Degree Requirements

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Overview

Williams College offers a course of study leading to the Bachelor of Arts degree. The course requirements prescribe both the number of courses to be completed and the minimum grade level to be achieved; the curriculum also requires that each student explore several fields of knowledge and major in one.

To be eligible for the Bachelor of Arts degree students must complete the following requirements within eight semesters, including any semesters for which a student receives credit while not in residence at Williams (semesters spent away on exchange or other approved programs at other colleges are included in the eight semesters):

  • Pass 32 semester courses (4 per semester):
    • at least 29 of which must be regularly graded A-E, including 19 with grades of C- or better;
    • a maximum of 3 P/F courses, with a limit of 1 P/F per semester;
    • students may not repeat a course for which degree credit has been awarded.
  • Fulfill the four-part distribution requirement with graded courses taken at Williams or at programs under the direction of Williams College faculty:
    1. Divisional requirement: three graded semester courses (with two different prefixes) in each division, two of which must be completed by the end of sophomore year.
    2. Writing-Intensive (WI) requirement: two writing-intensive courses, one by the end of sophomore year, and one by the end of junior year.
    3. Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement: one before graduation, however, students are urged to complete the course by the end of sophomore year. (Class of 2019, 2020, 2021: students who have successfully completed an EDI course do not need to complete a DPE course; students who have not taken an EDI course can satisfy the requirement by completing a DPE course. Class of 2022: students must satisfy the DPE requirement).
    4. Quantitative/Formal Reasoning (QFR) requirement: one by the end of junior year.
  • Complete all requirements for the major with an average of C- or higher.
  • Pass four Winter Study courses.
  • Complete four quarters of physical education by the end of sophomore year in at least two different activities.
  • Take the swim test at the start of the first semester at Williams—students who fail to complete the test must pass a basic swim course.
  • Be in residence at Williams eight semesters, two of which can be an approved Study Away program. Students must be in residence for both semesters of their final year.

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Academic Requirement

To be eligible for the Bachelor of Arts degree students must pass 32 semester courses (at least 29 of which must be regularly graded A-E, including 19 with grades of C- or better), fulfill the four-part distribution requirement, complete all requirements for the major with an average of C- or higher, and pass four Winter Study courses. Students may not repeat a course for which degree credit has been awarded.

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Distribution Requirement

The distribution requirement falls into four parts. Courses used to fulfill these requirements must be regularly graded.

1) Divisional requirement: Designed to ensure students take an appropriately diverse distribution of courses across the full range of the curriculum.

Courses are grouped into three divisions:

  • Division I: Languages and the Arts
  • Division II: Social Studies
  • Division III: Science and Mathematics

Students must complete at least three graded semester courses in each division. Two in each division must be completed by the end of sophomore year. No more than two of the courses used to satisfy the requirement may have the same course prefix. The courses must be taken at Williams or at programs under the direction of Williams College faculty.

There may be exceptions to divisional credit, and those exceptions are noted in individual course descriptions.

Division I courses are designed to help students become better able to respond to the arts sensitively and intelligently by learning the language, whether verbal, visual, or musical, of a significant field of artistic expression. Students learn how to develop the capacity for critical discussion, to increase awareness of the esthetic and moral issues raised by works of art, and to grow in self-awareness and creativity.

  • Arabic (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Art History
  • Art Studio
  • Asian Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Chinese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Classics
  • Comparative Literature
  • Critical Languages
  • Dance
  • English
  • Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Italian
  • Japanese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Latin
  • Literary Studies
  • Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Music
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Theatre

Division II courses consider the institutions and social structures that human beings have created, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and which in turn markedly affect their lives. These courses are intended to help students recognize, analyze, and evaluate these human structures in order that they may better understand themselves and the social world in which they live.

  • Africana Studies
  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arabic (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Asian Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Chinese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Cognitive Science
  • Economics
  • Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
  • Global Studies
  • History
  • History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Japanese (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Jewish Studies
  • Justice and Law
  • Latina/o Studies
  • Leadership Studies
  • Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Philosophy
  • Political Economy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology (some exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Public Health (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Religion
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Sociology
  • Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Division III courses are intended to provide some of the factual and methodological knowledge needed to be an informed citizen in a world deeply influenced by scientific thought and technological accomplishment, and to cultivate skill in exact and quantitative reasoning.

