Nov 29, 2020  
Course Catalog 2012-2013 
Course Catalog 2012-2013 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

The College of Arts and Sciences

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: College of Arts and Sciences, Degree Programs and Requirements

You may wish to consult information about using this catalog located here: Using the Online Catalog to My Advantage 


Click on a link to be taken to the entry below.

Liberal arts education stands at the center of undergraduate work in the College of Arts and Sciences, and is the basis of the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. For students interested in earning the BA in conjunction with other undergraduate degrees, Oberlin offers the double degree, a five-year program leading to the BA in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Bachelor of Music (BMus) degree in the Conservatory of Music. Students may also earn the Oberlin BA in conjunction with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Engineering by spending three years at Oberlin and two at an engineering school. See below for more information on both of those joint degree programs.

The core of the College of Arts and Sciences is a faculty dedicated to the liberal arts model of excellent teaching combined with ongoing engagement in scholarship and creative work. The curriculum offered by this faculty is notable for its extensive involvement with inherited and evolving forms of knowledge.

The Arts and Sciences curriculum is organized into three divisions and more than thirty departments and programs:

Arts and Humanities Division: Art, Cinema Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, Creative Writing, East Asian Studies, English, French and Italian, German, Hispanic Studies, Jewish Studies, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Rhetoric and Composition, Russian, and Theater and Dance.
Social and Behavioral Sciences Division: African American Studies, Anthropology, Comparative American Studies, Economics, History, Politics, Psychology, and Sociology.
Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division: Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science, Geology, Mathematics, Neuroscience, and Physics and Astronomy.

For the most part, courses offered by departments are offered within the principal division of the department. Many interdisciplinary departments and programs also offer courses within more than one division. For a full listing of the courses offered within the College of Arts and Sciences, see the Courses section of the catalog.

Though not listed as part of the three divisions of the College, courses in the Athletics and Physical Education Department allow participation in physical activities and the study of physical education. Students are encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities.

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences, working closely with faculty advisors and following the requirements below, take responsibility for their education in designing an educational program appropriate to their interests, needs, and long-term goals.

The BA Degree

The BA is a liberal arts degree that recognizes both the breadth and the depth of a student’s work. An Oberlin BA graduate has spent four years pursuing a rich and balanced curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Because of Oberlin’s belief in the importance of residential education, the BA is largely earned in residence at Oberlin, though some students transfer college-level credits earned at other institutions before attending Oberlin. Many students include study away, whether in the United States or abroad, as a part of their BA work. Ordinarily, most students finish their BA degree with a final semester in residence.

The curriculum of Oberlin College provides many opportunities for students to pursue fields of interest in ways reflecting the characteristics of breadth and depth typical of a liberal education. By selecting a major, students engage in the study of a particular discipline, or field, in depth. Breadth in an Oberlin education comes from the opportunity to explore a number of different fields of inquiry.

In order to assist in achieving breadth, Oberlin has general curriculum requirements that emphasize study in each of the three broad divisions of the College (arts and humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics), while also insuring that a student has achieved proficiency in writing and in quantitative skills, as well as having studied cultures different from his or her own and become familiar with a range of scholarly approaches in subjects studied. Students are also encouraged to achieve proficiency in a foreign language. These and other requirements are explained in more detail below.

To achieve intensive training in a chosen area of knowledge, BA students must pursue a major in one of more than forty areas of specialization. Students decide upon a major by the end of the second year of study. This allows time in the first two years to take a variety of courses, to discuss areas of interest with faculty members and other students, to rediscover a forgotten interest, or to explore a new field. Some students design their own major under the Individual Major program.

In many departments, students may also declare a minor, which involves less coursework than the major. Students may also pursue a concentration, an integrated, interdisciplinary program of study, which may complement or strengthen a traditional major by extending some of its content or methodology across other disciplines.

In order to earn a BA degree, or pursue a major, minor, or concentration in Arts and Sciences, a student must be enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The requirements for the BA are described below under Graduation Requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences.


