May 27, 2024  
Course Catalog 2017-2018 
Course Catalog 2017-2018 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

The College of Arts and Sciences

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 (ARHU) Social and Behavioral Sciences Division (SSCI) Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division (NSMA)
Art History, Studio Art, and Visual Art Africana Studies 3-2 Engineering
Cinema Studies Anthropology Biology
Classics Archaeological Studies Chemistry and Biochemistry
Comparative Literature Comparative American Studies Computer Science
Creative Writing Economics Geology
Dance Environmental Studies Mathematics
East Asian Studies Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Neuroscience
English History Physics and Astronomy
French and Italian Latin American Studies  
Hispanic Studies Law and Society  
German Politics  
German Studies Psychology  
Greek Sociology  
Hispanic Studies    
Jewish Studies    
Musical Studies    
Rhetoric and Composition    
Russian and East European Studies    




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, classes 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 that has provided 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 a curriculum exploration requirement to encourage students to become familiar with a range of scholarly approaches in different subject areas by exploring the curricula in each of the three broad divisions of the College (arts and humanities, social and behavior sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics). Before graduating, Oberlin students also must develop writing and quantitative and formal reasoning abilities as well as to study cultures different from his or her own. 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. A minimum of 24 full courses or the equivalent/96 credits, of which 22 courses/88 credits must be full academic courses (two half academic courses are the equivalent of one full course). Up to 2 courses/8 credits of the required 24 courses/96 credits may be fulfilled by a combination of co-curricular credits.
2. Two Winter Term projects.
3. At least four semesters in residence at Oberlin or on Oberlin College programs, completing no fewer than 16 full courses/64 credits of work at Oberlin College. Ordinarily, the last 4 full courses/16 credits of Oberlin work must be completed 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:
• Curriculum Exploration;
• Writing;
• Quantitative and Formal Reasoning
• Cultural Diversity. 
5. A minimum GPA of 1.67.


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. Interested students should be aware that some graduate-level business programs require full-time employment experience in a business-related field as a required element of qualification. 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 Career Center 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 Career Center or by asking faculty designated as pre-law advisors. A list of these advisors is available in the Career Center and the Academic Advising Resource Center. 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 at least bioorganic chemistry. Students also need one semester of statistics and may need other courses as described below. Courses providing content in introductory psychology, sociology, or anthropology are also helpful in preparing for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Students are encouraged to take at least one such course.

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.

2. Biology 100 (formerly100/101) and 213 (formerly 213/214) will meet minimum biology requirements. Premedical students often elect additional biology courses, especially Biology 200 (formerly 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.

It is neither necessary nor advisable to take more than two mathematics or science courses in either semester of the first year.

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 Career Center.

The required Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is administered at Oberlin and elsewhere most often in April through August. Information about the test, including deadlines for filing applications and application forms, is available from the Career Center. 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 by June of that same year. Many students defer the MCAT and applications to medical schools until the senior year or later in order to complete premedical requirements and explore other interests.

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 Career Center ( 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.  Minimum course requirement. Students must successfully complete a minimum of 32 full courses or the equivalent, of which at least 30 must be full academic courses (two half academic courses[1] will count as the equivalent of one full course). Up to 2 of the required 32 courses may be fulfilled by a combination of co-curricular[2] credits. (Co-Curricular classes are listed here in the catalog.) This minimum course requirement is subject to the requirements and limits below.

2.  A major.

3.  Three Full Winter Term projects. See the Academic Policies section of the catalog.

4.  General course requirements. The following requirements, Curriculum Exploration, Writing, Quantitative and Formal Reasoning, and Cultural Diversity, must be satisfied with courses successfully completed at Oberlin College[3] with exceptions for transfer students (students who matriculate at another institution and then transfer to Oberlin College) as noted below.

Individual courses may be counted simultaneously toward more than one General Course Requirement providing they carry the appropriate divisional attributes and/or designations. 

a. Curriculum Exploration requirement. There are two parts to this requirement.
1) Students are required to complete two full academic courses or the equivalent in each of the three divisions of the college, Arts and Humanities, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences, with courses in two different departments or programs within each division, as determined by the course prefix. Courses in the Conservatory will count towards the Arts and Humanities division. One full academic course or the equivalent must be completed in each division by the end of four semesters. For double degree students, one full academic course or the equivalent must be completed in each division by the end of six semesters.

Transfer students may count towards this requirement up to one full academic course or the equivalent in each division, from the courses they transfer to Oberlin College. Transfer students must complete at least one full academic course or the equivalent in each division at Oberlin College. The courses (Oberlin and/or transfered from another institution) counted towards this requirement must be in two different departments or programs within each division, as determined by the course prefix.