  • Astronomy
  • Astrophysics
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Environmental Studies (any Environmental Studies course that is also cross-listed with another subject carries divisional credit of that subject; for other exceptions see individual course descriptions)
  • Geosciences
  • History of Science (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Interdisciplinary Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Maritime Studies (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Mathematics
  • Neuroscience
  • Physics
  • Psychology (exceptions, see individual course descriptions)
  • Statistics

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2) Writing-Intensive (WI) requirement: The goal of this requirement is to improve student writing proficiency across disciplines. Students in these courses will receive guidance on style, argumentation, and other significant aspects of writing, as well as evaluation and criticism of their writing throughout the semester. This may be achieved through a variety of approaches: brief assignments spaced over the semester, sequenced assignments leading to a longer final paper, etc. WI courses may also include multiple drafts, conferences, peer review, or class discussions designed to improve writing skills. A course with a single long paper due at the end of the semester, but with no required or structured means of addressing writing issues, would not be considered writing-intensive. WI courses require a minimum of 20 pages of writing and have a maximum enrollment of 19—this allows the instructor to devote appropriate attention to writing over the course of the semester.

All students are required to take TWO WI courses: one by the end of sophomore year and one by the end of junior year. Students will benefit most from WI courses by taking them early in their college careers and are strongly encouraged to complete the requirement by the end of sophomore year.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the WI requirement.

More information for faculty.

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3) Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement: Williams College recognizes that in a diverse and globalized world, the critical examination of difference, power, and equity is an essential part of a liberal arts education. The DPE requirement provides students with the opportunity to analyze the shaping of social differences, dynamics of unequal power, and processes of change. Courses satisfying the DPE requirement include content that encourages students to confront and reflect on the operations of difference, power and equity. They also provide students with critical tools they will need to be responsible agents of change. Employing a variety of pedagogical approaches and theoretical perspectives, DPE courses examine themes including but not limited to race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion.

All students are required to complete at least ONE DPE course. Although this course, which may be counted toward the divisional distribution requirement, can be completed any semester before graduation, students are urged to complete the course by the end of sophomore year. The requirement may be fulfilled with a course taken away from campus, but students wishing to use this option must petition the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) upon their return by providing a clear and detailed explanation of how the course taken away from Williams fulfills the DPE requirement.

Class of 2019, 2020, 2021

Students who have​ successfully​ completed an EDI course ​do not need to complete a DPE course.

Students who have ​not taken an EDI course can satisfy the requirement by completing a DPE course.

Class of 2022​

The Class of 2022 must satisfy the​ ​DPE ​requirement​.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the DPE requirement.

More information for faculty.

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4) Quantitative/Formal Reasoning (QFR) requirement: This requirement is intended to help students become adept at reasoning mathematically and abstractly. The ability to apply a formal method to reach conclusions, use numbers comfortably, and employ the research tools necessary to analyze data lessens barriers to carrying out professional and economic roles. The hallmarks of a QFR course are the representation of facts in a language of mathematical symbols and the use of formal rules to obtain a determinate answer. Primary evaluation in these courses is based on multistep mathematical, statistical, or logical inference (as opposed to descriptive answers).

Prior to senior year, all students must satisfactorily complete ONE QFR course. Students requiring extra assistance (as assessed during First Days) are normally placed into MATH 100/101/102, which is to be taken before fulfilling the QFR requirement.

Here is a current list of courses offered that meet the QFR requirement.

More information for faculty.

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Major Requirement

The major requirement is designed to assure that all Williams students have the experience of disciplined and cumulative study, carried on over an extended period of time, in an important field of intellectual inquiry. Students are required to declare a major spring of sophomore year.

Majors

  • American Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arabic Studies
  • Art
  • Asian Studies
  • Astronomy
  • Astrophysics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Chinese
  • Classics (Greek, Latin)
  • Comparative Literature
  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • English
  • Environmental Studies
  • French
  • Geosciences
  • German
  • History
  • Japanese
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Economy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Russian
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Statistics
  • Theatre
  • Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

General Structure of Majors

1) Students must elect at least nine courses in their major field. A major may also require an additional course and/or one Winter Study course during junior or senior year.

Students may also fulfill the minimum requirements for a major by taking eight courses in the major field and two courses, approved by a major advisor, in associated fields. In interdepartmental majors, such as Political Economy, a larger number of courses may be required.

2) A prescribed sequence of courses, supplemented by parallel courses, and including a major seminar, is required in some major fields. Other majors ask students to plan a sequence of elective courses, including advanced work building on elementary courses in the field, and ending in a one- or two- semester faculty-organized course or project senior year. All majors provide a system of counseling to help students plan programs reflecting individual interests as well as disciplined and cumulative patterns of inquiry.

Courses in many major programs require prerequisite courses in related areas. A full description of the detailed structure of each major is found under the heading of that major.

Major and Concentration

A student can count a course twice for a major and a concentration.

