Degree Requirements

Overview

General Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts Degree

Williams College offers a course of study leading to the Bachelor of Arts degree. The course requirements prescribe both the number of courses to be completed and the minimum grade level to be achieved; the curriculum also requires that each student explore several fields of knowledge and major in one. The full requirements for the degree include meeting the minimum academic standards stated below, fulfilling the distribution requirement, completing a major, completing the physical education requirement, and residing at the College.

The academic year is divided into two regular semesters and a Winter Study period. The student takes four courses each semester and during Winter Study takes a single course on a pass/fail basis.

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Winter Study

Winter Study Period, which began in 1967, is intended to provide students and faculty with a dramatically different educational experience. The differences are in the nature of the courses, the nature of the learning experience, and the change of educational pace and format from the fall and spring semesters. These differences apply to the faculty and students in several ways: faculty can try out courses with new subjects and techniques that might, if successful, be used later in the regular terms; they can explore subjects not amenable to inclusion in regular courses; and they can investigate fields outside their usual areas of expertise. In their academic work, which is graded Pass, Perfunctory Pass, or Fail, students can explore new fields at low risk, concentrate on one subject that requires a great deal of time, develop individual research projects, or work in a different milieu (as interns, for example, or on trips outside Williamstown). In addition, Winter Study offers students an opportunity for more independence and initiative in a less formal setting, more opportunity to participate in cultural events, and an occasion to get to know one another better. Students who fail their Winter Study course will be required to make up the deficiency. (See “Deficiencies.”) Students who fail through gross neglect of work may be put on academic probation or required to resign. A student who receives a second Perfunctory Pass grade in Winter Study will be required to pass a fifth course in the following spring or fall semester.

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Academic Requirement

To be eligible for the Bachelor of Arts degree a student must pass 32 semester courses (at least 29 of which must be regularly graded A-E, including 19 with grades of C- or better), pass four Winter Study courses, fulfill the four-part distribution requirement, complete all requirements for the major including an average of C- or higher, meet the residence requirement, and complete the physical education requirement. A student may not repeat a course for which degree credit has been awarded.

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Distribution Requirement

The distribution requirement falls into four parts. Please note that courses used to fulfill these requirements must be regularly graded.

1) Divisional requirement: Designed to ensure students take an appropriately diverse distribution of courses across the full range of the curriculum.

For the purposes of the requirement, courses are grouped into three divisions:

  • Division I: Languages and the Arts
  • Division II: Social Studies
  • Division III: Science and Mathematics

Students must complete at least three graded semester courses in each division. Two in each division must be completed by the end of the sophomore year. No more than two of the courses used to satisfy the requirement may have the same course prefix. The courses must be taken at Williams or at programs under the direction of Williams College Faculty.

Division I courses are designed to help students become better able to respond to the arts sensitively and intelligently by learning the language, whether verbal, visual, or musical, of a significant field of artistic expression. Students learn how to develop the capacity for critical discussion, to increase awareness of the esthetic and moral issues raised by works of art, and to grow in self-awareness and creativity.

Division II courses consider the institutions and social structures that human beings have created, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and which in turn markedly affect their lives. These courses are intended to help the students recognize, analyze, and evaluate these human structures in order that they may better understand themselves and the social world in which they live.

Division III courses are intended to provide some of the factual and methodological knowledge needed to be an informed citizen in a world deeply influenced by scientific thought and technological accomplishment, and to cultivate skill in exact and quantitative reasoning.

Please note, there may be exceptions to divisional credit, and those exceptions are noted in individual course descriptions.