2) Students are also required to complete two additional full academic courses or the equivalent outside their maximal division (the division in which the greatest number of courses is completed).

b. Writing requirement. Students are required to complete two Writing courses, either W-Intensive (W-Int) or W-Advanced (W-Adv), by the end of the second year of study if at all possible. A third writing course, W-Adv, is strongly recommended. Transfer students may petition to count one transferred course with a comparable focus on writing toward this requirement.

Courses carrying the W-Int designation involve explicit instruction in writing, are generally limited in size to allow such instruction, and require multiple writing assignments. These courses are designed to help students develop, compose, revise, organize and edit prose appropriate to the discipline or course. Courses carrying the W-Adv designation aim at helping students develop as writers within a discipline, employing the conventions and styles appropriate to that field and demonstrating the depth and engagement with disciplinary practices typical of knowledgeable practitioners. Students are encouraged to complete one course designated W-Adv in relation to their major field of study. In most cases, these courses will be upper-level or capstone courses geared toward a major, and some may be appropriate for majors in related fields.

c. Quantitative and Formal Reasoning (QFR) requirement. Students are required to complete two QFR courses, at least one of which must be completed by the end of the 4th semester (6th semester for Double Degree students). Transfer students may petition to count one transferred course with a comparable focus on quantitative and formal reasoning toward this requirement.

In QFR courses, students spend a substantial amount of course time developing the ability to use tools, algorithms, or strategies to solve problems, make decisions, or evaluate evidence. Examples include: organizing and graphing data, performing and interpreting statistical tests, designing experiments and observational studies, and developing formal models (logical, computational, mathematical, or statistical). QFR skills also include formally critiquing and testing models and arguments and understanding the type of evidence needed to adequately evaluate them.

d. Cultural Diversity requirement. Students must complete at least three full academic courses with the Cultural Diversity (CD) designation. The three courses must be earned in at least two different departments or programs, as indicated by the course prefix. Students who study away in a full-semester, credit-bearing international program will receive CD credit equal to one course. Students who study away in a full-semester, credit-bearing U.S. program that directly addresses diversity may petition the Diversity Studies Committee to receive CD credit equal to one course.

Courses carrying the CD designation must fall into at least one of the following categories:

  • courses whose primary focus of inquiry is on a disenfranchised group (or groups) in the United States
  • courses whose primary focus of inquiry concerns national and/or transnational cultures outside the United States
  • courses whose focus of inquiry includes substantial attention to methods of inquiry analyzing and interpreting cultural differences courses taught in a language other than English

5.    A minimum GPA of 1.67.

6.    Residence requirement. Students must spend at least six semesters in residence at Oberlin or enrolled in Oberlin programs. Work completed during an approved academic leave of absence counts towards the residency requirement. Ordinarily the last semester must be spent in residence at Oberlin.

[1] Some labs, mini courses and modules, and some private readings will be half courses. 
[2] Co-curricular classes are classes such as ExCo, Athletics, Creativity & Leadership, and some others as appropriate. 
[3] For the purposes of this requirement, London Program courses will be considered courses completed at Oberlin College, since they are taught by Oberlin College faculty. 


Major and Minor Study 

Major. To provide depth in their education, students must, before completion of 16 full courses or the equivalent, elect a department or program in which to do major study. Those who have not declared a major after completing 16 full courses or the equivalent will be allowed to enroll only with the permission of the Academic Advising Resource Center. 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, Cognitive Sciences, and Peace and Conflict Studies. 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 8 full courses or the equivalent including prerequisites. 

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 by the end of the sophomore year. The program must consist of at least 10 full courses or the equivalent with no more than 2 full courses or the equivalent below the 200 level, must include courses from more than one department, and usually must not have more than two-thirds of the total full courses or the equivalent in any one department. For further requirements and guidelines for the Individual Major, consult the Individual Major Handbook available 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 full courses or the equivalent and includes 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. 

Concentration. 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 Book Studies, Cognitive Sciences, Education Studies, International Studies, Linguistics, and Peace and Conflict Studies. 

Honors. Many departments and programs 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 and final projects for courses 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 Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences 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 Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences 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 Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences 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: curriculum exploration, writing, quantitative and formal reasoning, and cultural diversity. Candidates are selected in the spring of their junior year on the basis of applications submitted to the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. The designation “Senior Scholar” on the diploma will be granted by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences 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 Academic Advising Resource Center. Students who have declared a major are advised by a member of the department in which they are majoring.