Degree Requirements

Overview

General Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts Degree

Williams College offers a course of study leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. 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 concentrate in one. The full requirements for the degree include meeting the minimum academic standards stated below, residing at the College, fulfilling the distribution requirement, completing a major, and completing the physical education requirement.

The academic year is divided into two regular semesters and a Winter Study Period. The student takes four courses in each semester and during January pursues a single program of study on a pass-fail basis.

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Winter Study Project

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 Projects 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 Projects, fulfill the four-part distribution requirement, complete all requirements for the major including an average of C- or higher, 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) Division Requirement. Designed to ensure that in their course of study at Williams 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; and Division III, Science and Mathematics. A full listing of the subjects in each division appears below.

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.

Courses that fulfill the distribution requirement in Division I 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.

Courses which fulfill the Division II requirement 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.

Courses which fulfill the Division III requirement 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.

Courses with the following designations receive divisional distribution credit as indicated:

  • Division I: Languages and the Arts

    Arabic (except 111, 206, 207, 215, 230, 231, 232, 234, 243, 280, 281, 303, 305, 310, 311, 332, 408, 409, 410, 480, 491)
    Art History
    Art Studio
    Asian Studies 103, 274
    Chinese (except CHIN 223)
    Classics
    Comparative Literature
    Critical Languages
    Dance
    English
    EXPR 245, 420
    French
    German
    Greek
    INTR 252
    Italian
    Japanese (except JAPN 217, 218, 321, 486T)
    Latin
    Literary Studies
    Maritime Studies 231
    Music
    Russian
    Spanish
    Theatre

  • Division II: Social Studies

    Africana Studies
    American Studies
    Anthropology
    Arabic 111, 206, 207, 215, 230, 231, 232, 234, 243, 280, 281, 303, 305, 310, 311, 332, 408, 409, 410, 480, 491
    Asian Studies (except 103, 274)
    Chinese 223
    Cognitive Science
    Economics
    Environmental Studies 101
    Experimental Studies (except EXPR 245, 420)
    Global Studies
    History
    History of Science (except HSCI 224)
    Interdisciplinary Studies (except INTR 160, 223)
    Japanese 217, 218, 321, 486T
    Jewish Studies
    Justice and Law
    Latina/o Studies
    Leadership Studies
    Maritime Studies 351, 352
    Philosophy
    Political Economy
    Political Science
    Psychology (except PSYC 212, 312, 315, 316, 317T, 318)
    Public Health (except PHLH 201, 402)
    Religion
    Science and Technology Studies
    Sociology
    Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

  • Division III: Science and Mathematics

    Astronomy
    Astrophysics
    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    Biology
    Chemistry
    Computer Science
    Environmental Studies 102
    Geosciences
    History of Science 224
    INTR 160, 223
    Maritime Studies 104, 211, 311
    Mathematics
    Neuroscience
    Physics
    Psychology 212, 312, 315, 316, 317T, 318
    Statistics

Please note: Any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries distribution credit of that subject. Other Environmental Studies courses may fulfill distribution requirements as indicated under individual course listings.

Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University tutorial courses (WIOX) may be used toward fulfilling the divisional distribution requirement; a student may earn a maximum of three distribution requirements, with no more than one from each division, for the year. All tutorial courses in the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University (WIOX) meet the Williams College ‘W’ designation, except for those in studio arts, mathematics, and the sciences. Courses at the Williams-Mystic Program may also be used toward fulfilling the distribution requirement as appropriate.

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2) Exploring Diversity Initiative Requirement. Williams College is committed to creating and maintaining a curriculum, faculty, and student body that reflects and explores a diverse, globalized world and the multi-cultural character of the United States. Courses designated “(D)” in the College Bulletin are a part of the College’s Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI); they represent our dedication to study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact with, and challenge, each other. Through such courses, students and faculty also consider the multiple approaches that engage these issues. Rather than simply focus on the study of specific peoples, cultures, or regions of the world, in the past or present, however, courses fulfilling the requirement actively promote a self-conscious and critical engagement with diversity. They urge students to consider the operations of difference in the world and provide them with the tools to do so. The ultimate aim of the requirement is to lay the groundwork for a life-long engagement with the diverse cultures, societies, and histories of the United States and the rest of the world.

Courses that comprise the Exploring Diversity Initiative may fall under a variety of categories, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Comparative Study of Cultures and Societies. These courses focus on the differences and similarities between cultures and societies, and/or on the ways in which cultures, peoples, and societies have interacted and responded to one another in the past.
  • Empathetic Understanding. These courses explore diverse human feelings, thoughts, and actions by recreating the social, political, cultural, and historical context of a group in order to imagine why within that context, those beliefs, experiences, and actions of the group emerged.
  • Power and Privilege. These courses link issues of diversity to economic and political power relations, investigating how cultural interaction is influenced by various structures, institutions, or practices that enable, maintain, or mitigate inequality among different groups.
  • Critical Theorization. These courses focus on ways scholars theorize the possibilities of cross-cultural understanding and interaction; they investigate the ways that disciplines and paradigms of knowledge both constitute “difference” and are reconfigured by the study of diversity-related questions.

All students are required to complete ONE course that is part of the Exploring Diversity Initiative. Although this course, which may be counted toward the divisional distribution requirement, may be completed any semester before graduation, students are urged to complete the course by the end of the sophomore year.

Students wishing to fulfill the EDI requirement via the completion of study away must submit the completed EDI form and their essay after their return proposing EDI credit for a course or independent study project/research they pursued while away. The essay will require students to intellectually describe how they believe their study away course or independent study project/research met one or more of the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative; the essay will be considered by the Director of the Exploring Diversity Initiative working in concert with the Committee on Academic Standing. The essay will either be accepted or rejected for EDI credit. There is no appeal process, and all decisions are final.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirement.

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3) Quantitative/Formal Reasoning Requirement. This is intended to help students become adept at reasoning mathematically and abstractly. The ability to apply a formal method to reach conclusions, to use numbers comfortably, and to employ the research tools necessary to analyze data lessen barriers to carrying out professional and economic roles. Prior to the senior year, all students must pass a Quantitative/Formal Reasoning (QFR) course- those marked with a “(Q).” 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.

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).

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the Quantitative/Formal Reasoning requirement.

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4) Writing Requirement. All students are required to take two writing-intensive courses: one by the end of sophomore year, and one by the end of the junior year. Students will benefit most from the writing-intensive courses by taking them early in their college careers, and are therefore strongly encouraged to complete the requirement by the end of the sophomore year.

The goal of the writing-intensive course requirement is to improve student writing proficiency across disciplines. Students in these courses should expect to 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. Writing-intensive 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.

Writing-intensive courses require a minimum of 20 pages of writing and have a maximum enrollment of 19 to allow the instructor to devote appropriate attention to writing over the course of the semester.

All tutorial courses in the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University (WIOX) meet the Williams College ‘W’ designation, except for those in the studio arts, mathematics, and the sciences.

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

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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 to be contract majors. Procedures for arranging a contract major and for honors work in such a major are described in the section, “Courses of Instruction.” Students interested in this option should begin consulting with the Dean’s Office and with potential faculty advisors early in the 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.

  • FAQ: Why aren't my PE credits up-to-date?

    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 must spend a minimum of four semesters in residence at Williams, and those entering as sophomores are expected to spend six semesters in residence. 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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