Curricular Opportunities


In addition to majoring in a field, students may choose to concentrate elective courses in a single topic or area. A concentration is normally declared spring of sophomore year. Concentrations are offered in the following programs:

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Coordinate Programs

A number of programs do not offer concentrations formally, but do provide students with the opportunity to study interdisciplinary topics:

These programs provide guidance only and do not appear on transcripts.

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Honors Program

The Honors Program requires two or three courses (one of which may be a Winter Study course) constituting a clearly interrelated pattern of study in the form of specialization within the major or interdisciplinary study with courses from other programs, and culminates in a thesis or project. At least one of the courses is in addition to the minimum number required for the major or concentration. Students must do the equivalent of two theses or projects to be eligible for honors in two majors or a major and concentration.

Prior to enrolling in the final required course for their program and before senior year, students should contact individual departments or programs for information about special criteria, procedures, and patterns of study for honors.

The degree is awarded with honors or highest honors at the end of senior year if, in the judgment of the department or program, its criteria of excellence have been met.

As the final step, honors theses or projects must be submitted to Special Collections, according to their specific guidelines.

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Foreign Language Certificates

Certificates are awarded in ArabicFrenchGermanRussian, and Spanish. The certificate confirms a particular degree of proficiency, cultural literacy, and experience with the language. The number of courses required for a certificate varies, depending on the language. Please see individual programs for details.

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Combined Program in Liberal Arts and Engineering

Williams offers opportunities for students to combine their liberal arts education at Williams with undergraduate professional training in engineering via two 5-year dual-degree programs: a 3-2 program with the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, and a 2-1-1-1 program with the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. Upon successful completion of either of these programs, a student receives a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams as well as either a Bachelor of Science (Columbia) or Bachelor of Engineering (Dartmouth) degree in an engineering discipline.

Students interested in pursuing either dual-degree program must complete the requirements for a Williams degree, including the major and distribution requirements, as well as the prerequisite courses for their engineering program of choice, so it is necessary to plan course selections at Williams carefully. The Physics Department’s Pre-Engineering site includes a list of Williams courses recommended to prospective engineers, as well as links to further resources.

A popular alternative to the dual-degree programs is to complete the Williams B.A. in the usual four years, majoring in one of the sciences, and then go directly to a graduate program in engineering.

The pre-engineering advisor, Katharine Jensen, will be happy to assist students interested in any of the options leading to engineering careers.

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Tutorial Program

The Tutorial Program offers Williams students a distinctive opportunity to take a heightened form of responsibility for their own intellectual development. No student is required to take a tutorial course, but any student with the appropriate qualifications and interests is invited to do so.

Tutorials place much greater weight on student participation—more so than regular courses or small seminars. They aim to teach students how to develop and present arguments; listen carefully, and then refine their positions in the context of a challenging discussion; and respond quickly and cogently to critiques of their work. Tutorials place particular emphasis on developing analytical skills, writing abilities, and the talents of engaging in rigorous conversation and oral debate.

The ways in which particular tutorials are conducted vary across the disciplines, but this is how most tutorials at Williams are organized:

Tutorials are usually limited to ten students. At the start of term, the instructor divides students into pairs. Each pair meets weekly with the instructor for roughly one hour—this is the main focus of tutorial courses. Many tutorial courses begin and end the term with a group seminar, and in a few departments, instructors hold weekly group meetings of all tutorial members to provide background information designed to facilitate students’ independent work.

At these weekly meetings, one student delivers a prepared essay or presentation (e.g., an analysis of a text or work of art, a discussion of a problem set, a report on laboratory exercises, etc.) pertaining to the assignment for that week, while the other student—and then the instructor—offer a critique. In the following week, students switch roles. Typically, students write five or six essays (usually in the range of 4-7 pages) during the term, and offer five or six critiques of their partners’ work.

Since the program’s inception in 1988, students have ranked tutorials among the most demanding—and rewarding—courses they have taken at Williams. While not designed to be more difficult than other courses, tutorials are nonetheless challenging, with frequent writing assignments and the expectation that students will be well prepared to participate actively and effectively in weekly discussions. At the same time, students have consistently placed tutorials among the most enriching and consequential courses they have taken. They appreciate the close attention to their writing and argumentation skills; the opportunity to be held accountable, in a detailed way, for the extended implications of their ideas; the chance to develop their oral abilities as they engage in debate; and the close intellectual bonds tutorials build between teachers and students, and students with each other. Many students have formed important advising and mentoring relationships with their tutorial teachers.

