Student Affairs - Dean's Office

Building an Academic Program

The following information applies to all students, but particularly to first-year students and sophomores as they learn about intellectual life at Wesleyan. Students have considerable flexibility in choosing their program of study from an extremely rich and varied curriculum, and most students have little difficulty finding courses suited to their interests. The challenge they face is creating a coherent program of study—one that enables them to develop important skills, exposes them to new areas of knowledge and skills, and develops existing aptitudes and expertise, while keeping in mind the semester credit minimum and degree requirements.

Faculty advisors will not choose courses for students, but will work with their advisees to help them thoughtfully assess their options and achieve balance and coherence in their course schedules. It is important for both advisors and advisees to realize that there is not one "right" course, but rather a large number of courses that will help in developing the subject knowledge and skills that are desired.

  • Curricular Information - WESMAPS
    • Wesleyan’s curriculum, found online at WesMaps, offers courses that span a wide range of disciplines and expose students to a variety of teaching styles and modes of learning.

      WesMaps provides a full description of each course, including the name of the instructor, the time at which the course takes place, the number of seats available, the course content and assignments, and some links to other information of interest to students, such as department and program descriptions. WesMaps also offers a dynamic search capability, allowing students to find courses that meet certain criteria, such as courses with specific subject matter, courses open to first-year students, and courses that fulfill General Education Expectations.

  • Educational Goals
    • In addition to keeping in mind graduation requirements and academic regulations, advisors and advisees should use the following concepts as a guide as students build their programs of study, and advisors should keep them in mind as they work with their advisees. Students should strive to:

      • acquire breadth of knowledge across the curriculum;
      • develop depth of knowledge in a major field of study; and
      • assess and enhance capabilities in ten essential areas.
  • Breadth of Knowledge: General Education Expectations (GenEd)
    • The faculty is committed to the goals of liberal education, an education that should challenge students to extend their intellectual grasp, broaden their perspective, and deepen their appreciation of complex ways in which knowledge and human experience are connected. To assist students in making choices, the faculty has divided the curriculum into three areas: Humanities and the Arts (HA), Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), and Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM).

      Humanities and Arts (HA)

      GenEd courses in the humanities and the arts introduce students to languages and literature, to the arts and the mass media, and to philosophy and aesthetics—in short, to the works of the creative imagination as well as to systems of thought, belief, and communication. These courses provide both historical and critical perspectives on a diverse body of literary, artistic, and cultural materials. Wesleyan’s language and literature departments offer a number of courses that enable students to study significant aspects of world literature by way of translated texts.

      Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS)

      GenEd courses in the social and behavioral sciences introduce students to the systematic study of human behavior, both social and individual. They survey the historical processes that have given rise to the modern world, examine political institutions and economic practices, scrutinize the principal theories and ideologies that shape and interpret them, and present methods for analyzing the workings of the psyche and society.

      Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM)

      GenEd courses in the natural sciences and mathematics introduce students to key modes of thinking that are indispensable to a liberal education in today’s scientifically and technologically complex culture. They provide the scientific skills necessary for critically evaluating contemporary problems by applying scientific method, utilizing quantitative reasoning, and enhancing scientific literacy. They also provide a means of comparison to other modes of inquiry by including historical, epistemological, and ethical perspectives. There are a variety of courses that meet these objectives and are appropriate for future majors in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as for students interested in majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics.

      Course Descriptions and GenEd

      Course descriptions in WesMaps and the University Catalog indicate which courses meet GenEd Expectations. Most, but not all, courses will fulfill the GenEd Expectations. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate do not count toward fulfillment of GenEd. Transfer courses taken at other accredited institutions may be considered for GenEd equivalency credit.

      GenEd Expectations are divided into two stages:

      To meet Stage 1 Expectations, students are expected to have earned at least two credits in each of the three divisional areas, all from six different departments, by the end of the fourth semester.

      To meet Stage 2 Expectations, students must take one credit in each of the three areas by the time they graduate, for a total of nine GenEd course credits. Stage 2 credits may come from departments in which credit has been previously earned for Stage 1.

