Requirements for the Liberal Arts Degree

The Nine Ways of Knowing curriculum applies to students who entered Barnard before Fall 2016; Barnard's new curriculum, Foundations, applies to students entering in Fall 2016.

Barnard's motto, Following the Way of Reason (Hepomene toi logismoi), signals the College’s continuing commitment to the intellectual breadth and analytical depth of the liberal arts tradition. Since the College’s founding in 1889, a Barnard education has been characterized by its distinctive combination of elements: a rigorous, broadly based framework of general education requirements; a focused inquiry into major subjects; and a range of electives. Together these elements allow for substantial personal choice. The exact structure of College requirements has varied over the past century in response to changes in society, education, and student needs. Today, degree candidates complete first-year courses, general education courses organized around different “ways of knowing” or "modes of thinking," a major, and electives, totaling 122 points (120 points for students entering before Autumn 2003). They also fulfill a physical education requirement reflecting the College’s view that physical well-being is an essential part of a healthy and productive life. (Of the 122 required points, 1 must be for PE. Transfer students who enter with 24 points of credit need 121 points, of which 1 is for PE.) 

The Barnard Education

A Barnard education seeks to provide women with the tools and techniques needed to think critically and act effectively in the world today. It fosters a respect for learning, an aptitude for analysis, and a competence in the demanding disciplines of the liberal arts and sciences. By virtue of its special mission and location, Barnard strives to give its students insight into interconnected worlds of knowledge and experience.

The Barnard curriculum enables students to develop strength in language and literature, in social and historical analysis, in mathematics and the natural sciences, in the arts and the humanities, and in digital and technological thinking—distinct areas of study that incorporate but also transcend traditional academic disciplines. Built around major methods for apprehending the world and organizing knowledge, the College’s basic requirements are designed to equip students to respond both critically and creatively to a rapidly changing world. Barnard students learn to employ a variety of analytical methods in order to engage new complexities of social evolution and scientific knowledge. The College dedicates itself to imparting to every student self-renewing intellectual resourcefulness, the mark of a liberal arts education.

The College faculty encourages each student to elect courses in a manner that ensures exposure to distinct forms and traditions of knowledge and to the human experience as lived in various parts of the world. Each student is encouraged to make selections that develop connections among the elements of the curriculum, that promote understanding of global issues, and that acknowledge both the diversity and the commonality of human endeavors in civilizations around the world and through time.

As a college for women, Barnard embraces its responsibility to address issues of gender in all their complexity and urgency, and is committed to an integrated curriculum that recognizes the importance of gender in all forms of human endeavor. The College encourages students to profit from the exceptional and varied opportunities to explore women’s histories, challenges, and achievements. Gender-related matters are incorporated into a wide range of additional courses across the academic disciplines.

Barnard also encourages students to take full advantage of the world city of New York—its international character and economic power; its prominence in science, medicine, and the arts; its cultural abundance; its diverse neighborhoods and peoples; its architectural richness. In their studies, their work, and their personal lives, Barnard students can avail themselves of the city’s unparalleled resources. As an extended campus, New York serves not only as a multidisciplinary research laboratory for coursework and guided field experiences, but also as the site for a vast array of internships and wide-ranging, city based student activities.

Barnard seeks to ensure that students become aware of, and knowledgeable about, their physical being. Students complete courses that focus on physical activity, fitness, and well-being. The College also provides additional opportunities for students to exercise and to learn more about fundamental elements of good health and women’s health issues. 

Majors and Electives

Departments and programs establish majors to provide a structured, focused investigation of an academic discipline or area of interdisciplinary study. Often a major will require courses taken in cognate disciplines. Generally, there are three levels of study within each major: introductory survey courses; mid-level courses that cover more specialized subject matter and where attention is paid to the methodologies, including the writing styles and formats, of the discipline; and advanced-level seminars with an emphasis on independent research. The College has a long-standing commitment to preparing students sufficiently in a subject so that they may undertake a semester- or year-long project, usually during the senior year, on a topic related to their major.

All students complete the requirements of an approved major. Majors vary in the number of credits required. For students transferring credit from another college or university, a minimum of six semester courses must be completed while the student is in residence at Barnard. Only courses graded C– or higher will be credited toward the major.

A student registers her chosen major with the Office of the Registrar and with her major department or program, normally in the second term of her sophomore year. The major may be chosen from any listed in the Barnard Catalogue. A student may major in two fields by satisfying all the major requirements prescribed by each department, with no overlapping courses. A combined or special major may be designed in consultation with the Class Dean and chairs of the appropriate departments, and with the approval of the Committee on Programs and Academic Standing. Committee approval is not needed for a double major that comprises all the course requirements of two majors with one integrating senior project, but the form designated for such a double major must be filed with the Registrar and the two departments.

Apart from fulfilling general education requirements and major requirements, a student completes the remainder of the 122-point requirement with elective courses, either within or outside the major department, subject to the approval of the appropriate adviser.

No more than 18 points of studio, performing arts, or professional school courses may be credited toward the A.B. degree. Of these, a maximum of four arts studio courses may be credited. A maximum of six courses in instrumental instruction may be credited (except for Music majors and minors, who may receive credit for eight, including piano instruction). A maximum of six studio courses in Theatre may be credited (except for Theatre majors who may receive credit for 24 points of studio).

One-point dance technique courses taken by non-dance majors for credit are also included in the existing 18-point maximum which may be credited toward the degree. A maximum of six courses in dance technique may be credited (except for Dance majors).

Exceptions to this rule are allowed only for courses in the major field or for courses taken in fulfillment of requirements for double and joint degree programs with professional schools of the University. A maximum of 24 points may be credited for studio or performance courses in the major field. A minimum of 90 points of traditional liberal arts courses is required for the student who majors in such a field; for all other majors, a minimum of 102 points of such courses is required.

Minors

The selection of a minor field of study is optional. A minor requires at least five courses (three of which must be qualifying Barnard or Columbia courses), each worth 3 or more points, and may be requested by any student having a major after she has completed a minimum of three courses in the minor field. Requirements depend on the minor chosen (see individual department curriculum statements); courses are selected in consultation with the department chair. Courses for the major and minor may not overlap (except by petition from the minor department's chair, in cases where the minor requires more than 18 points, the major requires more than 40 points, the overlapping courses are required for both major and minor, and the request is for no more than two overlapping courses). Minor courses may also be used in satisfaction of general education requirements. To qualify for the minor, a course must be letter-graded A+ to C-.