Substitution Checklist

To earn a degree or minor, students are required to complete the coursework and other specifications listed in that degree/program plan published in the Bulletin for their catalog year. Substitutions are exceptions to the degree requirements and are very rare for non-transfer students who have been properly advised and are using well-administered degree plans. Substitutions should only be used for students who completed coursework while at a previous institution or in a former major or in extraordinary circumstances for non-transfer classes.

Departments and schools should adhere to the following guidelines regarding requests for undergraduate course substitutions. Print the one-page quick guide of the substitution checklist for a handy reference when completing substitution forms. Also, watch the step-by-step video tutorial on how to correctly complete the substitution request form. 

For more information on the GEC and substitutions, consult the Academic Council Info Center.


Course Substitution Requests 




1. Submit all substitutions as soon as possible; never wait until a student is ready to apply for graduation. Substitutions for transfer courses must be submitted no later than the end of the student’s second semester at USM. 

Substitutions can be processed as soon as the class is listed on the DPR, which happens as soon as a student enrolls in a USM class or transfer courses are posted. By University policy, advisors must complete course substitutions for transfer students before the end of the student’s second semester at USM. Late substitution requests can result in students taking unnecessary classes or delaying graduation with additional tuition and fees for the students.

As well, to avoid misadvisement, students must not be advised that a class can be substituted prior to having the request paperwork approved and processed. If transfer courses have not yet been posted to SOAR, we can request a copy of the students’ transfer transcripts. Before students apply for graduation, it is their advisors’ responsibility to ensure students have a clear understanding of which courses and how many hours they still need to complete by their proposed graduation date. Good advising includes reviewing all completed coursework listed on students’ DPRs, monitoring their progress on a semesterly basis, and submitting substitution requests in a timely manner.


 2. Do not use substitutions in a manner that effectively circumvents Academic Council or accreditation standards. 

If a program regularly wishes to accept a course as a substitute, the department needs to modify its degree requirements to add that course to the degree plan unless there are legitimate reasons not to do so (e.g., situation will be resolved imminently without curriculum revisions). For example, USM has approved several courses for GEC 08 Speaking Intensive. If a program wishes to accept more than one of those courses for GEC 08, it needs to modify its degree plan through Academic Council to add those other Speaking Intensive courses as options.


3. Chair and Dean approval signatures cannot be the same.

Having the same person sign for multiple levels of approval authority causes concern of appropriate oversight and checks and balances in the process. All three signatures on a substitution form or an UGRD Exception should never be the same. While it is acceptable for the Adviser and Chair or the Adviser and Dean signature to be the same, the Chair and Dean signatures cannot be the same. (In the rare case where a Dean has taken on the Chair role in a receivership situation, an exception may be made to this rule).




4. Provide a justification for the substitution in the box that addresses both the level of equivalency between the two courses and a rationale for making an exception to the requirement.


A. Equivalency

How is the content of the substitute and required courses similar/How do they cover the same relevant learning outcomes? / How is the substitute course an appropriate replacement for the required course? (If other courses are in fact highly equivalent and/or fulfill the same purpose as the required course, the program should consider modifying the degree plan to accept these alternative options. This will enhance flexibility, increase frequency of offering courses that fulfill the requirement, and eliminate the need for substitutions.

1) ✔︎  "This course fulfilled the GEC science requirement at the transfer institution" (documentation attached)

2) ✔︎  “Both the required course X and the substitute course Y are focused on training students in various types of research methods. Both course X and substitute course Y require application of both quantitative and qualitative methods in completion of a research project.

3) ✔︎  “Both the required course X and the substitute course Y cover topic A, topic B, topic C, and topic D, which are the main learning objectives for the required course.”

Avoid the following:

  “Substitute course X for course Y because they have similar content. (See attached.)” (Needs very brief summary/explanation of how content is equivalent/similar in the equivalency box as shown in above examples—especially if course titles are dissimilar. Do not simply refer reviewers to read through attached documentation.)


B. Rationale

Why is the request being made? / Why did the student not take the course required by the degree plan?

1) ✔︎  “Transfer course taken prior to enrollment at USM."