      Some departments include courses that fulfill two GenEd areas. For example, psychology (PSYC) includes both NSM and SBS courses. If two such PSYC courses are being used to fulfill Stage 1, PSYC is counted as only one department. The student then may end up with only five (rather than six) different departments and fail to fulfill Stage 1.

      Department, Honors, and Multiple Majors

      While the University does not require students to complete GenEd in order to graduate, some departments do, either as part of major requirements (entrance or completion) or as part of eligibility for departmental honors. Those who do complete GenEd also may be eligible for other University Honors, Departmental Honors, and/or Phi Beta Kappa. Fulfilling GenEd is required if a student intends to complete three majors or a combination of three majors, minors and certificates.  Students can track their progress in completing the GenEd Expectations through the General Education Report in their e-portfolio.

  • Depth of Knowledge: Major Courses of Study
    • The importance of depth is reflected in the regulation that requires every student to devote about one-third of his or her courses over the four years to intensive work in a major area of concentration.

      Students normally declare their majors in the second semester of their sophomore year. Only the College of East Asian Studies, College of Letters and the College of Social Studies require students to apply at the end of their first year. Three-year BA students also must apply at the end of their first year.  Students may select a major in a department or program, an interdepartmental major, or an individually-designed University major. Students should keep in mind that acceptance into a major is not automatic, but rather must be granted by the major department or program.

      While students need to be mindful of the prerequisites for majors they are considering, it is important that they explore a wide variety of intellectual interests and fields of study before settling on an area of specialization. Students should avoid narrowing their academic choices prematurely and assuming that a major determines a career or vice versa (e.g., that all pre-meds must be biology majors). Such misconceptions should be challenged, as should prejudices for or against certain academic disciplines. Academic specialization should not be achieved at the cost of exploring the curriculum.  However, exploration should be done with an eye on courses needed for entry into a major.

  • Enhancing Essential Capabilities
    • The faculty has identified ten capabilities fundamental to a liberal arts education. Students should continue to assess their abilities in these areas and take advantage of their four years to strengthen them. The following descriptions have been formulated by the Educational Policy Committee. More detail can be found at


      The ability to write coherently and effectively. This skill implies the ability to reflect on the writing process and to choose a style, tone, and method of argumentation appropriate to the intended audience.

      Students have many opportunities to improve their writing during their four years at Wesleyan. The University does not have a required English composition course, but it does offer a wide range of courses across the curriculum that emphasize writing. In selecting courses, students should consult the descriptions for information about the writing components. Students are encouraged to include in their schedule at least one course each semester that offers substantial practice in writing.


      The ability to speak clearly and effectively. This skill involves the ability to articulate and advocate for ideas, to listen, to express in words the nature and import of artistic works, and to participate effectively in public forums, choosing the level of discourse appropriate to the occasion.


      The ability to understand, evaluate, and contextualize meaningful forms, including written texts, objects, practices, performances, and sites. This includes (but is not limited to) qualitative responses to subjects, whether in language or in a nonverbal artistic or scientific medium.

      Quantitative Reasoning:

      The ability to understand and use numerical ideas and methods to describe and analyze quantifiable properties of the world. Quantitative reasoning involves skills such as making reliable measurements, using statistical reasoning, modeling empirical data, formulating mathematical descriptions and theories, and using mathematical techniques to explain data and predict outcomes.

      Courses involving quantitative reasoning can be found in many areas of the curriculum including mathematics, astronomy, biology, psychology, economics, sociology, and physics. In addition, the Mathematics Department offers a variety of introductory courses designed for first-year students at various levels of ability.

      During the summer, every new student will take an online mathematics placement test.

      Logical Reasoning:

      The ability to make, recognize, and assess logical arguments. This skill involves extracting or extending knowledge on the basis of existing knowledge through deductive inference and inductive reasoning.

      Designing, Creating, Realizing:

      The ability to design, create, and build. This skill might be demonstrated through scientific experimentation to realize a research endeavor, a theater or dance production, or creation of works such as a painting, a film, or a musical composition.

      Ethical Reasoning:

      The ability to reflect on moral issues in the abstract and in historical narratives within particular traditions. Ethical reasoning is the ability to identify, assess, and develop ethical arguments from a variety of ethical positions.

