"Be Prepared" is not just the Boy Scouts' marching song. It is the reason many students sit through real estate licensing courses offered by the continuing education department at the University of Maryland.

"About one-third of our registrants are lay persons who simply want to be prepared when they buy or sell a home," said John Lathrop, associate director for program development of the Conferences and Institutes Program, a division of continuing education at the University of Maryland. "They also can and do read widely, but the courses provide an opportunity to ask salient questions of an objective, informed instructor before entering the process with others associated with real estate sales."

At a time when real estate transactions are more confusing and sophisticated than ever, college-level continuing education programs and public school adult education services are meeting the needs of those who want to know more about the basics of real estate. The subjects range from the very specific courses aimed at the professional, such as "Real Estate Law" and "Real Estate Math" to consumer courses tailored to general concerns, such as "How to Buy a House," "How to Spot Costly Defects" and "Taxes and the Real Estate Investor."

Professional courses demand a commitment of time. "Real Estate Principles and Practices" at the University of Maryland (a course that enables a person to take the real estate agent licensing examination) meets from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., three days a week for two weeks. Many consumer courses are one-shot seminars, such as Open University's "Sniffing Out a Bargain: How To Find Houses that are Reasonably Priced," or meet one evening a week for several weeks, such as Mount Vernon College's "Real Estate -- From Choosing to Closing."

For those interested in real estate courses -- either with an eye toward becoming a real estate professional or with the idea of learning more about the buying, selling or leasing of their homes, here is a rundown of local real estate courses. All consumer courses meet in the evening unless otherwise noted.

In the District:

American University, Massachusetts and Nebraska avenues NW; 686-2500. Credit courses for professionals: "Real Estate Transactions" and other courses given in two, eight-week sessions, meeting once a week starting Aug. 31 (late registration available) and Nov. 2, $261 per course plus $70 examination and book fee.

Catholic University of America, Fourth and Michigan avenues NE; 635-5789. Consumer courses: "Know Your Real Estate," starts Sept. 29, one evening a week for eight weeks, $50; "The Inspector Looks at Houses," (A professional housing inspector shows how to assess structure, plumbing, roof and other systems of a house.) starts Sept. 30, once a week for eight weeks, $50.

Open University, 3333 Connecticut Ave. NW; 966-9606. Consumer courses: "Sniffing Out a Bargain: How You Can Find the Houses That Are Reasonably Priced," meets in the Logan Circle area in the evening on Sept. 23, $10; "How To Buy a House" meets Oct. 13, $12; "How to Buy a Condo or Co-op," meets Oct. 19, $10; "Creative Financing" meets Sept. 24, $10; "Living with Tenants" meets Sept. 20, $12; "Creative Property Management" meets on Oct. 18, $15.

Mount Vernon College, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW; 331-3539. Consumer course: "Real Estate -- From Choosing to Closing" starts Sept. 21, once a week for six weeks, $45. Credit course: "Historic Preservation", $217.50 to audit, $145 per credit hour, call 331-3540 for further information.

Strayer College, 601 13th St. NW; 783-5180. Credit course: "Real Estate Principles and Practices" starts Sept. 22, meets 5:45 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. one day a week, $220, four credits.

University of District of Columbia, 724 Ninth St. NW; 727-2314. Professional course: "Principles and Practice of Real Estate for Sales Agents" runs Sept. 21 through Nov. 18, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., twice a week, $90.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School, Independence Avenue between 12th and 13th streets SW; 447-4419. "Tax and Legal Aspects of Real Estate Transactions" starts Sept. 22, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., once a week for 10 weeks, $69.

In Maryland:

Montgomery College, Route 355 and Mannakee Street, Rockville; 279-5188. Professional courses: "Basic Real Estate" meets everyday for two weeks, starting Sept. 21 and other dates throughout the fall, $100; also, 12-hour courses for license renewal. Consumer courses: "Fundamentals of Buying and Selling a Home" starts Oct. 7, once a week for five weeks, $35; "How To Sell Your Home With or Without a Broker" starts Oct. 26, two sessions, $25; "Real Estate Investment from Investor's Point of View" starts Nov. 17, once a week, $35.

Montgomery County Public Schools Adult Education, 12518 Greenly Dr., Silver Spring; 942-8304. Consumer courses: "Real Estate From Investor's Point of View" starts Sept. 15, five two hour sessions at Woodward High School, $15; "Real Estate Law" starts Sept. 14, eight sessions at Albert Einstein High School, $20.

Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Largo; 322-0876. Professional course: "Real Estate Principles for Salespersons," $70. Consumer courses: "Real Estate from Investor's Point of View," "Fundamentals of Buying and Selling a Home," "Tax Advatanges of Buying, Selling and Owning a Home," "Real Estate Investment in Rental Properties" and "Introduction to Contracts" meet at various high schools in the county, five two-hour sessions, $20 to $50.

Prince George's County Public School Adult Education, Upper Marlboro; 952-4562. Consumer course: "Marketing Real Estate Property On Your Own" meets Nov. 14 for two hours at Largo Senior High School, $4.

University of Maryland, University Boulevard at Adelphi Road, College Park; 454-4712 (Conferences and Institutes Program). Professional courses: "Real Estate Principles and Practices" meets in two week sessions throughout the fall, $120; "Real Estate License Workshop" scheduled once a month, $45 for one day seminar; other courses on real estate math, contracts, financing, valuation available throughout the year, four sessions each, $75. Consumer course: "Buying a House -- Old or New" starts Sept. 23, once a week for five weeks, $70.

In Virginia:

Arlington Public Schools Adult Education, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington; 684-9000. Consumer course: "Investing in Real Estate" starts Oct. 13, five sessions, $18 for residents, $24 for nonresidents.

Distributive Education Program (includes Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax counties), 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington; 684-8188. Professional courses in conjunction with Northern Virginia Board of Realtors: "Principles of Real Estate" and 112 supplemental courses. Classes start at various times throughout fall and meet at high schools in Northern Virginia. Fees are $2 per instruction hour.

Fairfax County Public Schools Adult Services, 6131 Willston Dr., Falls Church; 698-0400. Professional courses: "Real Estate Principles and Practices" and several supplemental courses start in September, October and November. Fees are $20 and up. Consumer courses: "How To Buy a Residence" starts Oct. 7, four sessions, $21; "How to Spot Costly Defects When Buying a Home" starts Sept. 23, once a week for seven weeks, $21; "Looking Into Real Estate" starts Sept. 15, 21 and 24, four sessions, $10.

George Mason University, 4400 University Dr., Fairfax; 323-2000. Credit courses: "Introduction to Real Estate and Urban Development" and other courses started Aug. 31; will be offered next semester.

Northern Virginia Community College, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale; 323-3186. Professional course: "Virginia Real Estate Licensing Preparation" starts Sept. 11, meets weekends, $55. Consumer course: "Real Estate from Investor's Point of View" starts Sept. 16, once a week for four weeks, $34.

University of Virginia Continuing Education, 400 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 532-5830. Credit courses: courses in real estate principles and practices, finance, appraisal, law, counseling, sales, property management and brokerage begin week of Sept. 21 at high schools in Northern Virginia, $111 per course plus $5 registration fee. Consumer course: "Taxes and the Real Estate Investor" meets on Nov. 14, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, $35.