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Stanford lecturer Lupita Ruiz-Jones generates electrical impulses by flexing her biceps during a class meeting of How Does Your Brain Work? Credit: Linda Cicero

Choosing Courses for General Education Requirements

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Your General Education Requirements (GERs) include your COLLEGE requirement, the Writing (PWR) requirement, the foreign language requirement, and the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing requirements.

You can find official information about your General Education Requirements at the Student Policies page.  On this page, read guidance from your Academic Advisors on how to choose courses to fulfill these requirements.

Choosing COLLEGE courses

All students are required to fulfill a first-year Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) requirement.  This can be done in four (4) different ways, all of which are intended to be welcoming and accessible to frosh.

You can learn more about the differences between these four options on the COLLEGE website. Note that ESF, ITALIC, and SLE usually require students to apply the summer before their first year. 

Students who fulfill the requirement through COLLEGE courses are pre-assigned to two (2) particular quarters in which they will take those courses.  You may choose from a selection of courses being offered that quarter.  The COLLEGE website has further information about how to view or request to change your COLLEGE assignment.

For COLLEGE courses, we encourage you to read through course descriptions of the options being offered this year.  Pay attention to the big questions asked by each course, the topics and materials that will be covered, and the kind of work you will be asked to do.  In narrowing your choices, ask yourself: “Am I drawn to studying what is already familiar or what is unknown to me?  How will I be examining my assumptions about living my life and understanding the world?  Why is this topic important to me?”

Choosing PWR Courses

All Stanford students must fulfill a writing requirement in their first and second years.  In addition, students will also take a Writing in the Major course for their declared major before graduation.

Courses in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) fulfill the first and second year writing requirement, and are carefully designed to offer richly diverse intellectual experiences based on shared assignments, goals, and learning outcomes.

All students must fulfill the PWR 1 requirement in their first year.  Note that SLE and ITALIC have their own paths for fulfilling the PWR 1 requirement.  ESF courses all fulfill the PWR 1 requirement as well.

Students must fulfill the PWR 2 requirement by the end of sophomore year.  This is usually done through enrolling in a PWR 2 course, or by taking an alternate course certified to fulfill the second-level writing requirement.

The basic structure of PWR courses -- in particular, the assignment sequence -- does not vary from section to section.  But each instructor builds on this shared core, designing class materials and activities and choosing readings to develop a unique course. This allows PWR courses to be as diverse as the instructors and students who bring them to life, while maintaining consistency across sections in key areas: assignment sequence, student workload, grading practices, and emphasis on rhetorical knowledge and skill.

PWR enrollment is centrally managed, and all logistical questions about PWR enrollment are answered on the PWR Enrollment Page. You will be assigned a quarter for PWR, and then asked to rank several choices of PWR classes. To find your preferred classes:

  1. Read the course descriptions carefully, looking for themes that interest you. Remember that your PWR research paper can be the groundwork for later projects, even senior Honors theses. You will find basic times and titles in ExploreCourses, but the PWR Catalog will give you a fuller syllabus, including a video presentation by the instructor.
  2. Find out which instructors’ interests and teaching style match with yours by reading their online profiles and talking to former PWR students.
  3. Check whether an Introductory Seminar that is certified to fulfill the PWR 2 requirement is offered in an area that interests you. You could consider taking it instead of a PWR 2 course (though do remember that Introsems are application based, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to enroll in the course).

Choosing Language Courses

Stanford requires that all students have at least the equivalent of one year’s proficiency in a foreign language to graduate.  

You can fulfill the language requirement at any time during your undergraduate career.  Many students do more than the basic language requirement, particularly those who do overseas study with a BOSP program.

Note that some majors, such as International Relations, may require more than just one year's proficiency in a foreign language.  Check in with your major department for details.

  1. You may choose to start a new language, in which case you want to look carefully at ExploreCourses to decide the timing. Some languages, such as Arabic, can only be started in the fall; while you can begin Spanish in any quarter. A few languages offer a two-quarter accelerated option to complete the first year.
  2. If you are continuing a language, then you will need to take a placement test. Incoming frosh will receive information about the placement test; advanced students should contact the Language Center about scheduling one.
  3. The Language Center discusses the many ways to fulfill the Language Requirement. Many students satisfy it by AP, IB, or placement test credit.

Choosing Ways Courses

The Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing are Stanford’s unique "breadth" requirement. In general, Stanford students must complete 11 courses across 8 broad Ways areas; transfer students, however may have fewer course requirements.

There is no need to cram all your Ways courses into the first two years. Many students spread their Ways requirements out over the entirety of their undergraduate career.  You will also find that you will complete some Ways naturally by taking classes for your major, or other courses that align with your interests. In addition, COLLEGE courses will typically fulfill a Ways requirement.  In Axess, your Degree Progress Report will list your Ways and track their completion.

To find courses that fulfill Ways requirements, go to ExploreCourses, enter a % in the search box to find all classes, and then use the filters in the right-hand column under "UG Requirements (GERs)" to browse all courses in a given quarter that fulfill a specific Way. You can also use the links from the Ways site.

Although they are requirements, Ways courses can help personalize your education in meaningful ways. They can give you license to explore areas you would not otherwise think to pursue, as well as helping you refine your eventual major direction. The Ways requirement is an integral part of your liberal education, which Stanford faculty have designed in order to:

  • Broaden your knowledge and awareness in the major areas of human knowledge.
  • Significantly deepen understanding of one or two of these areas.
  • Prepare students for a lifetime of continual learning by applying knowledge to career and personal life.

In selecting courses that fulfill the Ways requirement, you should:

  1. Consider taking Introductory Seminars as many fulfill the Ways requirement.
  2. Seek out Ways courses that complement or build upon your major. A physics major may fulfill a humanities requirement with a philosophy of science course. Students who study developmental psychology may benefit from an English class on children’s literature. Use keyword search in ExploreCourses to find such classes.
  3. Use Ways courses to create a balanced workload for the quarter.

If you matriculated prior to Autumn 2012, then you may still be under the Disciplinary Breadth (DB) and Education for Citizenship (EC) requirements instead of Ways. Please refer to the relevant archived Stanford Bulletin from the year you began study at Stanford for more details on your GER requirements.  

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