General education at Earlham

As a liberal arts college, Earlham offers multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary majors and minors in which students cultivate deep and specific knowledge and experience. Equally important, the College expects every student to develop broad, general skills and proficiencies across the curriculum: visual and performing arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected and complex, we must be able to make use of ideas, not only within traditional spheres of knowledge but across different intellectual and experiential boundaries. Thus, Earlham aims at a general and deeply multidisciplinary education for all students who seek an Earlham degree.

Students are expected to complete six credits in each academic division of the College: humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and visual and performing arts.

  • In the humanities, 100-level language courses do not count toward the divisional requirement.
  • In the natural sciences, MATH 110 and MATH 151 do not count toward the divisional requirement.
  • For courses that are cross-listed in two divisions, students will receive divisional credit based on the listing they use to register.
  • For courses that are cross-listed with a division and an interdivisional program (see list below), students will receive divisional credit based on the home division of the teaching faculty member.
    • African and African American studies
    • Environmental sustainability
    • Film studies
    • Peace and global studies
    • Women’s, gender, sexuality studies
  • Courses with unexpected or non-existent divisional associations will be clearly marked in the Curriculum Guide.

First-year students are required to complete an Earlham Seminar I and II. In addition, all students must complete a designated Writing Intensive course within their academic major.

Earlham Seminar (ES) courses teach first-year students general methods of interpretation in reading, writing and classroom discussion that provide a basis for skills they will continue to develop throughout their college career at Earlham and throughout their lives. The Earlham Seminar will also engage first-year students in exploring a topic of interest in an intimate, challenging and collaborative learning environment. These seminars introduce students to successful participation in a learning community and encourage new ways to engage and understand the world. Earlham Seminars share many of these distinctive characteristics:

  • Investigation of a topic and a set of related questions, using multiple ways of knowing, in order to examine intentionally how knowledge is constructed.
  • Grounding in an academic discipline while examining issues with an interdisciplinary scope.
  • Readings that engage a range of perspectives, discourses and values.
  • Emphasis on reading, reflection, writing and oral communication skills, and providing opportunities for students to critique and analyze information, construct arguments, listen interpretively and demonstrate an understanding of various perspectives.
  • Encouragement of personal creativity and confidence in ideas and the development of cooperative learning and research skills.
  • Sharpen interpretive reading skills for analyzing and interpreting different kinds of texts.
  • Strengthen general skills required for coherence and clarity in written expression.
  • Communicate intelligently and effectively both in writing and through participation in group discussion.
  • Become better, more constructive and more open-minded listeners.
  • Develop skills that support and enhance life-long learning and engaged, committed citizenship.


Earlham Seminar I – Local
Each Local Seminar will involve:

  1. The physical exploration of some aspect of Richmond or the surrounding region, in connection with the course subject matter (i.e. moving from within the classroom to outside of it: “inside-out”);
  2. An encounter with relevant material or expertise from Richmond or the surrounding region with the course instructor (i.e. bringing something beyond the classroom inside of it: “outside-in”); and
  3. Student reflection on their local engagement in a written assignment.


Earlham Seminar II – Global
The Global Seminar should model for students that complex transnational issues require:

  1. A depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise not restricted to a single discipline.
  2. Multiple perspectives and effective collaboration across cultural and other differences.
  3. Ongoing inquiry often without closure, involving a variety of strategies.

An effective education should further students’ ability to use analytical reasoning. Earlham’s general education requirement in this area recognizes two distinct, though related, types of analytical reasoning: abstract and quantitative. While it is certainly desirable for students to improve their abilities in both types of reasoning, Earlham students take one course carrying a minimum of three credit hours, choosing from a list of designated classes in either abstract or quantitative reasoning.

Abstract reasoning

Students may fulfill the analytical reasoning requirement through study in abstract reasoning by completing one course carrying a minimum of three semester hours of credit from a list of designated courses. Courses in abstract reasoning may fulfill other general education requirements as well as major and minor requirements.

The ability to recognize patterns is a hallmark of nearly every aspect of human cognition. In the realm of human knowledge, this characteristic is manifested as a process of generalization in which we form idealized models of the objects of our study. These abstract models, which suppress the detail that distinguishes individual instances of a class in favor of the properties that form its common structure, are what allow us to reason in the face of complexity.

Not surprisingly, then, the use of abstract models is a foundation of the analytic aspects of almost all areas of human knowledge. To a large degree, systematic knowledge in nearly every discipline is based on a body of abstract models; advances in these disciplines consist largely of extending existing models or constructing new ones. Experience both in working with abstract models and in understanding the process of abstraction is helpful in mastery of the theoretical aspects of every discipline and is critical for those who would work at the boundaries of our knowledge.

While courses in abstract reasoning are intended, in part, to assure that students develop skill in applying abstract models, they go beyond that. These courses turn the process of abstraction on itself. They explore the common properties of abstract models and of the processes used in building and applying them. They provide experience in building abstract models from a collection of instances. In study within their individual disciplines, students learn specific sets of abstract models and learn to apply them to the objects under study. In abstract reasoning courses, they learn to abstract models from those objects.