Combined Liberal Arts and Engineering Program.  

The 3-2 Engineering Program is designed to develop within students not just the requisite grounding in science and mathematics, but also the creativity, effectiveness in communication, and sensitivity to real-world problems that are hallmarks of successful engineers. In the program, students pursue studies in the liberal arts, including mathematics and sciences, during three years at Oberlin and then complete an accredited schedule of engineering courses during two years at an affiliated engineering school. At the end of five years, students receive two degrees: a BA from Oberlin and a BS in Engineering from the engineering school. The latter degree allows recipients to sit for the professional licensing examination for engineers. Oberlin’s partners for the 3-2 program are Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech; Pasadena, California), Columbia University (New York) and Washington University (St. Louis).

To ensure fulfillment of entry requirements at partner engineering schools, students are encouraged to discuss their interest in the program as early as possible with Oberlin’s engineering advisor. Because students in this program spend only three years at Oberlin, they must satisfy modified general requirements for the Oberlin degree:

1. At least 84 credit hours, no more than 63 hours of which may be in a single division and no more than 42 hours of which may be in a single department or program.
2. Two Winter Term credits.
3. At least four semesters in residence at Oberlin or on Oberlin College programs, completing not less than 56 hours of College work. Ordinarily, the last 12 Oberlin credit hours must be taken while in residence.
4. The following general requirements are more completely specified in the section “Graduation Requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences” in this catalog:
• Writing proficiency;
• Quantitative proficiency;
• Nine credit hours in each of the three divisions of the College;
• Cultural Diversity. 

The BA Degree and Pre-Professional Development

An Oberlin BA degree is excellent preparation for a wide variety of careers. Oberlin graduates frequently pursue some form of graduate study. Those interested in graduate work in Arts and Sciences find their work in their major and related fields excellent preparation for graduate school. Students interested in attending professional schools can rely on the depth and breadth of their liberal arts education as well as specific support from the institution as they prepare for careers in business, law, medicine, and education.

Business Careers. Many Oberlin graduates pursue graduate programs or careers in business. Graduate schools of business welcome Oberlin applicants as students with a solid liberal arts background. An undergraduate degree in business is neither required nor, in many cases, desired for acceptance into these schools. Students considering graduate work in business may major in virtually any area of the liberal arts. They are advised to take introductory courses in economics, mathematics and computer science—areas often required for admission to, and recommended as preparation for, graduate programs in business. Please see the Office of Career Services for further advice.

Pre-Law. Many Oberlin students enter law school after graduation. Information on general requirements for law admissions can be found in the Office of Career Services or by asking faculty designated as pre-law advisors. A list of these advisors is available in the Office of Career Services and the Office of the Dean of Studies. Normally, a student is expected to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in either the second semester of the junior year or in the first semester of the senior year.

No one major, including the Law and Society Major, should be considered as key for preparing for the study of law. However, students interested in law school may wish to look over the core courses, core research seminars, and related courses listed under “Law and Society.” These courses contain subject matter relevant to the law, and are helpful in developing analytic skills essential to the study of law.

Pre-Medical. Students planning to apply to medical school may major in any subject provided they also complete pre-medical requirements. Early in their academic careers at Oberlin they should discuss their plans with one of the Health Careers advisors. For a list of advisors and other information, please see

Most medical schools require one year of biology with laboratory, one year of physics with laboratory, and chemistry with laboratory through organic chemistry. Students intending to take this work at Oberlin should note:
1. Chemistry 101, 102, 205, and 254 normally are chosen to complete the chemistry requirement. An alternative to Chemistry 254 is Chemistry 325, 326.
2. Biology 100/101 and 213/214 will meet minimum biology requirements. Premedical students often elect additional biology courses, especially Biology 102 and 312.
3. The Physics 103, 104 sequence is the most common means of satisfying the physics requirement. An alternative sequence is Physics 110, 111.

