Navigating General Education

As you work through your new First Semester Schedule Questionnaire,  you will be asked about your interest in the various General Education categories. Yep, that’s right, every student will need to take courses in several general education areas and this broad spectrum of courses will help round out your liberal arts education. It’s good for you.

Note that courses used for gen ed can also be used to satisfy major requirements. (And note that you can find advice on the major programs back on the main New Student Guide page). So, for example, if you plan to major in Physics and decide to take PHYS 105-106: University Physics I & II your first year to get started on the major, you will have also satisfied the Natural Science general education requirement with those 2 courses. There are lots more rules about gen ed courses. For instance, in most cases, you cannot use a single course to satisfy two different gen ed requirements. Don’t worry so much about all of those rules at this time. You’ll learn them during your first year at UMW and by reading the Undergraduate Academic Catalog. For now, just concentrate on picking some subjects that interest you, and your Student Success Coordinator will make certain that you get started on the right track based on your interests.

In addition to your FSEM, staff will pre-enroll you in a few additional courses in order to help you to build your first semester schedule. Our professional advisors know what courses you’ll need depending on your major interest, previously earned credits, and other co-curricular interests. Nevertheless, we’d like to know your personal interests as well! Take a moment to give us an idea of what courses interest you in the various general education categories below. Before each category is a brief description.

Quantitative Reasoning

Quantitative reasoning courses teach students to identify reliable data, to weigh evidence and understand probabilities, to think critically to solve complex problems in a variety of contexts, to make connections to other disciplines, and to interpret and communicate their results while recognizing and avoiding the fallacies and pitfalls which frequently surround the use of quantitative information.

This requirement may be met by any of several courses in Data Science, Mathematics, and Statistics.

Natural Science

Courses that meet the Natural Science designation provide a thorough grounding in the principles of a natural science discipline as well as an understanding of how scientific claims are developed and presented through the application of the scientific method. The Natural Science course will enable students to appreciate how scientific information is applied to solve specific, practical issues and problems in the natural sciences. The required course includes a laboratory which reinforces the concepts and provides hands-on experience using the scientific method.

This requirement may be met by any of several courses in Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Science, Geography, and Physics. Students wishing to take CHEM 111 must first take the placement test, which will be offered prior to New Student Orientation (available May 1). Additional directions on placement testing will be sent via email.

Arts and Literature

This category provides a renewed focus on literature, visual and performing arts and gives students the tools and language to discuss and understand the works of others. It also provides students with an understanding of the techniques required to produce their own creative work and/or the tools of critical analysis via historical, analytical, theoretical or aesthetic frameworks. Through these courses the student is able to develop methods required for engagement in the aesthetic, ethical, moral, material and content driven issues that works of art, literature and performance can raise.

This requirement may be met by any of several courses in Art History, Classics, English, Historic Preservation, Music History and Literature, Studio Arts, and Theatre.


Human societies find clarity, compassion, and a richer understanding of the human experience through the study of cultures, history, and philosophical and religious thought. Courses that focus on the understanding of history, intellectual works, and human culture help students discover and appreciate the complexity of the human experience. Study of the humanities promotes the development of critical inquiry skills and historical perspective, which helps students be able to understand differing views and experiences while examining their own and others’ beliefs.

This requirement may be met by any of several courses in Anthropology, Art History, Classics, Historic Preservation, History, Linguistics, Mathematics, Music History, Philosophy, Religion, and Theatre.

Social Science

The study of social world helps students to better understand the role of cooperation and conflict in and between societies and in social relationships. Understanding the forces that impel and interfere with social connections fosters appreciation for the complexities involved in social decision-making, encourages exploration of alternatives for addressing social barriers, confronts the ethical questions which stem from the choices involved in social engagement, and ultimately, aids in preparing students to be effective decision-makers in their own communities.

This requirement may be met by any of several courses in Anthropology, Economics, Geography, Linguistics, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology.


In today’s multicultural and global society, communication is the key to understanding other peoples and cultures and the ability to communicate in more than one language is increasingly becoming an essential skill and one that is sought after by employers. Research has repeatedly shown that learning a foreign language has multiple added advantages including superior problem-solving skills, increased empathy, and learning a second language makes students more open to different ways of thinking and out-of-the-box solutions.

Intermediate competence in a second language is needed to meet this requirement (course level 201). UMW offers several different languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Intermediate competency in a second language may be satisfied by completion of a Level IV course in high school as verified by high school transcript. Prior to Orientation, you will have the opportunity to take a language placement test in French, German, Latin or Spanish – if these are one of the languages you are planning to study. The result you obtain on the test will advise you about the level of the language where you should start out. If your score is high enough, you will be deemed to have met this requirement. Demonstrating competence as a result of the test will not earn you any course credits; it just means you have met the language requirement. “Back” credit in the amount of three credits will be awarded to a student who took the test, then takes the same language at the level in which (s)he places on the exam, and successfully completes that level with a B- grade or higher.