Distribution Requirements

Distribution Requirements

Students sometimes worry about how they will be able to fulfill the College’s requirements, and even how they will get a handle on what these requirements are in the first place.

Here are three approaches to these concerns:

1. Understand how our distribution requirements help students achieve their goals

Our distribution, or general education, requirements are at the heart of the liberal arts education that Wellesley offers each of its students. You chose to come to Wellesley partly to pursue exactly this kind of education, one that offers both breadth and depth. When you choose your major in your sophomore year, you will begin to move to advanced studies in the area that is most engaging to you. Before that happens, though, it’s important to start to experience something of the full range of the curriculum. This prepares you for making a sound choice about a major, and more generally gives you the broad education that is the hallmark of being an educated person in today’s world.

No one can succeed these days without some sense of what the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences are all about, not to mention the need for basic quantitative skills and an awareness of other cultures and languages. Wellesley’s general requirements are structured in such a way as to ensure that each student has a broad education, cutting across the many different academic disciplines offered at the College. You won’t be an expert in all these fields, of course, just by taking the courses that you will choose to satisfy these requirements, but you will have a basic awareness of knowledge and methods that will serve you well in the challenges you will have in life after Wellesley.

That life will demand that you be a life-long learner. It is impossible to predict what interests you will have twenty years from now, so one of your tasks in college is to prepare yourself with the basic knowledge and flexibility to adapt to your changing desires and needs. Even if you end up following a career path that seems clear to you today, it will take unexpected directions over time, and you will need the building blocks for learning new ways of thinking and doing. Having an awareness of the range of areas of knowledge out there is an essential component of success in the increasingly interdisciplinary and global society we are developing.

2. What are Wellesley’s general requirements?

The College’s general requirements can be complicated in some of their details, but there is a basic structure that is fairly easy to grasp and is useful to have in mind in planning for your first year:

  • All first-year students must take a First Year Writing Course(transfers and Davis Scholars must also take this course, unless previous course work includes a comparable college writing course).
  • All students must demonstrate a command of basic quantitative skills by passing the QR assessment the summer before Orientation or by passing QR 140 during the first year, and must take another course that applies quantitative methods in a particular subject area.
  • All students must demonstrate command of a language other than English, and the most common way of doing this is completing the equivalent of two years of language study at Wellesley.
  • All students must have a unit of coursework that demonstrates awareness of a non-Western culture or of social dynamics involving minority groups within a Western culture.
  • All students must satisfy our distribution requirements by having three units of coursework in the humanities, three in the social sciences, and three in mathematics and natural and physical sciences—including at least one science lab. There are subcategories within these groupings, which are described in more detail here.

There are additional requirements but they are not essential to master in your first semester. You can see all the academic program requirements; and know that your dean is always available to discuss these requirements and your general academic plans with you, so if you have questions about these matters, be sure to be in touch with her.

3. Remember that (almost) every course counts!

With only a few exceptions, all courses in the Wellesley curriculum satisfy one of the distribution requirements. What this means is that in your first year, you really don’t have to worry about earning credits toward these requirements. By taking the courses that are most interesting to you, and by experimenting a little bit across the curriculum, you will automatically be completing distribution requirements. You will also be earning credits toward possible majors, since a course may count for a distribution area as well as for an eventual major.

In your first year, you will need to complete the College’s writing requirement by taking a First-Year Writing Course. If you plan to take language courses, it’s a good idea to start this in your first year, since these courses are often sequenced, and you may need a year or two of basic courses before you are ready to study literature in a language other than English. If you need to take the basic quantitative skills course, that should also be part of your first-semester experience, in order to maximize your opportunities later on.

But other than in these ways, you needn’t focus your first-year plans around finishing all your distribution areas in the early part of your college experience. A better strategy is to take advantage of the breadth of the curriculum at Wellesley to put in place some basic building blocks that will be important to you. When you reach sophomore year and begin to plan a major and the rest of your time at Wellesley, you will be surprised how many of the distribution areas you have completed well, just by doing what you wanted to do.