Registration Information

Students pre-register for tutorials as they would any other course. Because of limited enrollments and the special logistical arrangements involved in organizing tutorials, students may not drop a tutorial after 4:00 pm on the day before the first scheduled organizational meeting of the semester. It is important that students determine, before the start of the term, their interest in and commitment to the course, and consult with the instructor if necessary.

Tutorials may not be taken on a pass/fail basis.

This is a current list of tutorials offered.

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Independent Study

When students wish to study a subject not covered by regular course offerings, arrangements can be made to take independent study courses under faculty supervision. Once plans for an independent study have been discussed with a faculty sponsor, the Independent Study form should be submitted before the beginning of the semester in which the independent study will be taken, but no later than the last day of the drop/add period.

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Cross-Enrollment Program

Students may register at Bennington College or Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for courses not offered at Williams.

Please note, one and two credit courses at Bennington College are not transferable.

For more information, see Williams/Bennington/MCLA Cross-Enrollment Program.

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Study Away

Students are encouraged to pursue the option of study away as they begin the process of considering major fields and course requirements sophomore year. All students in good standing with no academic deficiencies are encouraged to study away during all or part of their junior year. The Office of Global Education and Study Away offers up to 200 approved programs, both domestically and internationally, for students to choose from. Nearly 50% of the junior class chooses to study away for a semester or full academic year.

Credits earned in the Williams-Mystic Program and the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University are considered Williams credits and the grades will be applied toward the GPA. Students participating in all other approved programs will receive general credit and their GPA will not be impacted, however, the experience will appear on their Williams transcript. Coursework will transfer toward the Williams degree assuming students earn a C- or above. Approval is required from the chair of a student’s major department for major credit; the Dean of Global Education and Study Away and the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS) for general credit.

The one-time petition deadline is March 1st the year before a student chooses to study away. To learn more about the process please contact the Office of Global Education and Study Away.

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The Williams Office of Fellowships helps students extend their learning outside of the classroom. A national fellowship or a Williams College award may help you fund graduate study in the US or abroad or support travel, study, and experiential learning as an undergraduate. From the initial inquiry to the nomination and selection stages of a national competition, the Fellowships Office works with undergraduates, seniors, and alumni to prepare competitive applications. Students are encouraged to attend information sessions held by the Office of Fellowships and discuss their candidacy with the Director of Fellowships.

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Experiential Education

Experiential education, involving “learning by doing” outside the classroom, is a robust part of the Williams curriculum. In addition to the use of traditional laboratory work in the natural sciences and studio work in art, faculty have been challenging students to become engaged more personally in the Williams curriculum through field work, whether in the form of research, sustained work on special projects, or through placement with community organizations. Courses which include experiential learning provide students with opportunities to encounter firsthand the issues that they read and study about, requiring them to apply academic learning to nonacademic settings and challenging them to use their experiences in those settings to think more critically and deeply about what they are studying. Experiential courses, as defined above, range from fully integrated off-campus programs such as the Williams-Mystic: The Coastal and Ocean Studies Program to courses involving a small field research exercise or project. The amount and nature of the experiential component(s) varies according to the instructor’s judgment. More information can be found on the Center for Learning in Action site.

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Pathways for Inclusive Excellence

Pathways for Inclusive Excellence (PIE), part of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, develops and administers programs that address diversity and inclusion in higher education. Beginning with the pre-enrollment programs—Summer Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) and Summer Science Program (SSP)—PIE provides opportunities for students to thrive academically. The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) and the Allison Davis Research Fellowship (ADRF) give selected students the opportunity to learn advanced research skills and practice them on research projects of their own design with the guidance of a faculty mentor and a cohort of peers. The fellowships offer stipends so students can use their time to pursue research instead of campus and summer jobs. The ultimate goal of these fellowships is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in PhD programs and academic careers. PIE also helps connect eligible students to a variety of other opportunities, from the Creating Connections Consortium (C3) summer fellowships to the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) to a wide variety of summer research programs. More information can be found on the PIE site.

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Air Force ROTC Program at RPI

Williams has partnered with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) to offer qualified students the opportunity to participate in the Air Force ROTC General Military Course and/or Professional Office Course.

More information can be found on RPI’s Air Force ROTC site.

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