Academic Programs

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.

Graduation Requirements

To receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton, a student must earn at least 210 credits and a cumulative grade point average of C (2.0) or better. A student is normally expected to satisfy the college-level graduation requirements published in the catalog in the academic year of their initial matriculation.

Liberal Arts Requirements: (AI, Curricular Exploration, Global Citizenship, Writing, QRE and PE)

A good liberal arts education requires not only rigor and depth, but also sufficient breadth to expose students to a wide range of subjects and methods of studying them. The college seeks to ensure that its students study one field in depth by requiring a major and an integrative exercise within the major. It encourages students to acquaint themselves with the major divisions of knowledge and modes of inquiry by requiring them to complete six credits with grades of S or C- or better from each of six curricular exploration areas.

Students must also complete an Argument and Inquiry seminar and fulfill requirements in writing, quantitative reasoning, global citizenship (international studies, intercultural domestic studies, and demonstrate proficiency in a second language), and complete four terms of physical education. Successful completion of all course and credit requirements requires grades of S or C- or better in each course.

Finally, students must spend six academic terms in residence at Carleton, including their senior year (last three academic terms), and earn at least 108 credits enrolled at Carleton.

Argument and Inquiry Seminars (AI) – 6 credits

All first-year non-transfer students must take an Argument and Inquiry (AI) seminar in their first term. Each fall term, the College offers over thirty AI seminars 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. Offered in many different subject areas across the curriculum, AI courses share certain structural elements and a set of common goals. AI courses are small, discussion-based seminars, and carry the WR (writing rich) designation. Designed to foster students’ intellectual independence, these courses develop habits of critical thinking, clarify how scholars ask questions, and teach students how to find and evaluate information in reading and research and to use it effectively and ethically in constructing arguments. Encouraging students to become collaborative learners and active members of Carleton’s learning and living community, AI seminars strengthen students’ habits of cooperation with peers and offer opportunities and tools for critical reading, deliberative discussion, and effective college-level writing.

Curricular Exploration Requirements – 36 credits; 6 credits in each of 6 areas

Arts Practice (ARP) 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 in which students develop an appreciation of artistic creative practice through experience.

Formal or Statistical Reasoning (FSR) 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 that focus on methods of formal reasoning including mathematics, logic, and the design and analysis of algorithms or statistical reasoning.

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

Literary/Artistic Analysis (LA) At least six credits are required in courses in which there is an emphasis on analysis of literature or the visual and performing arts.

Science with Lab (LS) 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. In the case of a student using a six-credit course/two-credit lab pair to satisfy the LS requirement, a grade of C- or better must be earned in each paired course.

Social Inquiry (SI) 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.

Global Citizenship

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.” In addition to the primary benefits a degree of competency in a language can offer (including basic communication, the ability to read foreign texts, and interaction with those of a different culture), the study of a foreign language provides students with a fuller understanding of the role played by their own native tongue. Also, crucially, it requires each student to experience the challenges of dealing with other cultures and peoples on their own terms. Language learning at Carleton, therefore, advances and supports the stated values and goals of the College’s Mission Statement.

The four basic language skills for most modern languages (reading, speaking, aural comprehension, and writing) are mutually reinforcing as well as individually valuable, although the emphasis will vary among different language sections and individual teaching styles. In special cases, students’ strengths (in speaking, for instance) might make up for weaknesses in reading and writing, and vice versa.

The requirement aims to assure that students will acquire a usable level of competence in a second language. This competence is demonstrated either (a) through successful completion of a fourth-level language course (fifth-level in Arabic, Chinese or Japanese) or (b) through acceptable performance on a standardized or departmentally designed examination. Fluent speakers of second languages may ask to be tested for fulfillment of the requirement or, in the case of languages not offered at Carleton, may ask that testing be arranged. Students whose native language is other than English may fulfill this requirement by demonstrating competence in their native language, as well as English.

Entering students may fulfill the requirement by satisfactory performance on a College Board Advanced Placement or Achievement test, International Baccalaureate Higher Level examination or on another placement examination most appropriate for the particular language. Students who have not taken such a test before entering the college should take the language placement examination either during the summer prior to matriculation or during their first week at Carleton. Students beginning their study of language, as well as those who need more study to complete the requirement, should enroll in language in their first year.

Students who complete language courses equivalent to courses 101 through 204 (205 in Arabic/Chinese/Japanese) at domestic post-secondary institutions after being enrolled at Carleton may take the appropriate placement or proficiency examinations to gain advanced standing or exemption. Credit toward the degree is typically not awarded, however.

Language study at Carleton aims at far more than the satisfaction of the requirement. Students are encouraged to increase their proficiency through advanced courses and study abroad and to apply their language skills in their academic work in other areas. With this foundation, language will enrich their studies at Carleton and enable graduates to become contributing members of the multi-cultural world.

