The Purpose of the Curriculum

A curriculum is often identified with a set of degree requirements: “What do I have to do to receive my degree?” But degree requirements are not themselves sufficient to define appropriate educational goals. One might fulfill all of the College's degree requirements and yet fail to get a good education. It would also be possible to acquire a good education but neglect to fulfill the degree requirements. Now, we certainly do want you to fulfill all of the degree requirements, and we will work with you to see that this happens. But you are not here fundamentally for the purpose of completing degree requirements. If you think of your education solely in those terms, the result will be dull and unsatisfying.

"Curriculum" comes from the Latin for "course," in the sense in which one might speak of the course of a journey. The term denotes a means rather than an end, but it suggests better than "degree requirements" what it is to become educated. It denotes a movement from a starting point to a destination, a movement that proceeds along some path. You are not left to your own devices to figure out how to get from here to there. But neither is the path straight and narrow. You will have many choices to make as you negotiate the course of your education, but they will be informed by the experience of the faculty, who in the curriculum offer their considered advice for your educational journey.

The College’s curriculum draws you toward two distinctive goals: toward general education across the wide range of the arts and sciences and toward specialized education in a major. A commitment to holding these two—general and specialized education—together has been the genius of American higher education since the early part of the last century. We continue to believe that these two elements constitute an education best suited to enabling intelligent individuals to live humane, productive and fulfilling lives in the 21st century.

The General Education Curriculum

The College's General Education Curriculum for its part has two broad objectives. It seeks to develop in you some general skills or approaches to knowledge and to engage you in the intellectual work of the disciplines in a variety of fields across the arts and sciences.

In following this curriculum, you will be guided by two kinds of degree requirements corresponding to these two objectives. One deals with foundational approaches, the other with specific disciplines and fields of knowledge. Within any given course, these two—an approach and a field of study—are integral to one another. An approach is learned by practice in relation to a field of knowledge: your ability to use a foreign language is developed through learning about the culture in which the language is rooted; understanding a work of art is acquired by learning how to write about it—that is, by learning how to use words to describe, compare, question and argue about works of art and the contexts in which they were created and are appreciated; you learn how to analyze quantitative data by thinking about what data mean for our knowledge of natural or social phenomena we observe. Some courses, however, give priority to developing skills and approaches, while others give priority to the field under investigation.

Foundational Approaches

The Foundational Approaches are key intellectual capabilities demanded in a variety of disciplines.

  • Communication: Writing • Foreign Language
  • Analysis: Quantitative Data Analysis • Formal Reasoning and Analysis
  • Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Analysis • Cultural Diversity in the U.S.


The sectors are intended to ensure breadth of education across the sectors or fields of knowledge, along with interdisciplinary explorations that link several fields of knowledge.

  • I. Society
  • II. History & Tradition
  • III. Arts & Letters
  • IV. Humanities & Social Sciences
  • V. The Living World
  • VI. The Physical World
  • VII. Natural Science Across Disciplines (formerly Natural Sciences and Mathematics)

The Major

The Major provides an opportunity to know a segment of human knowledge deeply, with a sufficient grasp of its modes of thinking and analysis to make your own contribution.


In addition to these structural elements, the curriculum provides space in your studies for a number of Electives, some in the School of Arts and Sciences and some beyond. These give you the freedom to pursue interests that may lie outside your major and that extend beyond those addressed in the General Education Curriculum. Take a course in a field that you have not otherwise encountered. Use one or more Electives to explore further a subject introduced in a sector course or learn about a subject that sheds light on your major