Courses qualifying for credit in abstract reasoning typically share these characteristics:

  • They focus substantially on the properties of classes of abstract models and operations that apply to them.
  • They provide experience in generalizing from specific instances to appropriate classes of abstract models.
  • They provide experience in solving concrete problems by a process of abstraction and manipulation at the abstract level. Typically this experience is provided by word problems that require students to formalize real-world problems in abstract terms, to solve them with techniques that apply at that abstract level and to convert the solutions back into concrete results.

Quantitative reasoning

One of the key forms of knowing in modern, technological society is that which comes through the use and critical evaluation of quantitative information. The ability to interpret such information is fundamental to effective and responsible decision-making. Students may fulfill the analytical reasoning requirement through study in quantitative reasoning by completing one course carrying a minimum of three semester hours of credit from a list of designated courses. Courses in quantitative reasoning may fulfill other general education requirements (e.g., scientific inquiry) as well as major and minor requirements.

General education courses in quantitative reasoning foster students’ abilities to generate, interpret and evaluate quantitative information. In particular, quantitative reasoning courses help students develop abilities in such areas as:

  • Using and interpreting formulas, graphs and tables.
  • Representing mathematical ideas symbolically, graphically, numerically and verbally.
  • Using mathematical and statistical ideas to solve problems in a variety of contexts.
  • Using simple models such as linear dependence, exponential growth or decay, or normal distribution.
  • Understanding basic statistical ideas such as averages, variability and probability.
  • Making estimates and checking the reasonableness of answers.
  • Recognizing the limitations of mathematical and statistical methods.

Liberal education today must include preparation for effective citizenship in a diverse multicultural society and in a pluralistic global setting. The perspectives on diversity requirement encourage students to reflect on identity formation and its place in social, global and historical contexts, as well as to develop an awareness of their own and others’ worldviews. To achieve these ends, students satisfy the requirement in three areas:

  1. Domestic: Students must complete one course (a minimum of three semester hours) with a United States focus that meets the criteria below.
  2. International: Students must complete one course (a minimum of three semester hours) with a focus outside of the United States, that meets the criteria below.
  3. Language: Students must complete two basic courses (a minimum of 10 semester hours) or demonstrate equivalent competency by examination in a designated second language.


Domestic diversity

We exist within a history of systemic cultural, political and economic oppression and privilege. In the domestic diversity portion of the requirement, students examine the ways groups define themselves and have been defined within this context. The groups addressed in this requirement are usually identified in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, class or ethnicity. Courses may occasionally address other socially constructed categories that have been used to name and control, and for which there are significant bodies of scholarship.

Courses with a domestic diversity designation meet three or more of these criteria:

  • Address the ways marginalized groups define and express themselves and the contexts in which these definitions are constructed.
  • Examine the ways in which definition is an act of power.
  • Discuss how such global forces as imperialism, globalization and socialism have shaped ideas, groups, institutions and/or the natural environment.
  • Explore theories of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity or other socially-constructed categories.
  • Place the above categories in historical or contemporary contexts.


International diversity

Learning to see through the eyes of other peoples and cultures is essential to becoming a citizen of the world. In the international diversity portion of the requirement, students study cultures outside of the United States, examining these cultures’ self-definitions and their interaction with external forces. This invites an expanded worldview and greater understanding of cultural perspective.

Courses with an international diversity designation meet three or more of the following criteria:

  • Address the self-definition and self-expression of particular cultures.
  • Use comparative analysis of different cultural perspectives.
  • Study countries or cultures using theories of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity or other socially-constructed categories.
  • Discuss how such global forces as imperialism, globalization and socialism have shaped ideas, groups, institutions and/or the natural environment.
  • Examine the concepts used to interpret and compare cultures.
  • Study the past or present interactions of groups or cultures within their political, economic, ideological or natural contexts.



Language is at the heart of the human experience. Studying languages in their cultural contexts helps us to develop greater awareness of ourselves, of other cultures and of our relationships to those cultures. A knowledge of other languages and other cultures is also a powerful key to successful communication: knowing how, when and why to say what to whom. Furthermore, studying languages opens connections to additional bodies of knowledge in the arts, social sciences, natural sciences and domains outside our present frames of reference. Through comparing and contrasting languages and cultures, we develop greater insight into our own languages and cultures and realize that there are multiple ways of viewing the world. Participation in multilingual communities in a variety of contexts and in culturally appropriate ways leads to fuller engagement in the global community.

To fulfill the language component of the perspectives on diversity requirement, students must:

  • complete one year of one language while at Earlham OR demonstrate language proficiency as judged by the Department of Languages and Cultures.

Students who take a language placement examination and/or who are recommended by the department for a second semester of a language course will satisfy the language requirement by taking that course.

