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.

    Advising Matters is also a good resource for faculty advisors. 

  • 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).


    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.


    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.


    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 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.


    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 WesPortal.

  • 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.

  • 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.