The General Education Program is designed for all undergraduate students regardless of degree program. Aimed at building a strong intellectual foundation, the General Education requirements are drawn from five Foundational Areas. The program is designed to be completed during the first two years of study, allowing students ample time to pursue their major as well as study abroad, internships, and minors or second majors.
The General Education Program is the cornerstone of a student’s academic program at American University. This chapter guides students in building a meaningful and valuable program. While reading, please keep in mind the following:
- students take a total of ten General Education courses; two courses in each of five Foundational Areas, with at least one course from The Natural and Mathematical Sciences (Foundational Area 5) that includes a laboratory science experience
- no more than two courses from a discipline may be taken for General Education credit; disciplines are designated by the subject prefix (e.g., ANTH, BIO)
- once a student has enrolled, all courses to fulfill General Education Requirements must be taken at American University unless taken on an approved AU Abroad program
General Education Program Definitions
Foundational Area (or “Area”)
One of the five content-specific subdivisions of the General Education Program:
- The Creative Arts
- Traditions that Shape the Western World
- The Global and Cross-Cultural Experience
- Social Institutions and Behavior
- The Natural and Mathematical Sciences
Refers to the subject prefix in a course number regardless of academic department or course content. For example, the course number PHIL-105 refers to a philosophy course; the course number RELG-210 refers to a religion course. Although these courses are in the Philosophy and Religion Department, they have different prefixes and are in different disciplines. The course number ARTH-105 refers to an art history course; the course number HIST-100 refers to a history course. Although these courses are both about history, they are in different disciplines.
Foundational Area Requirements
Students select courses from those that are designated as General Education courses. Students choose two courses in each Foundational Area at either the 100- or 200-level.
Courses at the 100-level introduce students to the fundamental concepts, issues, and achievements in the disciplines. Courses deal explicitly with the appropriate processes and standards for gathering and evaluating information (quantification, experiments, primary sources, authoritative texts) and interpretation (methods of investigation and analytic skills) in a specific disciplinary field. All science 100-level courses include a laboratory experience. The courses are designed to help students achieve a broad view of how different disciplinary viewpoints and fields of knowledge can contribute to their understanding of themselves and the world around them. Courses at the 200-level tend to be more academically rigorous and are geared toward second-year students. Some may have prerequisites at the 100-level, as designated by the academic unit offering the course.
General Education courses differ from traditional survey courses by integrating into the course some of the intellectual skills and resources essential to life in the twenty-first century.
These learning outcomes include the following, as appropriate:
Aesthetic sensibilities: Critical reflections on the nature and history of beauty and art.
Communication skills: Interchanging ideas and information through writing, speech, and visual and digital media.
Critical inquiry: Systematic questioning and analysis of problems, issues, and claims.
Diverse perspectives and experiences: Acquiring knowledge and analytical skills to understand a variety of perspectives and experiences, including those that have emerged from the scholarship on age, disability, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.
Innovative thinking: Venturing beyond established patterns of thought in imaginative and creative ways.
Ethical reasoning: Assessing and weighing of moral and political beliefs and practices, and their applications to ethical dilemmas.
Information literacy: Locating, evaluating, citing, and effectively using information.
Quantitative literacy and symbolic reasoning: Applying mathematical, statistical, and symbolic reasoning to complex problems and decision making.
Students select two courses in each Foundational Area. Students will not be able to satisfy General Education Requirements with more than two courses in any one discipline even though a discipline may have courses included in more than one Foundational Area. Courses required for College Writing and University Mathematics do not count in the two-course limit.
Students who have placed at or below Finite Mathematics must satisfy the University Mathematics Requirement before enrolling in a course in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences Foundational Area.
Relation to the Major
The requirements for the major, the area of a student’s academic concentration, are listed under individual degree programs. Many of the courses in the General Education Program also meet requirements of the major. Students interested in a double major need to plan ahead if they expect to fulfill all requirements within 120 credit hours.
To receive General Education credit, a student must successfully complete a General Education course with a grade of C or better.
