Jump the navigation

Distribution Requirements

Whitman’s General Studies program challenges students to explore their interests from multiple perspectives, while helping them discover new areas of inquiry and make creative connections across seemingly unrelated ideas. The program balances freedom to pursue paths unique to each student with common requirements that express our beliefs about the value of a liberal arts education: that curiosity makes us not only better learners but better members of our communities; that diverse perspectives are essential for solving complex problems; and that education is a site for addressing issues of power and privilege. In General Studies, all students engage with materials and methods from the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts, as well as from disciplines that fall in between or outside traditional categories. With an emphasis on writing and deliberative dialogue, the General Studies program empowers students to develop their voice while listening generously to others, so that learning happens in community and has impact beyond the classroom.

General Studies Learning Outcomes

Over the course of the program, students will learn to:

  1. Develop grounding competencies in particular disciplines;
  2. Analyze and evaluate information presented in multiple forms;
  3. Articulate and explore the nature of complex relationships;
  4. Create original work in multiple forms and genres;
  5. Communicate effectively and intentionally, in multiple modalities.

Distribution requirements for students entering Fall 2024 and later

Students who initially enter the college in the Fall 2024 semester and subsequently are required to complete the following:


Students must fulfill the writing proficiency requirement and take the First Year Seminars:

  • Fall: GENS 175: Exploring Complex Questions
  • Spring: GENS 176: Making Powerful Arguments


Students must take at least 3 credits in each of the seven categories listed below:

Courses in this category emphasize close textual analysis across a range of humanistic disciplines. They focus on the skills of open-minded yet disciplined reading and the construction of critical arguments, with “text” interpreted broadly to include the study of visual, musical, and performing arts, as well as film, media, and digital humanities. Courses in this category pay particular attention to the ways that language, form, and genre shape ideas, as well as to the way different disciplines explore fundamental questions of human experience. They situate these explorations in a rich variety of literary, cultural, historical, intellectual, and formal contexts, modeling the interplay between text, context, and interpretation.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Analyze and interpret texts with precision and fidelity, considering form and content;
  • Articulate complex, evidence-based, and potentially competing interpretations of texts;
  • Develop layered understandings through critical lenses informed by language, genre, textual traditions, and cultural and historical contexts;
  • Trace genealogies of thought and forms of expression across individual texts and genres.

Courses in this category use social science methodologies to explore human behavior and social structures. Some courses focus more on individuals, and the factors that affect how people act individually or in the context of social groups. Other courses focus more on social structures, and the ways in which those structures are formed, sustained, and changed. All courses provide students with a foundation in theories or practices of the social science disciplines.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Describe mutual influences and intersections among individuals, groups, cultures, and/or societies;
  • Use qualitative or quantitative data to develop an understanding of social structures, individual behaviors, and/or cultural contexts;
  • Describe social science theories and methodologies that are used to study individuals, groups, cultures, or societies.

Courses in this category focus on methods for understanding the natural world: the development of hypotheses, collection of data through experiments and/or empirical observations, interpretation and evaluation of that evidence, and communication of results and engagement with others in the field. Courses in this area provide students with an understanding of how to approach today’s challenges, such as rapid technological and environmental change, from a scientific perspective. Courses that fulfill this area will include substantial attention to the evaluation of data and/or a laboratory or field component.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Demonstrate familiarity with a method of scientific inquiry;
  • Articulate fundamental principles in a field of science using appropriate terminology;
  • Analyze, interpret, and evaluate scientific data;
  • Given a problem or question about the natural world, formulate a hypothesis and design a realistic study to evaluate that hypothesis;
  • Investigate how scientific processes impact the quality of human lives and ecosystems.

Courses in this category provide students with an opportunity to develop the skills necessary to critically analyze numerical or graphical data, to develop abstract quantitative frameworks, and to develop a facility with quantitative reasoning techniques and their applicability to disciplines across the liberal arts.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Perform computations associated with a model and make conclusions based on the results;
  • Represent, communicate, and analyze ideas and data using symbols, graphs, or tables;
  • Analyze and interpret data using statistical methods;
  • Develop and evaluate arguments based on numerical or other quantitative evidence;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of abstract mathematical concepts and be able to apply these concepts to solve problems.

Courses in this category focus on the production and performance of art with particular attention to the materials, forms, and processes of creative practice. These courses emphasize the creative act, exploring the ways we use different creative modes, materials, and artistic approaches to represent and interrogate ourselves and the world around us. Courses in this category also cultivate vocabulary for the examination and understanding of art, situating the student’s own creative production within theories and genealogies of the particular artform.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Engage in the creative process of making or performing;
  • Develop skills in the use of the unique materials/forms/processes associated with the different creative disciplines, and understand the significance and meaning of these methods;
  • Understand different theoretical approaches to creative production;
  • Solve problems in creative ways;
  • Critically analyze their own and others’ artistic work.

Courses in this category prepare students to be informed citizens in an interdependent world. Courses focus both on individual cultures and global interconnections and interdependencies; they explore the rooted traditions of different locales as well as cultural and geopolitical migrations, displacements, and cross-fertilizations. Language classes in particular examine how different cultures construct and communicate meaning through language, encouraging ethical participation in a globalized society and a comparativist understanding of world culture, while providing critical tools for interacting in a multilingual world.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Become familiar with at least one realm of global interconnection, such as migration, international financial markets, climate change, or the movement of ideas;
  • Examine how forces such as globalization, imperialism, and national identity have shaped ideas and interactions;
  • Engage with difference across cultures and critically examine their own place in the world and their assumptions about it;
  • Gain the skills necessary to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world;
  • Investigate, explain, and reflect on the nature of language and its connection to culture.