Students should consult the appropriate departmental listings for descriptions of these offerings and their prerequisites. Most medical schools also require a year of English and some require one or two semesters of mathematics. A year of calculus or a semester each of calculus and statistics usually satisfies the mathematics requirement. A few schools specify or recommend one or more courses not mentioned above. To determine requirements of specific medical schools students should consult the most recent edition of the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) published by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This publication is available in the Science Library and the Office of Career Services.

The required Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is administered at Oberlin and elsewhere in April and August. Information about the test, including deadlines for filing applications and application forms, is available from the Office of Career Services. Students intending to enroll in medical school immediately after graduation must complete the minimum science requirements listed above by the end of their junior year and take the MCAT in April (preferably), or in August (if more time is required for review). Others defer the MCAT and applications to medical schools until the senior year or later in order to complete premedical requirements and explore other interests. In any case, it is not necessary or advisable to take more than two mathematics or science courses in either semester of the first year.

Education Careers. Although there is no department of education at Oberlin, students are offered a number of opportunities to pursue an interest in teaching and other careers in education. For courses related to the role of education in society, the role of education as a profession, and educational pedagogy, please see the section of the course listings entitled “Education.” Supervised experience in tutoring and classroom teaching is also possible. The Bonner Center for Service and Learning (, and the Office of Career Services ( may also be consulted.

Graduation Requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences

Students are responsible for compliance with the institutional graduation requirements stated in the Oberlin College Course Catalog in effect when they first matriculate at Oberlin, unless action by an appropriate faculty body specifically directs otherwise.

The Bachelor of Arts degree is conferred upon students who have successfully completed the following requirements:

1. A major. See below for further requirements about the major.

2. Three Winter Term credits. See the Academic Policies section of the catalog.

3. At least 112 credit hours, subject to the limits and requirements below.

a. Maximum hours in one department or program. No more than 56 hours applied toward graduation may be earned in a single department or program. Therefore, at least 56 hours must be earned outside any single department or program. For purposes of this requirement only, course work in two different languages in the same department or program will be counted as though in two different departments or programs in the Humanities.

b.Maximum hours in a single division. No more than 84 hours within a single division (i.e., Arts and Humanities; Social and Behavioral Sciences; Natural Sciences and Mathematics) may be applied toward graduation. Therefore at least 28 hours must be taken outside the division with the highest number of credits. (For example, if a student chooses a major in the Arts and Humanities Division, he or she must earn at least 28 hours in a combination of courses from Social and Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and courses that are Extra-Divisional.) Students in the Combined Liberal Arts and Engineering Program may apply no more than 63 hours in a single division towards graduation. (Students in this program have different graduation requirements; these are described in the Engineering section of this catalog.)

c. Maximum hours in Experimental College (ExCo) courses. No more than five hours in Experimental College (ExCo) courses may be counted toward graduation.

d. Liberal arts credits for double-degree students. Double-degree candidates must complete a minimum of 62 hours of non-music liberal arts credit in addition to the music credits required for the Bachelor of Music degree. For more details, see the section on the double-degree Program.

e. Distribution requirement (9-9-9). At least nine credit hours are required in each of the three divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences, taken from at least two departments or programs within each of these divisions. For the purposes of this requirement, course work in two different languages in the same department or program will be counted as though in two different departments or programs in the Humanities. For students in the College of Arts and Sciences who are not in the double-degree Program, courses in the Conservatory will be counted toward the Humanities (HU) distribution requirement.

f. Cultural Diversity (CD) requirement. Students must earn at least nine credit hours in courses with the CD (cultural diversity) designation. The nine credit hours must be earned in at least two different departments or programs. These courses may count simultaneously toward the nine hours required in each division. All students, including transfer students, double-degree students, and students changing divisions from Conservatory to College, are subject to the cultural diversity requirement. The Multicultural Studies Committee administers the requirement.