International Studies (IS) – 6 credits: Courses that meet the IS requirement contain a geographic scope broader than the United States and by pedagogy and/or content develop in students an understanding of other perspectives on global, comparative, and historical subjects. Courses mostly focused on the United States but with a notable comparative or transnational component may satisfy the requirement.

Intercultural Domestic Studies (IDS) – 6 credits: 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.

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.

To guide students as they begin to work on writing at the college level, the College has developed some general criteria for good writing at Carleton. Although individual assignments, genres, or disciplines may place more or less emphasis on each criterion, faculty agree that student writing should feature the following:

  1. The rhetorical strategy should be appropriate for the audience and purpose.
  2. If argument is a part of the rhetorical strategy, it should contain a thesis and develop that thesis with coherence, logic, and evidence.
  3. Whatever the purpose, writing should be as clear, concise, and interesting as possible.
  4. Narration, description, and reporting should contribute to analysis and synthesis. The parts of a paper should lead to a greater, connected whole.
  5. Writing should be edited to address surface error, including irregularities in grammar, syntax, diction, and punctuation.

Students are required to successfully complete 1) the AI seminar (WR1), 2) six credits of additional coursework designated WR2 and 3) successfully complete a writing portfolio to be reviewed by faculty after the third term, and no later than the sixth term.

For further information, see the Writing Rich Guidelines.

Quantitative Reasoning Encounter (QRE) – Three courses

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 quantitative reasoning a student will better appreciate the ways that quantitative evidence is developed and used. Courses offering meaningful opportunities for this exposure will be designated as quantitative reasoning encounters.

The goal of the 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. A course designated as a “Quantitative Reasoning Encounter” (QRE) will include at least one substantial assignment or module designed to enhance one or more of the following QR skills:

  1. Possessing the habit of mind to consider what numerical evidence might add to the analysis of a problem;
  2. Identifying appropriate quantitative or numerical evidence to address a question;
  3. Locating or collecting numerical or quantitative data;
  4. Interpreting numerical evidence properly including recognizing the limitations of methods and sources used;
  5. Effectively communicating arguments that involve numerical or quantitative evidence.

Since an example of work demonstrating an ability to employ quantitative or numerical evidence in arguments is an element of the Writing Portfolio, students are strongly advised to take QRE courses early in their academic careers.

Physical Education

Four terms of Physical Education activity are to be taken by each student. Only one activity per term may count toward this requirement. The Physical Education program includes a variety of activity courses, designed to appeal to students. We believe that physical activity can contribute to students’ health and well-being now and in the future.

A Major Field of Study

Carleton students choose a major during the third term of their sophomore year. The specific program requirements of their declared major can be found in the catalog published for the academic year in which the major is declared. The number of credits required of students in major fields varies by department. For a course to count toward the major, a grade of C- or better must be earned; these courses cannot be taken on an elective S/CR/NC basis. Departments may make exceptions for extra-departmental courses if appropriate. Successful completion of an “integrative exercise” in the major (see below), typically during the senior year, is also a requisite for graduation. With the permission of the Academic Standing Committee, double majors are allowed.

The following 33 majors are available at Carleton:

  • Africana Studies
  • American Studies
  • Art History
  • Art (Studio)
  • Asian Studies
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Cinema & Media Studies
  • Classics
  • Cognitive Science
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • English
  • Environmental Studies
  • French & Francophone Studies
  • Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies
  • Geology
  • German
  • History
  • Latin American Studies
  • Linguistics
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Russian
  • Sociology/Anthropology
  • Spanish
  • Statistics
  • Theater Arts

Special Majors: A student seeking a major not offered in the College’s established curriculum may propose a self-designed special major for approval by the Academic Standing Committee. All special majors involve close consultation with two faculty advisers. Students are expected to petition for special majors during the sixth term of their academic career. For additional information, see the Registrar's Office.

Integrative Exercises vary from department to department. Intended to help students relate the subjects they have studied in their major field, they sometimes take the form of comprehensive examinations covering the fundamentals of the discipline. In other departments, extensive research projects, papers or public lectures are required. Departments may award a minimum of three and a maximum of fifteen academic credits for the integrative exercise. For more information, refer to the individual departmental listing or speak to the department chair.

Academic Regulations

Academic policies are published in the online handbook “Academic Regulations and Procedures” on the Campus Handbook web page. This is the publication of record in matters regarding academic policies.

Course Load

Carleton’s academic year is comprised of three 10-week-long terms. Students normally carry 3 courses, or 18 credits, per term; they may take as few as 12 and, on occasion, as many as 22. With special permission of the Academic Standing Committee, students may carry up to 24, although such heavy course loads are discouraged.