      Intercultural Literacy:

      The ability to understand diverse cultural formations in relation to their wider historical and social contexts and environments. Intercultural literacy also implies the ability to understand and respect another point of view. Study of a language not one’s own, contemporary or classical, is central to this skill. The study of a language embedded in a different cultural context, whether in North America or abroad, may also contribute to this ability.

      New students are urged to take advantage of the many opportunities to learn a foreign language and expand their knowledge of foreign cultures. Competence in a foreign language is a basic educational accomplishment, and knowledge of foreign cultures not only contributes to personal and intellectual development, but also extends society’s horizons and enhances world understanding. Wesleyan offers language instruction in Chinese, French, German, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish. Students with previous experience in these languages should take the placement tests offered online during the summer or during New Student Orientation.

      Courses in languages such as American Sign Language, Arabic, Korean, Hindi, and Portuguese are offered most semesters, when student interest warrants the study of such languages and/or when courses in various departments support it. Under some specific guidelines, students also may undertake or continue the study of a language not currently offered through the Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP), which is administered by the director of the Language Resource Center.

      Students considering applying for admission to the College of Letters (COL) should be aware that COL students must have completed the requisite training in French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Russian, or Spanish. COL students spend the second semester of their sophomore year abroad, which requires at least intermediate-level proficiency in the appropriate foreign language. Entering students who are interested in this major and have begun language study prior to arrival should take the language placement test and enroll in appropriate language classes during their first year.

      Students who hope to go on a particular study abroad program, but have not yet started to learn the language of that country, need to begin language study in their first semester. They need to meet intermediate-level proficiency to be eligible for admission to a study abroad program with courses taught in the native tongue.

      Information Literacy:

      The ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use various sources of information for a specific purpose. Information literacy implies the ability to judge the relevance and reliability of information sources as well as to present a line of investigation in an appropriate format.

      Effective Citizenship:

      The ability to analyze and develop informed opinions on the political and social life of one’s local community, one’s country, and the global community, and to engage in constructive action if appropriate. As with Intercultural Literacy, studying abroad or in a different cultural context within North America may contribute to a firm grasp of this ability.

  • Balance: Course Selection and Scheduling:
    • A balanced academic program is essential, particularly for first-year students, to help ensure academic success. A combination of small and large classes, lecture and discussion, and variations in course content and focus (e.g., reading, writing, quantitative work, artistic activity) can provide breadth and stimulate academic curiosity while keeping a schedule manageable yet challenging.

      It also is important to create a balanced schedule in terms of class days and times. For some students, this is as important a consideration as what courses to choose. Without sacrificing intellectual rigor or interest, students should try to distribute their courses across the week and through the day in the way that works best for them, bearing in mind that an ideal schedule, totally suited to an individual’s temperament and habits, is often impossible to achieve.

      Semester Credits:

      Students and advisors must be aware of Wesleyan’s academic regulations and graduation requirements when engaged in academic planning and course selection.

      The normal academic load is 4.00 credits each semester, with 3.00 credits the minimum required for full-time status. Candidates for the undergraduate degree may not enroll as part-time students. Students who plan a course schedule with only 3.00 credits need the approval of their faculty advisor and their class dean, since it could put them behind pace. (See “Common Advising Questions.”) Students who want to enroll in 5.00 or more credits must have their credit limit increased by their faculty advisor through the e-portfolio during the Drop/Add period. Students who want to enroll in 6.00 or more credits should consult their class dean as well.

      Advisors should raise an advisee’s credit limit with caution so that it does not become a mechanism for students to hold seats in courses they hope to replace. There is a 24-hour period after a student requests entry into a course before the credit limit needs to be raised to accommodate an add request.

      Faculty advisors should be aware that federal regulations require international students to maintain full-time status (minimum 3.00 credits) and be in good academic standing at all times. Faculty advisors should contact the student’s class dean in connection with any academic issues involving international students. The associate dean for international student affairs also is available to advise international students on questions of cultural adjustment, visa status, academic success, and the like.