The requirement is based on the belief that well-educated persons in today’s interdependent world should study and analyze cultures other than their own. By observing distinctions in class, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, and sexual orientation, students can comprehend the differences that have historically set social groups apart from one another and develop a greater capacity for intellectual open-mindedness and tolerance.

By establishing the areas of coursework described below, the faculty recognizes the different approaches to cultural diversity. Some courses provide appreciation of specific cultures and societies, whether non-Western or Western, through the study of language, history, or thought. Others stress cross-cultural approaches in understanding cultural differences.

The cultural diversity requirement is founded on the belief that breadth in a liberal arts education involves exposure not only to the three divisions of higher learning (the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences), but also to cross-cultural and multicultural analysis. The faculty views the cultural diversity requirement as an expression of the College’s longstanding commitment to a genuinely pluralistic community of scholars.

The many courses designated CD offer students considerable breadth in the study of cultural diversity. In all, this catalog contains several hundred CD courses representing more than 20 departments and programs. Courses designated as CD include the following:

• courses whose primary emphasis is on cultures whose origins lie outside the Western tradition (including various minority cultures in the United States)
• courses whose primary emphasis is on methods of analyzing and interpreting cultural differences (e.g., differences of language, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and class)
• courses whose primary emphasis is on cultural pluralism within the Western tradition
• courses taught in a language other than English.

4. Writing Proficiency (WR). The writing requirement applies to all students in the College of Arts and Sciences. The requirement also applies to all transfer students and double-degree students. Students changing divisions from Conservatory to College or becoming double-degree candidates are also subject to the requirement. The Rhetoric and Composition Department administers the requirement.

The writing requirement is usually satisfied in either of the following ways:

1. By a score of 5 on the English Language/Composition or Literature/Composition Advanced Placement Examination; by a score of 710 on the old SAT II Writing Test (not the current SAT); or
2. By certification of proficiency in writing from two different Oberlin College instructors who have taught the student in specially designated “writing-intensive” (WRi) or “writing-certification” (WR) courses in two different departments or programs. One of these may be a private reading course or a winter term course (by approval of the Chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Composition).

Writing-Certification Courses (WR) are those in which a substantial amount of writing (approximately 15 pages) is required but which do not devote special attention to instruction in writing except at the instructor’s option. Instructors will evaluate papers for writing ability and will decide, at the end of the course, whether the student is to receive a writing proficiency credit, independent of the course grade. To fulfill the graduation requirement, students need to earn two certification credits from writing-certification or writing-intensive coursework in two different departments.

Writing-Intensive Courses (WRi) are those in which substantial essay writing (approximately 15 pages) is assigned and writing pedagogy is stressed to a significant degree. The normal expectation is that the instructor will introduce the student to the methods of writing papers for the discipline in which the course is offered. Several papers will be assigned during the course; students will receive detailed evaluations of their writing skills as well as content; some time will be devoted to the discussion of student writing, both in class and in conferences; and a certain amount of rewriting/revision will normally be expected. While there is an emphasis on writing instruction in these courses, students may earn a certification credit only if the instructor judges their work to be proficient.

A passing grade in a WR or WRi course will not necessarily result in a writing-proficiency credit; certification will depend on the instructor’s appraisal of the student’s writing ability.

Under special circumstances students may apply to satisfy the requirement either by submitting work done for writing intensive courses at other institutions transferred for credit by Oberlin College.

Students who have unusual difficulty completing the Writing Requirement should contact the Chair of the Rhetoric and Composition Department as soon as possible to determine the best means of satisfying the requirement.

Students are strongly urged to take at least one step toward achieving writing proficiency as soon as possible, preferably during their first year.

Students seeking information about the Conservatory’s writing requirement should consult “Requirements for Graduation” in the Conservatory section of this catalog.