2) ✔︎  “Due to under-enrollment, course X was cancelled in fall. Course X is only offered in fall, and student is scheduled to graduate in the spring.” (Note: schools need to plan for how semester-by-semester guides will be followed in subsequent semesters without substitutions)

3) ✔︎  "Substitute course Y is the new requirement since the 2018-2019 catalog; student with older catalog (2015-2016) would benefit from taking the new improved requirement rather than the old one that was replaced." (Be sure to inlcude the Bulletin year in which the requirements became effective. Updated requirements alone are not sufficient reason for substitutions/waivers since 'cherry-picking' across multiple catalog years is not permitted. Students wishing to follow newer requirements are generally expected to update their catalog year, which can be done on a change-of-major form)

4) ✔︎  "Substitute course Y is a new course offering that is not yet on the degree plan. The school will propose to Academic Council this fall that this course be added as option for the requirement." (Give the timeline for getting the course listed in the degree plan.)

NOTE: If a student took the exact USM course specified by the degree plan for the student's catalog year but the class is not pulling into the appropriate requirement section on the DPR due to a technical problem in SOAR/DPR, this does not require a substitution request. Please contact the school's Degree Progress Specialist partner to fix the technical error.  

Avoid the following:

✘  "This substitution is necessary for the student to graduate by X semester.” (Helping a student to graduate by a certain semester in and of itself is not an appropriate rationale because students with advisors' assistance are responsible for planning a schedule well in advance that allows them to graduate in the expected term. Programs must offer required courses regularly and predictably in accordance with the semester-by-semester guide.)

  "Course Y is an approved course to fulfill GEC XX at USM [although it is not the approved course in that GEC area for the student's degree plan]" (This is only an equivalency statement; a rationale must be provided for deviating from the requirements of the approved degree plan; see #2 above. Programs wishing to allow additional GEC-designated options for their major students must write those into their degree plan.)


C. Avoid insufficient justifications, such as the following examples:

  “Substitute course X for course Y.”/ “Move course X from general electives to major elective.” (This is only a directive; it does not explain equivalency or give a rationale.)

  “Program/Director accepts this course as a substitute.”/ “Course X is an acceptable substitute for course Y.” (Program/Director approval is presumed based on signatures. Both equivalency and rationale statements require an explanation for why it is acceptable.)

  "Course Y is regularly accepted substitute for Course X" (This is neither a statement of equivalency nor a rationale for a substitution. If a program wishes to regularly count a course toward satisfying a requirement, it must modify the degree plan to include that course rather than regularly request substitutions. See number 2 above.)


5.  Write the justification (equivalency/rationale) in a manner understandable to potential external reviewers.

Avoid department-specific abbreviations. Do not assume the reviewer knows the degree plan for each catalog year.

6. Fit the entire justification (equivalency/rationale) in the space provided on the form and keep it brief and clear.

All requests must provide a justification on the actual form; that is, the form must not simply instruct the reviewer to “see attached.”. At least a brief explanation of equivalency must be on the form (see example under 4.A. above).

Avoid extraneous information in the justification and try to limit attachments and supplemental information to what is relevant for the justification. For example, if the course counts towards the GEC at the transfer institution, that is sufficient to justify its approval, so additional explanations, such as how it has the same learning outcomes as the USM GEC course, are generally unnecessary. Excessive documents and explanations slow the process for evaluating substitution requests.

7. Pick a specific course to be the substituted course rather than a range of courses.

Substituting a GEC course for a variety of courses has rarely (if ever) been approved. It is better to choose the single most appropriate course to request as a substitution than to try to argue that a variety of courses taken as a whole satisfy the GEC requirement.


8. For GEC substitutions, indicate whether the course fulfills the GEC/core curriculum requirements at the transfer institution. If it does, attach supporting documentation from the transfer institution; if it does not, note on the form that it does not.

If a course meets the GEC requirements at the transfer institution (regardless of which state), this is the easiest justification for the request to be approved, and it does not require further rationale. Therefore, look up the core curriculum requirements of the transfer institution on its website. If it satisfies the GEC/core curriculum requirement at the transfer institution, attach a print-out from transfer institution’s website (or statement on the syllabus) that shows it counts towards the GEC at that institution. If it does not satisfy the GEC requirement, indicate that as well to verify that you have checked, so subsequent reviewers do not have to repeat this process to confirm whether it fulfilled the GEC at the transfer institution. 


9.  Do not use course prefix as a justification for a substitution. Course with same prefix but higher number does not indicate equivalency at a more advanced level. 

Higher number courses do not indicate the same material but at a “higher level.” More advance courses in a discipline are often more specialized and narrower in scope and thus do not expose the student to the breadth of material required to fulfill GEC or other required coursework at the 100/200 level; for example, ENG 470 (Studies in Antebellum Literature) is not the equivalent of ENG 203 (World Literature); SOC 426 (Sociology of Education) is not equivalent to SOC 101 (Understanding Society). 


