Current Graduation Requirements

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Main concept

Students will become acquainted with a broad range of subject matter and points of view among disciplines in the college and explore areas that may be entirely new to them. Or, to look at it the other way, as first-year students explore subjects that interest them, they begin to satisfy distribution requirements. Consequently, first-year students should take courses to prepare for possible majors and to explore subjects new to them and take no course only in order to satisfy a distribution requirement. Once sure of a major, students should consider which distribution requirements are yet unfulfilled and how to fulfill them with courses that complement their overall program.


Exploration and an uncommon diversity are the hallmarks of our liberal arts approach. All areas of study offered at The College are characterized by an incredible openness, affording students the opportunity to design their own education. The breadth and depth of an Arts & Sciences education will prepare students to engage with the world.

The College’s academic distribution requirements give students:

  • cultural breadth (both geographical and temporal)
  • effective writing and quantitative skills
  • facility in a foreign language beyond the introductory level
  • imaginative and critical thinking

I. Distribution Requirement

Students must complete four courses in science and quantitative reasoning, identified below under the categories Physical and Biological Sciences (PBS) and Mathematics and Quantitative Reasoning (MQR).

In addition, they must complete five courses of 3 or more credits each from four of the five categories of courses in the humanities and social sciences with no more than three in the same department. The five categories of courses fulfilling the distribution requirements in humanities and social sciences are: Cultural Analysis (CA-AS), Historical Analysis (HA-AS), Knowledge Cognition and Moral Reasoning (KCM-AS), Literature and the Arts (LA-AS), and Social and Behavioral Analysis (SBA-AS).

Distribution Rubrics: 

Cultural Analysis (CA-AS):

Courses in this area study human life in particular cultural contexts through interpretive analysis of individual behavior, discourse, and social practice. Topics include belief systems (science, medicine, religion), expressive arts and symbolic behavior (visual arts, performance, poetry, myth, narrative, ritual), identity (nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality), social groups and institutions (family, market, community), power and politics (states, colonialism, inequality). 

Historical Analysis (HA-AS):

Courses in this group interpret continuities and changes—political, social, economic, diplomatic, religious, intellectual, artistic, scientific—through time. The focus may be on groups of people, dominant or subordinate, a specific country or region, an event, a process, or a time period. 

Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasoning (KCM-AS):

Offerings in this area investigate the bases of human knowledge in its broadest sense, ranging from cognitive faculties shared by humans and animals such as perception, to abstract reasoning, to the ability to form and justify moral judgments. Courses investigating the sources, structure, and limits of cognition may use the methodologies of science, cognitive psychology, linguistics, or philosophy. Courses focusing on moral reasoning explore ways of reflecting on ethical questions that concern the nature of justice, the good life, or human values in general. 

Literature and the Arts (LA-AS):

Offerings in this area explore literature and the arts in two different but related ways. Some courses focus on the critical study of artworks and on their history, aesthetics, and theory. These courses develop skills of reading, observing, and hearing and encourage reflection on such experiences; many investigate the interplay among individual achievement, artistic tradition, and historical context. Other courses are devoted to the production and performance of artworks (in creative writing, performing arts, and media such as film and video). These courses emphasize the interaction among technical mastery, cognitive knowledge, and creative imagination. 

Social and Behavioral Analysis (SBA-AS):

Courses in this area examine human life in its social context through the use of social scientific methods, often including hypothesis testing, scientific sampling techniques, and statistical analysis. Topics studied range from the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes of individuals to interpersonal relations between individuals (e.g., in friendship, love, conflict) to larger social organizations (e.g., the family, society, religious or educational or civic institutions, the economy, government) to the relationships and conflicts among groups or individuals (e.g., discrimination, inequality, prejudice, stigmas, conflict resolution). 

Mathematics and quantitative reasoning (MQR)

In completing four courses in science and quantitative reasoning, students must take at least one of the following courses from the Mathematics and quantitative reasoning list below. 

Physical and Biological Sciences (PBS):

In fulfilling the four courses in science and quantitative reasoning, students must take at least two science courses. At least one of these must be from the primary list of courses in science departments in the College of Arts and Sciences.

II. Breadth Requirement

Students must include in their undergraduate program at least one Arts and Sciences course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe and one course that focuses on an historical period before the 20th century. Many courses satisfy both requirements, and students may in fact use the same course to satisfy both. Students may use courses satisfying distribution, major, or elective—but not writing—requirements in satisfaction of either of the breadth requirements. They may also apply Cornell courses (not credit from an examination) conferring proficiency in a non-Western language toward the geographical breadth requirement.

III. Writing Requirement

Two first-year writing seminars.

IV. Foreign language requirement

A student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell. AP and IB credits cannot complete this requirement, but usually indicate that you place into a higher level course.

Current A&S Graduation Requirements

Writing requirement:

Two first-year writing seminars (FWS). 


Foreign language requirement: 

A student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell.


Distribution requirements:

  • Four courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS) and Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR): Students must take 2 courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS), 1 in Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR), and 1 course that is either in PBS or MQR.
  • Five Arts & Sciences courses of 3 or more credits from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:

            --Cultural Analysis (CA-AS)
            --Historical Analysis (HA-AS)
            --Knowledge, Cognition, & Moral Reasoning (KCM-AS)
            --Literature & the Arts (LA-AS)
            --Social & Behavioral Analysis (SBA-AS)


Breadth requirements:

  • Geographic breadth requirement (GB): One course that focuses on an area or a people other than those of the United States, Canada, or Europe. Courses fulfilling this requirement are marked with a GB in the Course Roster and Courses of Study.
  • Historic breadth requirement (HB): One course that focuses on an historic period before the 20th century.





Four or five courses (totaling at least 15 credits), not used to fulfill other requirements and not in the major field.


Learning Goals for the current A&S graduation requirements

Not stated.