Students who place beyond the point at which the College requires work in a second language do not receive a reduction in the number of credits needed for graduation nor do they earn any credits on their transcript.

For students whose first language is something other than English: Students who propose to use English as their second language will validate their proficiency level in English via either the TOEFL exam, the SAT Reasoning Test or a reasonable equivalent.

Further notes about the diversity requirement:

  • Courses that address both United States and international issues may count for either the domestic or the international part of the diversity requirement, depending on the focus of the course or, when focus is equally weighted, on the preference of the faculty member. A single course may not fulfill both the domestic and international parts of the requirement.
  • Although domestic or international courses must ordinarily provide a minimum of three semester hours, course credit through off-campus programs may be more flexible. For example, two courses meeting appropriate criteria and together providing a minimum of three semester hours may satisfy one part of the diversity requirement.

Wellness at Earlham is defined as an active, lifelong process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more healthy and fulfilling life. Goals of Earlham’s wellness requirement include:

  • Promoting balance among academic, occupational and recreational aspects of life.
  • Providing opportunities to fulfill human needs such as belonging, achieving, competing, participating, socializing, exercising, relaxing and having fun.
  • Promoting positive health and wellness behaviors for individuals and the community.

Wellness is an integral part of general education because understanding and caring for one’s physical, psychological, spiritual and community selfhood is a fundamental prerequisite for all knowing. Further, the wellness requirement promotes a lifelong focus on both personal and community health in the broad sense, and on skills applicable to maintaining bodily kinesthetic, intellectual and emotional effectiveness.

Students may fulfill the wellness requirement by:

  • Completing four wellness activity-based courses
  • Taking and passing one analysis-based course (carrying two or more semester hours) designated as a wellness course AND completing two wellness activity-based courses.

Note: Participating and successfully completing a season of a sport fulfills half of the wellness requirement (either two wellness activity-based courses or one analysis-based course—carrying two or more semester hours—designated as a wellness course). Participating and successfully completing two seasons of a sport completes the wellness requirement. Club sports may only be counted one time toward the requirement and equine studies may count for two wellness activities.

Analysis-based courses carrying the wellness designation may simultaneously satisfy other general education or major requirements for that student if appropriately designated.

Activity-based component: Activity courses aim at promoting physiological health, as reflected in cardiovascular functioning, muscular strength and conditioning, motor coordination skills and flexibility. Activity courses involve regular and extended practice of the activity as approved by the Athletics, Wellness and Physical Education program—typically at least 18 hours spread over seven weeks. Activity courses are ordinarily graded on a credit/no credit basis.

Analysis-based component: Academic Wellness courses focus on the integration of cognitive and experiential learning, connecting experience with strategies for reflection, integration and continuation. Typically courses are personally directed; they focus on building knowledge and skills that contribute to creating wellness in one’s personal life and on helping students make choices toward a more healthy and fulfilling life.

Earlham’s emphasis on community entails a recognition of the individual’s responsibility for the society’s overall approach to wellness. Therefore, Wellness courses focus on a practical approach to the cultural dimensions of health and wellness, including issues of social location and social justice, and incorporate training in how to access and assess information related to wellness. Classroom work may be supplemented by student participation in experiential co-curricular workshops or programs on such topics as sexuality, substance abuse, eating disorders, use of performance-enhancing drugs in athletics, the use of prayer or stress management.

1. Students who matriculate as first-year students (but not transfer students) are expected to complete all or most of their graduation requirements by taking Earlham courses (including approved courses on Earlham off-campus programs). The Curricular Policy Committee (CPC) is unlikely to approve the substitution of more than two non-Earlham courses to fulfill general education requirements or the substitution of more than one non-Earlham course in any single general education area. No more than eight credit hours can transfer toward general education.

2. Transfer students and their advisers should work closely with the College registrar at the earliest opportunity after admission to determine which courses, if any, may be accepted at the time of transfer to meet general education requirements. Earlham has articulation agreements for transfers in place with some specific institutions, and these agreements may be relevant to the general education requirement. Only courses that clearly meet the general education goals as specified will be approved as meeting Earlham’s general education requirements.

3. Substitutions for general education courses from other academic institutions: Students who wish to fulfill a general education requirement by taking a non-Earlham course to meet a general education requirement (for example, a summer course at another institution, or a course through another institution’s off-campus program) must seek approval in advance from the registrar. Petitions for such substitutions are available from the Office of the Registrar. The petition must be signed by the student’s academic adviser.

4. AP credit: Advanced Placement (AP) credits do not count toward Earlham’s general education requirements.

5. IB credit: International Baccalaureate (IB) credit cannot be used to fulfill any of Earlham’s general education requirements.

6. Senior petitions: Students (and their advisers) should be aware that CPC does not accept general education petitions for waivers or substitutions from seniors later than the middle of the semester preceding their final semester at Earlham.

More information

Explore the Earlham College course catalog for a comprehensive view of all course numbers, titles, descriptions, credit load and the majors/minors with which they’re associated.

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We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.