A list of criteria for evaluating writing proficiency is available at

5. Quantitative Proficiency (QP). This requirement promotes quantitative proficiency and provides a focus for a College-wide commitment to extend and promote the teaching and application of quantitative skills. The faculty views the QP requirement in terms of its goals, not in terms of a narrowly defined set of mathematical or computational skills. Thus, the requirement is intended to urge students to develop the ability to apply logical thinking to complex problems, to encourage a deeper understanding of numbers, to foster mathematical modeling and incorporating the computer as a potent quantitative tool in many disciplines, and to demonstrate how quantitative practices and techniques are essential to the understanding of important societal issues.

All students entering Oberlin College and all students who change divisions from the Conservatory to the College or become double-degree students must earn QP certification for the BA degree. The Quantitative Proficiency Committee administers this graduation requirement.

Students may satisfy the quantitative proficiency requirement in any of the following three ways:

1. by earning credit in a course designated “Quantitative Proficiency Certification-Full” (QPf);
2. by certification of quantitative proficiency from the Oberlin College instructors who taught the student in any two of the courses designated “Quantitative Proficiency Certification-Half” (QPh) (one of these courses may, by approval of the Quantitative Proficiency Committee, be a private reading course or a Winter Term project); or
3. by one of the following scores on Advanced Placement Examinations:
• 4 or 5 on the AB or BC exam in Calculus or 4 or 5 on the AB subscore of the BC exam in Calculus;
• 4 or 5 on the Chemistry exam;
• 4 or 5 on the Physics B or C exam;
• 3, 4, or 5 on the Computer Science A or AB exam;
• 4 or 5 on the Statistics exam.

A passing grade in a course designated QPf automatically results in certification of quantitative proficiency. Progress toward certification in a course designated QPh depends upon the instructor’s appraisal of that proficiency. In any case, students should gain quantitative proficiency certification in their first two years in order to have a wider range of course offerings available to them in subsequent years. Normally, students will satisfy the Quantitative Proficiency Requirement through course work taken at Oberlin or through the Advanced Placement Program. Credit for a specific Oberlin course among those designated QPf even if earned by transfer of credit from another institution, will count for purposes of quantitative certification as if the course were taken at Oberlin. Transfer of credit for one or several courses equivalent to Oberlin courses designated QPh will not satisfy part or all of the Quantitative Proficiency Requirement under any circumstances.

6.  Residence Requirement. Students must complete at least 56 hours of Oberlin College work. Students must also spend at least four semesters in residence at Oberlin or enrolled in Oberlin programs. Ordinarily the last semester must be spent in residence at Oberlin.

Major and Minor Study

To provide depth in their education, students must, before completion of 56 semester hours, elect a department or program in which to do major study. Those who have not declared a major after completing 56 hours will be allowed to enroll only with the permission of the Dean of Studies. A student may subsequently elect a different major and drop the previously declared major with the consent of the heads of the departments or programs involved. Students may elect to do major work in more than one department.

The major allows students to pursue their learning beyond the introductory level, through advanced courses in a discipline, and in many cases in seminars or research courses. Most of the departments and programs offer students one or more majors. Interdisciplinary majors are offered in a number of other curricular areas, such as Archaeological Studies, Environmental Studies, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Latin American Studies, Law and Society, Russian and East European Studies, and Third World Studies. Concentrations are offered in International Studies and Cognitive Sciences. Although only one major is required for the BA degree, some students pursue more than one major in order to broaden the ways in which they prepare for life and careers after Oberlin. There is no thesis requirement at Oberlin, but many majors require students to engage in an extended project of research or creative activity.
Each department or program determines the detailed requirements for completion of the major or majors in that department or program. The requirements that apply to a student are those published in the most recent edition of this Catalog at the time a student completes the second semester of his or her sophomore year. These requirements may be altered as necessary in individual cases by the departments or programs. All majors consist of no fewer than 24 credits.