10.  Do not interchangeably use the phrases “course X meets the objectives of the requirement” and “course X meets the requirement.” These indicate different issues. ?

“Course X meets the objectives of the requirement” suggests there is some equivalency between course X, which is proposed as a substitute, and the required course in the degree plan. In contrast, “course X meets the requirement” indicates that course X is the actual required course from the degree plan for the student’s catalog year, but it is not pulling correctly in the DPR to show the requirement has been satisfied. In the latter case, the DPR setup in SOAR needs to be corrected for that degree plan rather than doing a substitution for an individual student. If a course meets the requirement of the degree plan for more recent catalogs but not the student’s older catalog year, state which calendar year the new requirement became effective and the rationale for following the newer requirement rather than the older one. (See 4.B.3. above)


11.  Take responsibility for misadvisement. Substitution requests based on misadvisement may be considered with evidence.

In the rare case that a student has been misadvised that a non-GEC course would count toward GEC requirement or that a course not in the student’s degree/program plan would count toward their major/minor requirements, the substitution request should note this. For GEC courses, the request should also include evidence of how the student was misadvised. Advisors and departments need to take steps ensure that such misadvisement is not repeated; Chairs and Directors are responsible to correct systemic issues that contribute to advising errors.


12.  Avoid waivers.

Waivers will only be approved in rare and extraordinary circumstances.  A substitution indicates the required content or subject matter has been covered elsewhere; a wavier simply dismisses the requirement. For GEC, an exception is that transfer students with an A.A. degree with no grade lower than a C may request to waive the GEC 1-5. 




13.  Attach a current DPR.

Follow instructions at the top of the form, which note that a current DPR and documentation must be attached. More details on the type of documentation that must be attached follows below.


14. Type both the USM transfer course number and transfer institution’s original course number on the request form.

For the question “What course is being requested as a substitution for the required GEC course,” provide both the original course number from the transfer institution and the USM transfer course number (e.g., BSC 701AAA / BIO 2011 ). Giving only the original course number/title from the transfer institution does not allow reviewers to match it to the specific course that actually transferred to USM. Consult the USM Transfer Evaluation (see above) to determine the USM transfer course prefix and number that matches the original transfer institution’s course number and title.


15. Attach the USM Transfer Credit Evaluation report (Equivalent Course Information) from SOAR if the course transferred in with the title “TFR [Program] Elective.”

A printout of the USM Transfer Credit Evaluation is necessary for substitution requests for transferred courses without a specific USM course number and title (that is, courses that transfer in as “TFR [Program] Elective,” e.g., MAT 701AAA, ART 701BBB). The USM Transfer Credit Evaluation report lists a student’s transferred courses, including the original course number and title from the transfer institution and its USM Transfer Equivalent Course number, which is what shows on the DPR. It is necessary to have both of these course numbers in order to match courses to their appropriate documentation (e.g., course descriptions from the transfer institution) and course listing on the DPR. (See instructions for running a USM Transfer Evaluation report in SOAR.) 


16. Include the approved Permission to Transfer Credit form if a transfer course was taken after the student enrolled at USM. 

University policy states that “[w]hile enrolled at The University of Southern Mississippi, a student is required to obtain written approval from his or her department to enroll in a course(s) at another institution. Without this approval, the course(s) may not apply toward his or her degree. Per the Associate Provost, “1) Native students should be taking as much coursework as possible from us, 2) advisors should indicate to students that we offer many courses online during the summer that they could take from home, 3) Students are not to be given permission to take courses outside of USM in order to circumvent our GEC or degree requirements. GEC courses taken outside of USM by native students will require a solid justification based on course equivalency.” 


17. Attach evidence (e.g., syllabi) to evaluate equivalency for transfer courses from institutions without an articulation agreement.

Equivalency may be demonstrated with evidence such as syllabus, course description, or letter describing content from the department chair in the transfer institution where the course was taught.


18. Highlight or underline the relevant information/sections/courses on all attachments.

A proper review of the substitution request includes cross-checking information provided on the form with the attached documentation (e.g., checking that the substitute course prefix, number, and title written on the request form actually matches the course prefix, number, and title written on both the Transfer Credit Evaluation and the DPR course history). Therefore, highlight, underline, or otherwise clearly mark all relevant information and sections, including courses on the DPR Course History and Transfer Credit Evaluation Report. For example, if you print out a webpage from the transfer institution, highlight the relevant course on its list of core courses; on the student’s DPR, highlight the transfer course requested for substitution. Please do not force each subsequent reviewer to have to read or skim everything again on all the attachments to search for the relevant information.