at the large public California school at which I now work, "gateway courses" is a term meaning courses that are pre-requisites to several majors, like early Math courses or Psych 1, and are not indications of their difficulty, as some are really hard and some are really easy)
posted by brainmouse at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2012

Yup. University of British Columbia up in the Great White North. Most commonly referring to first year calculus courses and second year organic chemistry. Per cooker girl, we usually call it "weed out".
posted by Hakaisha at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2012

I would have said "weed-out" class, but I never actually referred to this in any of my classes.

Honestly, I associated "weed-out" classes as the sort of things held at large universities whose admissions aren't super-competitive where you get a wide range of talent showing up for a class, and the department structures the curriculum so those whose skills aren't up to snuff get weeded out with that first class.
posted by deanc at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2012

"Weed out" is more commonly used, and it's used often within the US higher education community.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

They were called "weed-out" classes in PA and IL. I have also heard much less popular terms like "gauntlet" and "flunk-out."
posted by michaelh at 10:54 AM on April 25, 2012

The weed-out class for many medical/science/engineering types at Northwestern University used to be organic chemistry. Not sure what it is now. Never heard "weeder class". That just sounds weird.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2012

"Weed-out class" informally, "gateway course" officially. managing the gateway courses (seats, completion rates, alternatives) are a significant headache for university administrations.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2012

Weed out or weeder courses (vs bird courses) at McGill.

Note that while organic was one for the biochem majors and various flavours of premed, it was not considered one for chemistry majors.
posted by jeather at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure we used this term at Oberlin College (Ohio). I think Cell and Molecular Biology was considered a weeder course. It turned a lot of biology majors into Environmental Studies majors, if I recall correctly.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2012

Used it at my Ivy League school (along with weed-out class) - usually referring to Organic Chemistry or Linear Algebra.
posted by SNWidget at 11:03 AM on April 25, 2012

Used at UChicago in late 1990s and also used at Georgia Tech circa 2000s. I thought that it was national lingo used everywhere, not a regionalism. But with all of these 'weed-out' votes, I dunno.
posted by zpousman at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2012

Weed-out class at the University of Iowa, a Big 10 party school.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2012

RIT in western New York is infamous for these.
posted by QryHavoq at 11:13 AM on April 25, 2012

We used weed out at Rochester, mostly for Organic Chemistry, and some engineering courses.
I was a humanities major, and we didn't have weed outs.
posted by bryghtrose at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2012

University of Michigan uses them to refer to Stats and Organic Chemistry
posted by FatRabbit at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another data point from Chicago: I've never heard of either the term or the concept. Obviously we have harder classes that everyone complains about (quantum/thermo/kinetics sequence for chem majors, econometrics for econ majors, analysis for math majors), but I've never heard them discussed as a gatekeeping measure. The idea was your social life and your GPA would suffer but you'd get through it.

Although now that I think about it, I'm sure the faculty understood the idea, even if the students didn't. I remember once a notoriously hard grader announced to an advanced systems class that veterans of her previous classes could relax, because "if you deserved an F, I would already have given it to you by now."

On preview: zpousman, I'm at U of C right now. What department were you?
posted by d. z. wang at 11:19 AM on April 25, 2012

We definitely had weeder classes at UCLA. They were mostly related to our math and science courses. I think O Chem was notorious.

My English and French programs didn't really have weeder courses, but we definitely had diminishing returns in the first four quarters of Latin.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:26 AM on April 25, 2012

University of Maine, Mechanical Engineering, late 90's, thermo 1 was consider to be a quote "weeder".
posted by ftm at 11:31 AM on April 25, 2012

Southeast here, and in my both my undergraduate and graduates department we had weeder classes and even one professor in the grad department that was lovingly referred to as Zuul, the Gatekeeper. If you made it through her intro class with your soul and GPA intact, graduating would be no big.
posted by teleri025 at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2012

Yep, at UCLA we used "weeder." I, an English major, one quarter accidentally ended up in a VERY HARD chemistry class. I will never forgot my boyfriend at the time asking, "WHY ARE YOU TAKING A CHEMISTRY WEEDER CLASS?" (I got a D. I was weeded! Luckily, I had no plans to be a chemistry major.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2012

Yes, this term was used in the computer science department at the University of Waterloo. It applied to a second year computer science course (I think CS 241).
posted by crazycanuck at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2012

The term "weeder" was in common use in central and eastern Canadian universities in the late 1980s.

My dad recalls one of his profs in the late fifties saying to a first-year chemistry class: "Look to your left, then to your right. Only one of you will finish this course."