The standard course unit is six credits. For purposes of transfer evaluation, six credits are comparable to three and one-third semester hours. Although all standard courses carry equal credit, laboratory courses at Carleton are equivalent to those in other colleges that grant five semester hours.


Two and a half-hour-long final examinations are held at the end of each term for many courses. The Registrar sets the testing schedule.


Carleton’s grading system is as follows:

  • A=Excellent work of consistently high quality, usually showing notable understanding, insight, creativity, or skill and few weaknesses
  • B=Good work of good quality, showing understanding, insight, creativity, or skill
  • C=Satisfactory work that is adequate, showing readiness to continue study in the field
  • D=Passing work that is minimally adequate, raising serious concern about readiness to continue in the field, creditable
  • F=Failing work that is clearly inadequate, unworthy of credit

In computing grade point averages A = 4.0, A- = 3.67, B+ = 3.33, B = 3.0, B- = 2.67, C+ = 2.33, C = 2.0, C- = 1.67, D+ = 1.33, D = 1.0, D- = .67, F = 0.

A student may elect to take up to 30 credits S/CR/NC (Satisfactory/Credit/No Credit) during their four years at Carleton, and only up to six credits in any one term. S = A through C-; CR = D+, D, D-; NC = F.

Courses dropped after the registration drop/add period are recorded on the transcript as “DRP”. This is a non-punitive notation.

Written Evaluations of Course Work

At the end of any course, a student may request a written evaluation from their instructor. The request must be granted if the course has an enrollment of 20 or fewer students.

Academic Progress

Carleton students are normally expected to complete their work in four years and may be dropped from the College if they have not earned at least 42 credits and a cumulative GPA of 1.8 at the end of three terms; 96 credits and a GPA of 2.0 at the end of six terms; and 150 credits; and a GPA of 2.0 at the end of nine terms. (These are the lower limits allowed and do not indicate normal progress; that is closer to 54 credits, 108 credits and 162 credits, respectively.)

For graduation, a minimum of 210 credits and a GPA of 2.0 is required. A student whose record in the judgment of the Academic Standing Committee indicates an inability to fulfill the College requirements for whatever reason may be suspended or dismissed at the end of fall or winter term as well as at the end of the academic year.

Residence Requirements

Normally it takes four years to complete the work for graduation, of which at least six terms, including the senior year (last three academic terms), must be spent in residence at Carleton. Some exceptions to the senior residency rule may be given by the Academic Standing Committee.

Transfer Credits (Pre-or Post- Matriculation Credits)

Beginning with the incoming class of 2026. Carleton accepts any combination of up to 18 pre- or post-matriculation credits toward the Carleton degree from the following: College Board Advanced Placement, Higher Level International Baccalaureate, select British A-level Examinations (GCE) with grades of B or higher, or credits earned in college-level courses taken at a regionally accredited college or university, including courses taken as PSEO or College in the Schools. Specific articulation information about the exams listed above can be found in the Pre-Matriculation Work section of catalog.

College credits completed elsewhere after matriculation at Carleton will be considered for transfer to Carleton only after prior approval by the Registrar or if they were completed as part of an approved off-campus study program. Additional information on transferring college-level work can be found in our Transfer of Credits Policy.

Academic Honors

Students are graduated with “Distinction in a Major” if they achieve distinction in the departmental integrative exercise and a cumulative grade point average of 3.50 that satisfy requirements for the major. Outstanding seniors in the field of music performance will be selected by Music faculty for the “Honors in Music Performance” award. Students who have outstanding records in all course work will earn the Bachelor of Arts degree with honors. Honors will be awarded to students with a grade point average in the top 2 percent of their graduating class (summa cum laude), those in the remainder of the top 15 percent (magna cum laude), and those in the remainder of the top 30 percent (cum laude).

The honor of “Dean’s List” may be earned by first-year students, sophomores and juniors whose previous academic year’s GPA places them in the top 10 percent of their class. Eligibility for Dean’s List assumes three terms of academic work, the bulk of which is done at Carleton. Students on non-Carleton off-campus programs for one term are eligible for Dean’s List if their off-campus grades are comparable to those they maintained at Carleton. Students off campus for two or more terms on a non-Carleton program are not eligible in that year. Students on leave for a term are not eligible in that year. This honor is recognized at Opening Convocation in September of the following year.

Courses of Instruction

The Departments of Instruction pages list courses offered at the College. They also contain general information about various departmental programs and their requirements for a major. In addition to departmental listings, offerings are organized by area studies, which are special courses of study, and by minors, which represent either an integrated disciplinary or an interdisciplinary program of study.