Students also can pursue an Individual Major in an area that cannot be encompassed in an existing major. With the help of at least two faculty advisors, students wishing to pursue an Individual Major propose their own program of study. Such proposals are normally submitted at the end of the sophomore year. The program must consist of at least 30 hours with no more than 12 hours at the introductory level, must include courses from more than one department, and usually must not have more than two-thirds of the total hours in any one department. For further requirements and guidelines for the Individual Major, consult the Individual Major Handbook available in the Office of the Dean of Studies or at

Minor. The minor is a way to focus and record a significant area of a student’s work, without the more stringent requirements of a major in that field. Normally a minor consists of at least four courses totaling at least 15 credits and including at least two components of work above the introductory level. Students pursuing minors declare the minor with the Office of the Registrar prior to graduation. The completion of a minor is noted on the transcript.

Concentrations. Students may choose to pursue a concentration in addition to a major. A concentration is an integrated, interdisciplinary program of study, which may complement or strengthen a traditional major by extending some of its content or methodology across other disciplines. Students may choose a concentration unrelated to their major. Students graduating from Oberlin must also fulfill the requirements of a major; if they choose, they may complete a concentration, but it does not substitute for a major. The completion of a concentration is noted on the transcript. There are currently concentrations in Cognitive Sciences, International Studies, and Peace and Conflict Studies.

Honors. Many majors offer Honors Programs to students of proven ability and independence. Departments and programs may, if they desire, open their Honors Programs to students other than their own majors. Students wishing to enter the Honors Program should consult the chairperson of their major department no later than the beginning of the second semester of the junior year.

Honors projects vary but always involve independent work. This may be done in seminars or private readings, in research, in the preparation of a thesis, exhibition, or performance, always under the supervision of appropriate faculty advisors. Students in the program are eligible for certain academic privileges such as release from tests and examinations and access to special library and laboratory facilities. At the end of the senior year, Honors candidates may be excused from final examinations in the department in which they are doing honors work and, at the discretion of the instructor, in courses in closely related subjects. Every candidate for Honors must pass a special examination near the end of the senior year (written or oral or both). Outside examiners may be invited to conduct the final examination of candidates.

An Honors candidate whose project demonstrates the requisite degree of excellence is awarded the BA degree with  Departmental Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors. Recommendations for the award of honors are made to the Committee on Honors at Graduation by departments, by programs with majors, or by the Individual Major Committee. A department or program may recommend any student for Honors if that department’s criteria are met, regardless of the student’s specific major. The Individual Major Committee may make such recommendations only for students whose Honors work is in the field of their individual majors. The Committee on Honors at Graduation makes the final decisions on all recommendations for Honors, maintaining reasonably uniform standards for the award of Honors at graduation.

Senior Scholars. Exceptional students who wish to pursue independent study and research during their senior year may apply to the Committee on Honors at Graduation for Senior Scholar status, no later than the beginning of the second semester of the junior year. Successful candidates must have an outstanding record during their first three years and an unusual capacity for independent work, including a 3.5 minimum GPA and a strong endorsement from at least one faculty member familiar with their work. Senior Scholars must have completed all requirements for a major unless waived by the relevant department or program or by the Individual Major Committee. Senior Scholars are subject to the normal graduation requirements, and must have completed the following requirements prior to their senior year: 9-9-9 distribution, writing proficiency, quantitative proficiency, and cultural diversity. Candidates are selected in the spring of their junior year on the basis of applications submitted to the Committee. The designation “Senior Scholar” on the diploma will be granted by the Committee on Honors at Graduation when the quality of work merits graduation with distinction.


Each Oberlin student has an academic advisor for help in planning an educational program consonant with the student’s interests and goals. The advisor can offer guidance in evaluating academic strengths and weaknesses and provide information on Oberlin’s curriculum and regulations. Entering students are assigned faculty advisors, usually in areas of stated interest. A student may change advisors at any time by asking another faculty member to serve and by notifying the Office of the Dean of Studies. Students who have declared a major are advised by a member of the department in which they are majoring.

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: College of Arts and Sciences, Degree Programs and Requirements