  • Arabic (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Art History
    Art Studio
    Asian Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Chinese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Classics
    Comparative Literature
    Critical Languages
    Dance
    English
    Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
    French
    German
    Greek
    History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Italian
    Japanese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Latin
    Literary Studies
    Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Music
    Russian
    Spanish
    Theatre

  • Africana Studies
    American Studies
    Anthropology
    Arabic (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Asian Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Chinese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Cognitive Science
    Economics
    Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
    Global Studies
    History
    History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Japanese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Jewish Studies
    Justice and Law
    Latina/o Studies
    Leadership Studies
    Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Philosophy
    Political Economy
    Political Science
    Psychology (some exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Public Health (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Religion
    Science and Technology Studies
    Sociology
    Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

  • Astronomy
    Astrophysics
    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    Biology
    Chemistry
    Computer Science
    Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
    Geosciences
    History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Mathematics
    Neuroscience
    Physics
    Psychology (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
    Statistics

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2) Writing-Intensive (WI) requirement: The goal of this requirement is to improve student writing proficiency across disciplines. Students in these courses will receive guidance on style, argumentation, and other significant aspects of writing, as well as evaluation and criticism of their writing throughout the semester. This may be achieved through a variety of approaches: brief assignments spaced over the semester, sequenced assignments leading to a longer final paper, etc. WI courses may also include multiple drafts, conferences, peer review, or class discussions designed to improve writing skills. A course with a single long paper due at the end of the semester, but with no required or structured means of addressing writing issues, would not be considered writing-intensive. WI courses require a minimum of 20 pages of writing and have a maximum enrollment of 19—this allows the instructor to devote appropriate attention to writing over the course of the semester.

All students are required to take TWO WI courses: one by the end of sophomore year and one by the end of the junior year. Students will benefit most from WI courses by taking them early in their college careers and are strongly encouraged to complete the requirement by the end of sophomore year.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the WI requirement.

More information for faculty.

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3) Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement: Williams College recognizes that in a diverse and globalized world, the critical examination of difference, power, and equity is an essential part of a liberal arts education. The DPE requirement provides students with the opportunity to analyze the shaping of social differences, dynamics of unequal power, and processes of change. Courses satisfying the DPE requirement include content that encourages students to confront and reflect on the operations of difference, power and equity. They also provide students with critical tools they will need to be responsible agents of change. Employing a variety of pedagogical approaches and theoretical perspectives, DPE courses examine themes including but not limited to race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion.

All students are required to complete at least ONE course that has the DPE designation. Although this course, which may be counted toward the divisional distribution requirement, can be completed any semester before graduation, students are urged to complete the course by the end of the sophomore year. The requirement may be fulfilled with a course taken away from campus, but students wishing to use this option must petition the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) upon their return by providing a clear and detailed explanation of how the course taken away from Williams fulfills the DPE requirement.

Class of 2019, 2020, 2021

Students who have​ successfully​ completed an EDI course ​do not need to complete a DPE course.
Students who have ​not taken an EDI course can satisfy the requirement by completing a DPE course.

Class of 2022​

The Class of 2022 must satisfy the​ ​DPE ​requirement​.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the DPE requirement.

More information for faculty.

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4) Quantitative/Formal Reasoning (QFR) requirement: This requirement is intended to help students become adept at reasoning mathematically and abstractly. The ability to apply a formal method to reach conclusions, use numbers comfortably, and employ the research tools necessary to analyze data lessens barriers to carrying out professional and economic roles. The hallmarks of a QFR course are the representation of facts in a language of mathematical symbols and the use of formal rules to obtain a determinate answer. Primary evaluation in these courses is based on multistep mathematical, statistical, or logical inference (as opposed to descriptive answers).

Prior to senior year, all students must satisfactorily complete ONE QFR course. Students requiring extra assistance (as assessed during First Days) are normally placed into Mathematics 100/101/102, which is to be taken before fulfilling the QFR requirement.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the QFR requirement.

More information for faculty.

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Major Requirement

The Major Requirement is designed to assure that all Williams undergraduates will have the experience of disciplined and cumulative study, carried on over an extended period of time, in some important field of intellectual inquiry. Juniors are required to declare a major and the selection is normally made at the time of registration in the spring of the sophomore year.