He, my father, himself later a prof talked about certain classes in his department being "weeder courses". This would have been as early as the late 1970s. They didn't design them that way on purpose exactly, but the profs certainly looked upon such classes, particularly in second-year, as markers to separate the students who would succeed in the senior years of the program.
posted by bonehead at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2012

Manitoba, hadn't heard the term until now. We had classes that were like that, but I never learned a special name for them.
posted by RobotHero at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2012

I've heard the term at the University of Michigan with regard to intro chem courses.

I used it at UCSB to describe the lower division pre-major courses in the major that cut a lot of students from being a major. I don't know if I had taken that from my time at UMich. I never heard any of the students describe it as such.
posted by k8t at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2012

"Weed out" is more commonly used, and it's used often within the US higher education community.

The link in 'weed out' goes to a drape neck blouse on matchesfashion.com. Is that what you meant to link to?
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2012

Students at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY referred to algebra-based physics as a "weed-out" course. (It wasn't. We never failed anybody but cheaters, and those who flat out didn't do the work.)
posted by BrashTech at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2012

First year chemistry at Juniata College is a fairly stringent weed out class. Something like 40%-60% of the Freshman student body enrolls for various majors(chemistry, biology, pre-med, geology, etc.) and not many make it out the other end.

It was Organic Chemistry Concepts I&II I believe. We went from just over 220 students to something like 110? 130? It was brutal for anyone who couldn't wrap their brains around the material.

Most people appreciated it though, in hindsight. Even if they we're 'weeded out' (a term which was used quite often in out of class discussions) they got to start on a new track without falling too far behind their peers in said new track. If they had kept this as a 3rd years course, like it is in many other institutions, people would have been well and truly stuck when they couldn't beat the monster.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2012

Another UChicago person here, '04-'08. I'm pretty sure I never heard anyone use the term "weeder" course, but I am definitely familiar with the concept.

I think we had some other term for it, and it's on the tip of my tongue, but I just don't remember right now.
posted by phunniemee at 12:02 PM on April 25, 2012

One more UChicago reference point: I don't think we actually have a term like "weed out" or "weeder", but rather everyone just knows what classes serve this purpose. It is like a, "Oh, I'm taking Gen Chem right now!" and your friend would reply, "Good luck staying with pre-med."
posted by astapasta24 at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2012

I attended both University of Michigan and Indiana University and both referred to certain chemistry classes as "weeder" classes - meaning classes that were very hard and the outcome determined the next in the student's career (drop pre-med, drop the major, drop out of school).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2012

It was used at Virginia Tech (and probably still is) in both the EE and CS departments.
posted by introp at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2012

sorry - posted too soon. I attended them in the late 90s.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2012

I went to University of Oregon in Eugene, and there was a journalism class that was known as a weeder class, although I'm not sure it was WIDELY called that. I did hear the term, though. I can't remember the number - maybe J201, not open to freshman, and the class was basically write a 100 page research paper, with X number of sources, including x number of in person sources. If I wasn't so busy, I'd look it up.
posted by peep at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2012

Yes at University of North Texas in the mod 2000's in both the art department. The drawing classes.
posted by cmoj at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2012

University of Michigan circa 2000. "Weeder course" not "weed-out".
posted by axiom at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2012

We used weed out at Rochester, mostly for Organic Chemistry, and some engineering courses.

I was a humanities major, and we didn't have weed outs.

Was also at Rochester. Highly major specific. I knew some prospective music majors who gave it up during Music Theory.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2012

I went to a university in Manitoba in the early 90s and my social group used this term a lot. Mostly it was first year calculus which was a requirement for numerous programs including B. Comm. I often tell my students (I teach secondary mathematics) about the term.
posted by CdnMathTeacher at 1:09 PM on April 25, 2012

I don't think I heard it during my undergraduate career. But I teach college now and there are definitely some classes that I teach that I've heard people call weeder classes. The main one is the introductory statistics class that I've taught a few times which is one of the classes that our business school uses to decide whether to admit people. Mainly I hear it referred to as a weeder class in the context of us being annoyed that we have to do other departments' weeding.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2012

I even heard this in the suburban Los Angeles community college I attended and worked.
The instructors teaching the classes (the ones I knew anyway) knew they were 'weed-out/weeder' classes and were often very upfront about the success rates in their class. Intro Statistics, which was the only non-algebra based transfer level math class was one, Human Biology and Chem (pre-health science), and weirdly, our Psych 101 classes were super-tough to discourage people since Psych is a severely impacted major at nearly all LA transfer institutions. Ialso worked in the Distance Learning office and regularly heard administrators refer to classes as 'gateways'.