Two Majors

Although students may be granted permission to use a course from one major to fulfill a particular requirement in another, a student must take the minimum number of courses in each field without counting any course twice. Students may be a candidate for honors in either or both of the majors, but a course for honors in one major may not be used for an honors course in another.

Three Majors

Students may complete three majors with the permission of all majors and the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS). Although students may be granted permission to use a course from one major to fulfill a particular requirement in another, a student must take the minimum number of courses in all fields without counting any course twice. Students may be a candidate for honors in either or all of the majors, but a course for honors in one major may not be used for an honors course in another.

Contract Major

Students who wish to undertake the coherent study of an interdisciplinary subject not covered by a regularly offered major may propose a Contract Major. Those interested in this option should thoroughly review the Contract Major site, and begin consulting with the Contract Major Advisor and potential faculty advisors fall semester of sophomore year. Students completing a Contract Major may not do so in conjunction with a second major.

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Winter Study

Winter Study, which began in 1967, is intended to provide students and faculty with a dramatically different educational experience. The differences are in the nature of the courses, the nature of the learning experience, and the change of educational pace and format from fall and spring semesters. These differences apply to the faculty and students in several ways: faculty can try out courses with new subjects and techniques that might, if successful, be used later in the regular terms; they can explore subjects not amenable to inclusion in regular courses; and they can investigate fields outside their usual areas of expertise. In their academic work (which is graded Pass, Perfunctory Pass, or Fail) students can explore new fields at low risk, concentrate on one subject that requires a great deal of time, develop individual research projects, or work in a different milieu (as interns, for example, or on trips outside Williamstown). In addition, Winter Study offers students an opportunity for more independence and initiative in a less formal setting, more opportunity to participate in cultural events, and an occasion to get to know one another better.

Students who fail their Winter Study course will be required to make up the deficiency. Students who fail through gross neglect of work may be put on academic probation or required to resign. A student who receives a second Perfunctory Pass grade in Winter Study will be required to pass a fifth course the following spring or fall semester.

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Swim Test

Williams believes it is vitally important that students possess the ability to swim.

A swim test is required of all first-year students at the start of the academic year. Students are required to swim 25 yards front crawl and 25 yards backstroke.

While all first-year students are required to report to the pool for the swim test, non-swimmers are not required to take the test but must register for a beginning swim class through the Department of Physical Education during the first quarter of the year.

The swim test is designed to be a safe and comfortable experience for everyone. If a student would prefer to take the swim test in a private setting, for reasons of religious observance or gender identity/expression, accommodations can be made.

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Physical Education Requirement

The Physical Education (PE) requirement provides students the opportunity of establishing and maintaining a general level of fitness and well-being; of developing abilities in carry-over activities; of discovering and extending their own physical capabilities; and of developing skills in activities with survival implications, such as swimming.

Students must complete four PE credits as a requirement for graduation.

Students must complete at least two PE credits during the first year.

All four PE credits must be completed by the end of a student’s sophomore year. Students will not be permitted to study abroad if the Physical Education requirement has not been met.

The requirement may be met through successful participation in the following:

  • Successful completion of a physical education or dance department activity course.
  • Participation on a varsity, junior varsity, or club team.
  • Participation in a regularly scheduled Williams Outing Club activity (requires WOC membership).
  • Independent class (must be approved by the Physical Education Coordinator only after three PE credits have been earned).

Additionally, students must enroll in at least two different activities to fulfill the requirement.

  • Completion of a physical education activity class earns one PE credit.
  • Participation on a varsity, junior varsity or club sport team earns two PE credits per season.
  • Students involved in dance ensembles earn two PE credits.
  • Students may earn a maximum of three PE credits in one discipline.

Satisfactory attendance is required except for students excused by a Dean and the Director of Medical Services or the Director of Counseling Services.

PE credits are posted only twice per year, at the end of fall semester and at the end of spring semester. As a result, Academic Progress Reports may not accurately reflect PE credits.

  • At the beginning of fall semester, PE credits listed should be accurate through the end of the previous spring semester.
  • During late October/early November, any physical education activities completed during the first half of fall semester will not yet be posted.
  • At the beginning of spring semester, any physical education activities completed during Winter Study will not be posted; they will be posted once Winter Study grading is completed.
  • During April preregistration any physical education activities completed during the first half of spring semester will not be posted; they will be posted at the end of spring semester.

If your PE credits still seem incorrect, please check with the Department of Physical Education.

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Residence Requirement

Students who begin college at Williams must spend eight semesters in residence, two of which can be an approved Study Away program.

Students transferring to Williams from other institutions as sophomores are expected to spend six semesters in residence and juniors must spend four semesters in residence.

Students must be in residence for both semesters of their final year.

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