Courses in this category help students explore issues related to power and equity across disciplines. In particular, courses address the ways in which inequalities are produced, experienced, and resisted. Courses engage critically with issues of diversity, inequality, and inclusivity, and address differences related to ability/disability, age, body size, citizenship status, class, color, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, geography, nationality, political affiliation, religion, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background, etc. They also investigate issues of power, privilege, and social justice, both domestically and globally, providing students with a critical framework for ethical and engaged participation in society.

Courses in this category provide opportunities for students to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of economic, political, legal, cultural, natural, historical, or social forces that affect public problems or civic issues and responses;
  • Engage critically with issues of difference, diversity, inequality, inclusivity, and justice;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how justice/injustice and equality/inequality have been distributed, enacted, problematized, and idealized in historical or contemporary settings.


    At least 3 credits of the above, or an additional 3 credits, must count for each of the following:

    Effective writing is a skill acquired over a lifetime, not mastered in one course or a single year. Whitman supports students’ development as writers throughout their studies, as they move into more specific areas of interest and more sophisticated academic work. First Year Seminars and RWPD 170 engage students in writing to learn, to persuade, and to communicate with different audiences. Writing across Contexts courses, taken primarily in the second or third year, challenge students to develop writing practices relevant to specific disciplinary areas of study. Writing across Contexts courses may be taken in a student’s major, in a related field, or in a different area of interest chosen in consultation with their advisor. As with the Studying the Past requirement, students may double-count courses in this category with courses counting toward categories 1-7.

     Courses in this category provide students with opportunities to do all of the following:

    • Employ writing as a method of increased engagement with course content;
    • Select and use evidence in writing as appropriate to specific fields of study;
    • Recognize and apply writing practices and conventions within distinct genres and academic disciplines;
    • Reflect on their writing practices and revise their writing.

      Courses in this category focus on the study of historically remote cultures, texts, and phenomena, encouraging students to acquire temporal as well as disciplinary breadth within their studies. Courses broaden students’ perspectives beyond the present by engaging with historical difference, processes of change, and continuities between past and present. As with the Writing Across Contexts requirement, students may double-count courses in this category with courses counting toward categories 1-7.

      Courses in this category provide students with substantive opportunities to:

      • Investigate distant eras of history;
      • Analyze and evaluate various types of historical evidence;
      • Understand and critique diverse and potentially competing interpretations of past events;
      • Develop a sense of chronology and how it’s documented and measured.

      Distribution requirements for students entering before Fall 2024

      Students who entered the college prior to the Fall 2024 semester are required to complete the following:

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Engage with ideas and people that expand one’s cultural perspectives
      • Articulate how different cultural backgrounds affect interactions or relationships with others
      • Articulate complex relationships arising from the intersection of various aspects of culture, such as language, gender, history, values, politics, religious practices, and unequal distributions of power and resources
      • Navigate differences by drawing on relevant cultural frames of reference and adapting perspectives accordingly
      • Apply different methodological and theoretical approaches to interpret cultural difference

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Solve problems in creative ways
      • Recognize the techniques used in at least one art form
      • Understand different theoretical approaches to artistic production
      • Develop their ability to express themselves artistically
      • Critically analyze their own and others’ artistic work

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Read texts, be they literary, philosophical, artistic, religious, or material in nature, with precision and generosity
      • Analyze and interpret texts with precision, assessing their form and content both on the texts’ own terms and through critical lenses informed by other texts
      • Understand how language, genre, cultural and historical context can shape a text and our interpretation of it
      • Effectively communicate, through written and spoken words, insights drawn from the works they are reading and interpreting
      • Recognize and appreciate the aesthetic, moral, and linguistic dimensions of complex problems

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Perform computations associated with a model and make conclusions based on the results
      • Represent, communicate, and analyze ideas and data using symbols, graphs, or tables
      • Analyze and interpret data using statistical methods

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Demonstrate familiarity with one or more scientific methods of inquiry
      • Articulate fundamental theories in a science using precise terminology of the field
      • Formulate a hypothesis, given a problem or questions, and design a valid experiment to test it
      • Collect, interpret, and analyze scientific data
      • Apply the principles of scientific inquiry to civic and personal issues

      Students will be able to do one or more of the following:

      • Compare and contrast social institutions, structures, and processes across a range of historical periods, cultures, and societies around the globe
      • Analyze complex behavior and relationships within and across individuals and social contexts
      • Demonstrate familiarity with social science methods in the context of explaining or predicting individual and collective behavior and decision-making
      • Apply social science principles to personal, social, and/or organizational issues
      beaker duck hiker icon-a-to-z icon-arrow-circle-down icon-arrow-circle-up icon-arrow-down icon-arrow-left icon-arrow-right icon-arrow-up icon-calendar-no-circle icon-calendar icon-camera icon-clock icon-cv icon-dot icon-down-triangle icon-email-circle icon-email icon-external-link icon-facebook icon-flickr icon-generic-blog icon-google-plus icon-home icon-instagram icon-library icon-link-circle icon-link-inverted icon-linkedin icon-lock icon-magazine icon-map-pin icon-map2 icon-menu-hamburger icon-menu-mobile-a icon-menu-mobile-b icon-menu-x icon-mywhitman-cog icon-news icon-phone icon-pinterest icon-play icon-quote icon-search-a icon-search-b icon-search-mobile-a icon-search-mobile-b icon-share icon-snail-mail icon-tumblr icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube logo-whitman-nc-flat logo-whitman-nc-stacked logo-whitman-no-clocktower slider-category-arrow-2px slider-category-arrow-no-line slider-category-arrow-solid slider-category-arrow slider-category-line-2px slider-category-line-solid slider-category-line tc_icon-filmstrip-fl tc_icon-filmstrip-ln tc_icon-play-fl-closed tc_icon-play-fl-open tc_icon-play-ln-closed tc_icon-play-ln-open wifi