Now that I'm at CalStateLA (College of Business/Econ), I'm taking lower-division major requirements and am pretty sure that their MacroEcon and Intro Java classes are weeders, because. holy hell.
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:58 PM on April 25, 2012

O-Chem was the known weeder course for the premeds at Berkeley and we definitely used that term.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:04 PM on April 25, 2012

Thanks, nooneyouknow! Codeine plus iPad = bad linking.

This is the link I meant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2012

Fuck it, I meant this.

Anyway, in my university administration days, I saw a lot of articles and white papers discussing this, and "weed out" was the usual term.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on April 25, 2012

At Reed (Portland, OR) that was the term. Some were really early on (Intro to Analysis, which was essentially proof writing 101) and some were a bit later (organic chemistry).

I'm not sure if all of the humanities had them, as there were very few (if any) classes that all History/English/etc. majors absolutely had to take. Social Sciences and Physical Sciences (and Math) definitely did.
posted by Hactar at 2:57 PM on April 25, 2012

We used "weed-out class" at U of MD. Some people felt that most of their schedule was weed-out classes, but I think they needed easier majors.
posted by jewzilla at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2012

I remember that my HS chemistry teacher used to talk about the weeder chemistry class from his undergrad days. He was from Minnesota, and studied there, though I am not sure whether he was at University of Minnesota or another school...
posted by vivid postcard at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2012

Yes, I definitely knew and used the expression "weeder class" the first time I was an undergrad, at the University of Tennessee in the 80s.

It was used to describe classes that were intentionally made harder than necessary, with the intention of "weeding out" students who wouldn't have the fortitude to complete a particular degree program.
posted by browse at 5:06 PM on April 25, 2012

"Weeder" used at GWU for Merchant pre-med bio in mid-70s.
posted by jgirl at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2012

Haven't heard "weeder" but I've used "weed out" as a general English phrase before (possibly/probably used it in reference to specific classes). We kinda-sorta have classes like this--we definitely have classes where if you're not doing well you should consider switching majors, but I still see people taking it three times just for the C and staying in the same major... I'm in northern Virginia.
posted by anaelith at 6:55 PM on April 25, 2012

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the term is "weed-out class." Traditionally the weed-out classes for the high-powered College of Engineering are intro Physics and Chemistry. It's not that the introductory material is particularly difficult, but that the course requirements are structured in a brutal way with very little support for those who don't "get it" and just try to slide through. There are also special sections of Chemistry for Pre-Med majors which are even worse; the rest of us know to stay out.

As mentioned above, weed-out courses are most common in large state universities that have high reputations in specific departments or sub-colleges. The University of Illinois is an easy-to-get-into "safety school" for most academically talented kids in the state. Yet a degree in Computer Science from Illinois is a high qualification that commands considerable respect. The conflict is resolved with low standards for university admission, combined with shark-laden moats around admission to a department, or (in this case) to the College of Engineering as a whole.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:22 PM on April 25, 2012

Also: a "weed-out" class is not just the same thing as a hard class. There are plenty of courses that are difficult because they cover difficult material, or require extra work. (Imagine an advanced Anthropology seminar where you have to find an immigrant from a foreign culture to practice "field methods" and write a term paper on your results.) To be a true weed-out course requires:
  • It has to be a lower-level class that serves to separate the sheep from the goats early in one's college career.
  • Typically it is taught in a big lecture hall with a hands-off sink-or-swim atmosphere.
  • It has to be made exceptionally tough, mostly for "weed-out" purposes, or at least perceived to be such by the undergraduates.
It doesn't surprise me that a place like the University of Chicago with its stringent admission standards wouldn't have so many weed-out classes. I've heard it said that it's harder to get accepted to Harvard than it is to get a decent grade in a Harvard class -- if you can get in there and graduate, that's a higher recommendation than a good GPA.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Used/heard it at UNC in late 90s-early 00s computer science department.
posted by clerestory at 8:20 PM on April 25, 2012

I attended the University of Florida in the mid-90s and the students I knew used "weed-out class" to refer to a number of different classes. The ones I remember definitely referred to as weed-out classes were calculus, one of the early CIS classes (I forgot which), and the intro to chemistry [withdrew rather than failing, didn't take it, and B, thanks for asking].
posted by johnofjack at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2012

A weeder class = any premed science core requirement with gunners in it and an evil curve.
posted by lotusmish at 11:52 PM on April 26, 2012

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