May 28, 2023  
Course Catalog 2020-2021 
Course Catalog 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

College of Arts and Sciences

Learning Goals for College of Arts and Sciences Students

Oberlin College seeks to cultivate in our students the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will guide and motivate them at school and throughout their lives. Deeply committed to academic excellence, the College of Arts and Sciences offers a rich and balanced curriculum in the humanities, creative arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. Within that framework, the college expects that students will work closely with faculty, advisors, and the instructional staff to design an educational program appropriate to their specific interests, needs, and long-term goals.

Students who attend Oberlin:

Will deepen their understanding of specific fields while building their capacity to create new knowledge, approaches or creative work in those areas. We value depth because it allows students to acquire substantial knowledge in a chosen field. Depth in a field enables students to understand its logic and epistemology, assumptions and methodologies. A deeper understanding of a specific field of study generates the potential for students to move beyond the skills of analyzing and evaluating information and towards the creation of new knowledge or approaches, or the production of original work.

Will broaden their knowledge of and appreciation for the variety of ways, including but not limited to the scientific, humanistic, aesthetic, and behavioral, that knowledge is and has been, constructed. To be liberally educated is to be acquainted with a wide variety of ways that humans have asked and answered questions in the past and the present, within the traditions of western culture as well as other cultural frameworks and ways of knowing. Learning across established fields of study, both within disciplines and in interdisciplinary approaches, cultivates in students a concrete appreciation for different ways of constructing knowledge and different modes of discernment with which one should be familiar. To engage deeply and reflectively with the past is to come to terms with different ways of thinking and being in the world. By introducing students to different intellectual and creative approaches to the production of knowledge and cultivation of insight, we help them better appreciate that deeper understandings often draw on a variety of approaches and traditions.

Will analyze arguments on the basis of evidence and an understanding of the context in which evidence is produced. We will help our students become engaged participants in, not just consumers of, their education; we are committed to enabling our students to learn how to learn. We want our students to be active listeners, insightful questioners and informed producers of knowledge. Our central tools are those of critical analysis, an understanding that assumptions, approaches and conclusions, including one’s own, must always be tested, and that claims are to be examined in light of a variety of forms of evidence. To engage in critical analysis is to be aware of the social, political, cultural, historical, and scientific contexts that have shaped the development of knowledge and, therefore, to be humble in face of its limits. To become skilled at critical analysis, one must develop a number of different capacities, specifically the ability to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. 

Should understand, appreciate and participate in the creative process. We widely recognize creativity as a central component in the arts, and have long valued the imaginative talents of our students.  Creativity is also a cognitive process that underlies the work of our students across many fields and endeavors. To be innovative is to combine the knowledge and skills one has gained to form a novel, coherent whole, to fashion something original. It involves the capacity to generate new ideas, approaches, or hypotheses, the skills involved in planning, and the determination and resources needed to bring an idea to life: in the concert hall and the classroom, on stage, the athletic fields, and in the laboratory, in the community and with the community. 

Should be able to communicate with diverse audiences, employing a variety of approaches, media, and languages. An Oberlin education should provide students with the ability to communicate articulately, persuasively, dispassionately, and, when required, passionately, in written as well as oral modes, by listening as well as talking, with both specialized and lay audiences. Oberlin helps students to develop the skills and cultural competence needed to interact effectively in languages other than English. Further, as the ability to communicate beyond written and oral forms increases, it will become ever more important for Oberlin to help its students develop their capacity to communicate through a variety of means, including visual, quantitative, and digital.

Should develop a critical understanding of the historical and cultural factors that underlie difference and inequality in U.S. and global societies. Oberlin has a specific responsibility not only to create a diverse community of students, but also to place our students in the epistemological, curricular, and pedagogical frameworks where they can learn to interact across difference. We value this highly not just because of Oberlin’s unique history in terms of the early role it played in the education of African Americans and women, but because truly engaged learning requires the presence of diverse learning communities and the reduction of barriers to inclusion at every level. And this, in turn, requires providing the resources needed to support diversity and to help the entire Oberlin community understand how inequality has been generated, shaped, and or challenged both in the past and at the present time.

Should collaborate to solve problems, generate fresh questions, create new knowledge and advance community goals. The ability to engage effectively with others is an important problem-solving and life skill.  By working closely and productively with others, our students will be better positioned to understand and address complex problems from a variety of perspectives. Developing the practice of successful collaboration also entails a high degree of self-awareness and an understanding of the relationship between individual initiative and the potential of working with others. Finally, collaborative efforts should increase one’s openness to working not just across disciplinary approaches, but also alongside those with whom one may disagree.

Should develop an enduring commitment to acting in the world to further social justice, deepen democracy, and build a sustainable future. Oberlin’s long history of challenging some of this country’s gravest inequities underlines the responsibility our alumni feel to acting beyond narrow self-interest. Oberlin students believe that one person can make a difference, and that many people, working together and using a wide range of skills, can create local and global communities that are more just, equitable, democratic, peaceful, and sustainable. These are lifelong ethical commitments, nurtured through diverse social networks, including Oberlin’s distinguished alumni, and pursued via a wide range of careers pathways and social commitments.

Should cultivate those habits that support healthy and sustainable living, responsible and empathetic interactions with others, and a capacity for self-reflection and contemplation. It is of utmost importance that our students leave Oberlin with the knowledge and skills they will need for their careers and future well-being. But we are well aware that other factors can equally influence these outcomes. It is therefore essential that our students develop the ability to reflect on and take ownership over their learning, a capacity for resilience, a knowledge of the importance of taking appropriate risks and the ability to rebound from setbacks, a strong ethical and moral grounding, a capacious curiosity, a broad capacity for empathetic engagement, an awareness of their own physical and mental well-being, and an understanding of the importance of being responsible in the world, along with the humility to recognize their own limitations.

The BA Degree

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.

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 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 an interdisciplinary minor or an integrative concentration, 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 in Arts and Sciences, a student must be enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. Students enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, Conservatory of Music, and the Double Degree program may pursue a minor or integrative concentration in the College of Arts and Sciences.

arrow View the BA 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 Graduation Requirements for the College of Arts and Sciences  section 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.


Many Oberlin students enter law school after graduation. Information on general requirements for law admissions can be found in the Career Development Center or by asking faculty designated as pre-law advisors. A list of these advisors is available in the Career Development 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.


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.

arrow Explore this page for a list of advisors and other information about deciding to go to medical school.

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

Major and Minor Study


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.

arrow Find more information about requirements and guidelines for the Individual Major here.


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 Academic Advising Resource Center/Registrar prior to graduation. The completion of a minor is noted on the transcript. 


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. 


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. 


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.