Courses are numbered with the following general scheme:

  • 000-099 Pre-College
  • 100 Argument and Inquiry Seminar
  • 101-199 Introductory
  • 200-289 Intermediate
  • 290 Independent Reading
  • 291 Independent Study
  • 292 Independent Research
  • 298 Junior Colloquium
  • 300-389 Advanced
  • 390 Independent Reading
  • 391 Independent Study
  • 392 Independent Research
  • 395 Advanced Seminar
  • 397 Senior Tutorial
  • 398 Senior Colloquium
  • 399 Senior Thesis
  • 400 Integrative Exercise

Independent Study, Reading and Research

Students may pursue independent study, independent research, or independent reading in more than one term. Ordinarily, this work is not on the introductory level. In some cases, it can be an academic follow-up to an internship experience. By registration time for the term in which the study is done, the student is expected to obtain a faculty supervisor in the chosen field of interest and, with their assistance and approval, determine the nature and purpose of the study and the number of credits to be assigned. Course credit for these various independent study options is determined by arrangement with the instructor before registration, and may be for one to six credits.

Although not noted separately under departmental course listings, independent study options are available across the curriculum. Forms are available on the Registrar’s Office website. Independent study, in any form, does not count toward Argument and Inquiry, Curricular Exploration, Writing, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter, or Global Citizenship requirements.

  • Independent Study is an individual, non-research, directed study in a field of special interest, under the supervision of a faculty member. It allows a student to pursue an academic interest outside the listed course offerings, or explore in more depth an area of study that has been encountered in a previous course. An Independent Study should culminate in several short papers, a single paper, or any other project acceptable to the supervising faculty member and the student.
  • Independent Reading: In an Independent Reading, a student will read a body of material, with a syllabus devised and agreed upon in collaboration with a faculty supervisor. Typically the student would be expected to meet regularly with the supervising member (for example, weekly).
  • Independent Research: Independent Research provides an opportunity for a student to pursue research in a field of special interest, under the supervision of a faculty member or in close partnership with a faculty member. The research undertaken should be designed as an investigation yielding original results or a creative product that contributes to the area of study.  While it may not be possible to bring a project to fruition within the confines of our academic term, an Independent Research course should culminate in the student’s own contribution to a discipline or field of study, whether in the form of fully-supported conclusions or completed creative product, or in the substantive progress toward such a goal.

Advanced Departmental Seminars (395)

Departmental seminars are usually open only to departmental majors, or by consent of the instructor involved. Because the topics vary from year to year, some students are able to register for more than one departmental seminar during their college program.


All students at Carleton must complete an academic major. In addition, students may elect to complete a minor as part of their academic program. The specific program requirements of the elected minor can be found in the catalog published for the academic year in which the minor is added. A minor represents either an integrated disciplinary or an interdisciplinary program of study that may strengthen and complement a major, but a student pursuing any major can potentially pursue a minor in a different discipline. Disciplinary minors recognize the student's acquisition of in-depth knowledge of a single discipline; interdisciplinary minors recognize the completion of a program of study that links and integrates multiple academic disciplines. Minors are also intended to promote communities of learning and may offer opportunities to relate academic studies to issues that students confront outside of Carleton. Full descriptions of the minors are included in the alphabetical listing of departments and programs.

The following 38 minors are offered for the current academic year:

  • Africana Studies
  • American Music
  • Arabic
  • Archaeology
  • Art History
  • Biochemistry
  • Chinese
  • Classics
  • Cognitive Science
  • Cross-Cultural Studies
  • Dance
  • Digital Arts and Humanities
  • East Asian Studies
  • Educational Studies
  • English Creative Writing
  • European Studies
  • French
  • French and Francophone Studies
  • Gender, Women's & Sexuality Studies
  • German
  • Greek
  • History
  • Japanese
  • Latin
  • Latin American Studies
  • Mathematics
  • Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Middle East Studies
  • Music
  • Music Performance
  • Neuroscience
  • Philosophy
  • Public Policy
  • Religion
  • Russian
  • South Asian Studies
  • Spanish
  • Theater

Courses at St. Olaf College

By special arrangement a limited number of students may take courses at St. Olaf College which are not offered at Carleton. Graded course credit will be granted; enrollment requires the permission of the instructor and the registrar at each institution. For additional information, see the Registrar's Office.

Requirement Codes

These codes are indicated on each course description or in the schedule of courses:

  • AI = Argument and Inquiry Seminar (6 credits required)
  • ARP = Arts Practice (6 credits required)
  • FSR = Formal or Statistical Reasoning (6 credits required)
  • HI = Humanistic Inquiry (6 credits required)
  • IDS = Intercultural Domestic Studies (6 credits required)
  • IS = International Studies (6 credits required)
  • LA = Literary/Artistic Analysis (6 credits required)
  • LS = Science with Lab (6 credits required)
  • NE = No Exploration Credit
  • QRE = Quantitative Reasoning Encounter (3 courses required)
  • SI = Social Inquiry (6 credits required)
  • WR1 = Designates the Writing Component of an AI Seminar
  • WR2 = Second Writing Rich Course (6 credits required)