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What the College Offers You

Cornell University Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences Cornell University

College of Arts and Sciences, Liberal Arts at Cornell University

What the College Offers You

An education in the liberal arts and sciences is not conceived as the acquisition of particular skills or of a prescribed body of knowledge, but rather as a broad spectrum of study in a number of fields in which students develop their ability to think in complex ways about information, experiences, and the conditions and challenges they will encounter throughout their lives.  Fundamentally, pursuing a liberal education means honing one’s critical and imaginative capacities, learning about oneself in nature and culture, and gaining experience with views of the world radically unlike one’s own.  How one pursues these goals is highly individual and the college relies on each student and his/her faculty advisor to design a sensible, challenging, and appropriate course of study.  In the course of doing so, however, students are expected to complete a course of study that has certain common qualities and allows them to develop abilities in the following areas:

  • familiarity with the several different ways of knowing that are reflected in the various disciplines and fields of study within the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and sciences;
  • cultural breadth (both geographical and temporal);
  • effective writing and quantitative skills;
  • facility in a foreign language beyond the introductory level;
  • imaginative and critical thinking

Students are expected to concentrate on one particular field through which they develop their imaginative and critical thinking capacities.  They must demonstrate a thorough grasp of their selected field.

These educational goals are stated in Courses of Study along with the distribution requirements which help students accomplish them.

What our alumni are saying:

Matt Goldberg ’92, English, CEO of Lonely Planet:
“A broad liberal arts education is the best way to arm yourself to be a leader and problem-solver in the 21st century. … A broad educational base is foundational for the open-minded approaches needed to craft solutions across traditional disciplines. I don’t know too many people who say, ‘I want to do x’ and then follow that exact path. That’s part of the value of a broad liberal arts education. You’re better prepared than others to take advantage of those circuitous routes, to be more instinctual because you’ve seen more things.  You need that breadth to be more successful. If I had taken a linear path I wouldn’t be as prepared to respond effectively to the challenges that get thrown at me every day.”

Tristan Jackson ’05, Psychology & Sociology, Executive Director of the Vinalhaven Arts and Recreation Center:
“Arts and Sciences was the right college for me to be in, because it allowed me to explore many different disciplines. I loved the broad selection of courses. Certainly, I have drawn on the knowledge I gained at school practically every day since then. I have been able to get the jobs I want and have found my academic background incredibly useful in a variety of situations, from teaching high school students to my current position as executive director of a nonprofit community development organization.”

Justin Davis ’07, Government, Political and Economic Policy Diplomat for African Affairs:
“I took many of the pre-med courses, did pre-med summer internships and actively sought ways to enhance my chances of going to med school. [But] medicine was what everyone else wanted me to do, not what I wanted to do.” During his time at Cornell, Davis says he learned to be very honest with himself and his goals; instead of fearing change, to embrace it.

Alexandra Rukin ’07, Art History, Saks Fifth Avenue Executive Training Program:

Every summer Alexandra Rukin took advantage of Cornell Career Services to find jobs not directly related to her studies. “I wanted to get real life experience,” she explains, “reporting to a boss and getting a paycheck.” These experiences came in handy during on-campus recruiting Rukin’s senior year. She applied for a wide range of positions, reflecting her different interests, including finance, hospitality, and event planning. But when Rukin was offered a position in the Saks Fifth Avenue executive training program, she accepted, launching her career in fashion—very different from the future she’d envisioned for herself when she started at Cornell.

Charles Hausberg ’07, Government, Two-Year Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Despite the change in his career focus to art history, Charles Hausberg has no regrets about his government major. “It prepared me really well for what I’m doing now,” he says. “I learned a lot of reading and writing skills. My government background helped me get into grad school.” And knowledge of socio-political contexts surrounding works of art is often crucial in his new discipline.

Bianca Taxman, Psychology ’01
"I see a variety of values in an arts and sciences education. I was able to get my hands and feet wet by taking lots of different classes. The students in Arts and Sciences have different goals, background, and ambitions, and lots of people were very creative. This taught me how to learn from, talk to, and relate with all types of people in meaningful ways. Everyone I met was very different. Many of the other schools have people who are far more similar. The students all have the same schedules and conduct very similar lives. The Arts and Sciences curriculum helped me focus on being a more worldly person."