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Graduation Requirements

Well over a century ago, Carleton started promising its students a “liberal and thorough” education. That goal is embodied still in the College’s requirements for graduation, which are designed to expose students to a wide variety of disciplines, as well as to allow them to concentrate on a major subject.

Argument and Inquiry Seminar (A&I)

Each first-year non-transfer student is required to complete a six-credit Argument and Inquiry (A&I) seminar in their first term.  These seminars address a wide range of topics and are taught by faculty in departments across the College. A&Is are designed to introduce students to a liberal arts approach to learning and to develop the critical and creative skills they will need to thrive in academic work at Carleton. Like all Carleton courses, A&I courses develop habits of critical and creative thinking, encourage intellectual independence, and foster a community of learning within the classroom. 

In addition, all A&I courses have certain other essential elements:

  • they clarify how scholars ask questions and how they find and evaluate evidence in addressing those questions,
  • are discussion-based,
  • are writing-rich (WR), and
  • include attendance at and some discussion of the A&I convo, which addresses the nature of liberal arts education

A&I seminars may satisfy other College requirements as well, such as QRE, IS and IDS, but not the Curricular Exploration requirement. 

Writing Requirement

The ability to write well is particularly important in college, not only as a means of demonstrating mastery of material, but as part of the process of coming to that mastery. For many people, writing well is a life-long learning process. As students develop greater understanding of themselves, the world, and language, they become more adept at expressing precisely, and perhaps eloquently, what they have in mind. The Carleton Writing Requirement is meant to be a checkpoint on that journey, not the final destination. It is a measure of progress and assurance that Carleton students are on the right path, and that with continued learning they will develop into fully competent writers by graduation.

In addition to completing the Argument and Inquiry Seminar, students are required to:

  1. complete a second Carleton designated writing-rich course (WR), and
  2. complete a writing portfolio to be reviewed by faculty after the third term, and no later than the sixth term.

Quantitative Reasoning Encounter (QRE)

Students will complete three courses that have been designated as providing quantitative reasoning encounters (QRE). Quantitative reasoning—the inclination and ability to interpret, assess, and use quantitative information in one’s scholarly work, civic activities, and personal life—is recognized by the College as a vital part of a liberal education for each student. Through multiple exposures to examples of the uses of quantitative reasoning, a student will better appreciate the multiple ways that socially constructed quantitative evidence is developed and used. Courses offering significant opportunities for this exposure will be designated as quantitative reasoning encounters.

The goal of the proposed requirement is to increase students’ appreciation for the power of QR and to enhance their ability to evaluate, construct, and communicate arguments using quantitative information. Upon completion of the general education requirements, all Carleton students should:

  • Possess the habit of mind to consider what numerical evidence might add to the analysis of a problem;
  • Be able to identify appropriate quantitative or numerical evidence to address a given question;
  • Be able to locate or collect data;
  • Properly interpret numerical evidence (e.g., recognize the difference between association and causation);
  • Recognize the limitations of methods and sources used;
  • Effectively communicate quantitative arguments.

A course designated as a "QR encounter" will include at least one substantial assignment or module designed to enhance students’ QR skills in at least 1 of the 6 learning goals.

Global Citizenship Requirement

Being an educated person and living a life that is purposeful and worthwhile for others as well as for oneself requires recognizing that the world is far more interconnected than ever before in human history. Carleton students will be effective citizens and leaders and make a difference in this world only if they are equipped to navigate foreign cultures, be conversant in foreign languages, and acquaint themselves with multiple cultures and societies that are different from their own.

Language Requirement

Language is the way that members of a culture organize and encode their thoughts, allowing them to communicate with each other. Moreover, language shapes one’s relationship with other people, and different languages will shape that relationship differently. At Carleton we think that a liberally educated student should understand the way language is embedded within cultural practices and worldviews. To this end, we expect students to cross linguistic borders, experiencing another language “from the inside.” [View the details of the language requirement.] All language programs (wherever possible) will offer off-campus study programs that allow students to complete the last two courses of the language sequence. The mission of the language requirement is best met by studying and living in a culture that uses a language other than English. It is highly recommended that students complete their language requirement by participating in one of these.

International Studies (IS)

Students will satisfactorily complete at least six credits in the study of a course designated as IS. Courses that meet this requirement will seek to develop in students the ability to see the world—its peoples and problems—from multiple perspectives. This will often take a comparative and/or historical approach.

Intercultural Domestic Studies (IDS)

Students will satisfactorily complete at least six credits in the study of a course designated as IDS. Courses that meet the IDS requirement focus on the United States. Course content addresses the role of identity and status in shaping the experiences of American society. Scope of instruction can be historical and comparative and include opportunities for reflection. 

Curricular Exploration and Intellectual Engagement

A liberally educated person will have boldly sought unexpected interests and will have experience traversing conventional boundaries. Such a person is able to draw from multiple disciplinary perspectives and is motivated by a deep intellectual curiosity informed by a rich breadth of experiences. Each student will complete at least thirty-six credits, configured as follows:

Note: Any course can have one designation at most. WR courses (other than A&I seminars), QRE courses, IS courses, and IDS courses can all have designations that count towards the Curricular Exploration and Intellectual Engagement requirement.

Humanistic Inquiry

At least six credits are required in courses in which students are introduced to humanistic inquiry with an emphasis on its historical, cultural, ethical, and/or intellectual contexts.

Literary/Artistic Analysis

At least six credits are required in courses in which there is an emphasis on analysis of literature, visual art, or performance.

Arts Practice
The act of imagining and creating art is an important way of understanding and knowing art and the creative process. At least six credits are required in courses from this group, in which students develop an appreciation of artistic creative practice through experience.

Natural Science Modern citizenship requires an understanding of the processes and methods of the natural sciences. At least six credits are required in courses that focus on developing an appreciation of the scientific study of the natural world. Courses must include a lab component to qualify.

Formal or Statistical Reasoning The development of logical systems, formal models, abstract mathematical reasoning, and statistical reasoning has been foundational to intellectual development in many disciplines. At least six credits are required in courses from this group that focus on methods on formal reasoning including mathematics, logic, the design and analysis of algorithms, or statistical reasoning.

Social Inquiry The study of human and social behavior and how these are shaped by, and shape, socially constructed institutions is essential to a liberal education. At least six credits are required in courses that focus on the variety of disciplinary approaches to the study of individuals and societies.

Physical Education Requirement

Developing an appreciation for the importance of physical activity—the myriad ways that intentional human movement, individually or as a member of a team, non-competitively or competitively, contributes to health and well-being—is a critical part of the human condition, and thus an important part of a liberal education. Therefore, at least four terms of Physical Education activity are to be taken by each student. Only one activity per term may count toward this requirement. It is strongly encouraged that students take at least one activity class per year. Each season that a student participates in a varsity sport or in an approved club sport will count towards that year’s activity class.