Tutorials 2024-25

The Tutorial Program offers students a distinctive opportunity to take a heightened form of responsibility for their own intellectual growth. 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 than regular courses—even small seminars—on student engagement. They aim to teach students how to formulate and present arguments, refine their positions in the context of a challenging discussion, and offer quick and cogent responses to the work of others. In the process, tutorials place particular emphasis on the skills of critical and analytic reasoning, written and oral expression, and nimble and robust intellectual exchange.

Since the program’s inception in 1988, students have ranked tutorials among the most demanding—and most rewarding—courses they have taken at Williams. While not expressly designed to be more difficult than other courses, tutorials are nonetheless challenging, with frequent writing assignments and diligent preparation in advance of active participation in weekly discussions. At the same time, students have consistently placed tutorials among the most enriching and consequential courses they have taken. They have appreciated, among other benefits of tutorial pedagogy, the detailed attention to the craft and mechanics of their writing; the opportunity to be held accountable for the extended implications of their ideas; the iterative experience of an extended and free-flowing conversation with others curious or passionate about similar issues; the close intellectual bonds that grow between tutorial partners; and the important advising and mentoring relationships that develop with tutorial faculty.

The ways in which particular tutorials are conducted vary across the disciplines, but most tutorials at Williams follow a roughly similar outline. Tutorials are usually limited to 10 students. At the start of term, the instructor divides the students into pairs, each of which meets weekly with the instructor for roughly one hour. Many tutorial courses begin and end the term with a group seminar; some instructors may also hold regular group meetings of all tutorial members to provide background information designed to facilitate the students’ independent work. But the heart of every tutorial is the weekly meeting between the instructor and two students. 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. Over the course of the semester, students typically write five or six essays (usually in the range of 4-7 pages) and offer five or six critiques (roughly 2-3 pages) of their partners’ work.


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, consulting with the instructor if necessary.

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

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