Majors are offered in the following fields:

American Studies
Anthropology
Arabic Studies
Art
Asian Studies
Astronomy
Astrophysics
Biology
Chemistry
Chinese
Classics (Greek, Latin)
Comparative Literature
Computer Science
Economics
English
Environmental Studies
French
Geosciences
German
History
Japanese
Mathematics
Music
Philosophy
Physics
Political Economy
Political Science
Psychology
Religion
Russian
Sociology
Spanish
Statistics
Theatre
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

General Structure of Majors

1) A student ordinarily must elect at least nine semester courses in their major field. A major may also require an additional course and/or one Winter Study Project during the junior or senior year.

A student may also fulfill the minimum requirements for a major by taking eight semester courses in the major field and two semester courses, approved by a major advisor, in associated fields. In interdepartmental majors, such as Political Economy, a larger number of courses may be required.

2) A prescribed sequence of courses, supplemented by parallel courses, and including a major seminar, is required in some major fields. Other majors ask the student to plan a sequence of elective courses, including advanced work building on elementary courses in the field, and ending in a one- or two- semester faculty-organized course or project in the senior year. All majors provide a system of counseling to help students plan programs reflecting individual interests as well as disciplined and cumulative patterns of inquiry.

Courses in many major programs require prerequisite courses in related areas. A full description of the detailed structure of each major is found under the heading of that major.

Contract Major

Students who wish to undertake the coherent study of an interdisciplinary subject not covered by a regularly offered major may propose a Contract Major. Those interested in this option should thoroughly review the Contract Major website, and begin consulting with the Contract Major Advisor and with potential faculty advisors in the fall semester of sophomore year. A student completing a Contract Major may not do so in conjunction with a second major.

Two Majors

A student may complete two majors with the permission of both majors and the Committee on Academic Standing. Although a student may be granted permission to use a course from one major to fulfill a particular requirement in the other, the student nevertheless must take the minimum number of courses in each field without counting any course twice. A student may be a candidate for Honors in either or both of the majors, but a course for Honors in one major may not be used for an Honors course in the other.

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Physical Education Requirement

The Physical Education requirement provides students the opportunity of establishing and maintaining a general level of fitness and well-being; of developing abilities in carry-over activities; of discovering and extending their own physical capabilities; and of developing skills in activities with survival implications, such as swimming.

A swim test is required of all first-year students at the start of the academic year. Students who fail to complete the test must pass a basic swim course given in the Physical Education program during the first quarter of the year.

Students must complete four quarters of physical education by the end of the sophomore year.

Students must enroll in at least two different activities in fulfilling the requirement.

Satisfactory attendance is required except for students excused by the Dean and the Director of Medical Services or the Director of Psychological Counseling Services.

Participation in an intercollegiate, junior varsity or club sport is equivalent to two activity each year, split season sports will earn one credit for each half of the year (crew, golf, tennis, rugby, ultimate, etc). A maximum of three credits may be attained while participating in sports with the exception of a two sport athlete who can fulfill the physical education requirement by totaling four units in two sports. The remaining units must come from the physical education activity program.

  • PE credits are only posted twice per year, at the end of the fall semester and at the end of the spring semester. This means that what is listed on your Academic Progress Report may not have caught up to what you have actually done.

    • At the beginning of the fall semester, the PE credits listed should be accurate through the end of the previous spring semester.
    • During late October/early November, any PE activities completed during the first half of the fall semester will not yet be posted.
    • At the beginning of the spring semester, any PE activities completed during Winter Study will not yet be posted; they will be posted once Winter Study grading is completed.
    • During April preregistration any PE activities completed during the first half of the spring semester will not yet be posted; they will be posted at the end of the spring semester.

    If your PE credits still seem incorrect, please check with the Physical Education Office.

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Residence Requirement

Students who begin college at Williams must spend a minimum of six semesters in residence at Williams. Students transferring to Williams from other institutions as sophomores are expected to spend six semesters in residence and juniors must spend a minimum of four semesters in residence at Williams. Students are considered to be in residence if they are taking a program of study under the direction of the Williams College Faculty. Students must be in residence for both semesters of the final year.

The degree requirements must be completed within eight semesters, including any semesters for which a student receives credit while not in residence at Williams. Thus, semesters spent away on exchange or other approved programs at other colleges are included in the eight semesters.

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