Advanced Placement Credit
Students presenting a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement examination, qualifying score on the CLEP examination, or grades for which they have received credit from the British A Levels, CEGEP, International Baccalaureate, German Abitur, or other international credential for which they have been granted credit by American University may apply the credit for up to four courses to meet General Education requirements in any of the five Foundational Areas. Credit for General Education may only be awarded when specific General Education courses, which have been so designated, match particular exam results (with the exception of the CEGEP and German Abitur, which are handled ad hoc) and only for examinations taken prior to entering American University. Specific information regarding application of this principle is contained in the “General Education Advanced Placement Credit Articulation” effective for the academic year of admission. This document is maintained by the Office of Admissions and is available in all advising units.
Transfer students satisfy their General Education Requirements through a combination of appropriate transfer courses and completion of courses in the General Education Program at American University. Through the evaluation of equivalent courses taken at another institution and with the approval of a student’s dean, transfer credit may fulfill all 31 credit hours. In some cases, students supplement transfer credit with General Education courses taken at the university to meet the 31-hour requirement.
Study at Another Institution
Transfer credit may be used to fulfill General Education Requirements through the evaluation of equivalent courses taken at another institution and with the approval of the student’s dean. Because of the special nature of the program, after the student has been admitted to a degree program at American University no credit toward General Education Requirements may be earned through transfer credit unless taken on an approved AU Abroad program. No more than six credits of General Education courses may be taken abroad.
General Education and the University Mathematics Requirement
All students must fulfill the University Mathematics Requirement before enrolling in their first course in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences Foundational Area (Area 5), unless they have placed above Finite Mathematics. Students who have placed above the level of Finite Mathematics may take their first course in Area 5 before or concurrently with course work taken to satisfy the University Mathematics Requirement.
Questions about General Education
Who has to complete the General Education Program?
All American University undergraduates must fulfill General Education requirements.
How many courses do students take?
All students must take two courses in each of the five Foundational Areas (for a total of ten).
What if a course closes before a student can register for it or it is not offered the semester a student wants to take it?
Almost all courses are offered at least once a year, so a student may wait until the next semester and see if it fits into that schedule. Or, a student may take a different course if it’s compatible with his/ her schedule and s/he has met all the prerequisites.
How many courses may be taken from each discipline for General Education credit?
Although some academic departments have courses in several Areas, students may not take more than two General Education courses in a discipline. For example, a student may only take two sociology courses (course numbers beginning with SOCY) out of the ten General Education courses.
What grade is required for General Education classes?
Students must get a C or better in order to get General Education credit.
May a General Education course be taken, but not for General Education credit?
Yes, a student may be able to count courses in the General Education Program towards major or minor requirements, or for elective credit. Courses are offered for non-General Education credit under the same course number.
Should General Education courses be spread out over four years?
The program is designed so that it can be completed in a student’s first two years. Students should finish their General Education requirements as soon as possible to keep their last years open for off-campus opportunities, such as internships and study abroad. If a student has not yet completed the math requirement, it is essential to speak to an advisor about its connection to the Natural and Mathematical Sciences (Area 5) requirement.
May advanced placement credits be used towards General Education requirements?
Students presenting a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement examination, qualifying score on the CLEP examination, or grades for which they have received credit from the British A Levels, CEGEP, International Baccalaureate, German Abitur or other international credential for which they have been granted credit may be able to apply the credit for up to four courses to meet the General Education requirements in any of the five Foundational Areas. Credit for General Education may only be awarded when specific General Education courses, which have been so designated, match particular exam results (with the exception of the CEGEP and German Abitur, which are handled ad hoc) and only for exams taken prior to entering American University. Specific information is contained in the General Education Advanced Placement Credit Articulation effective for the academic year of admission. This document is maintained by the Office of Admissions and is available in all advising units and online at: www.american.edu/admissions/examcredit.cfm.
Do transfer students have to complete General Education requirements?
Yes, transfer students must still fulfill General Education requirements. However, courses taken prior to admission to American University will be evaluated by the appropriate faculty to determine whether they qualify for credit in the program. It is technically possible for all ten courses to be transferred with a dean’s approval.
Where can students go for help in planning their General Education courses?
Students should take the responsibility of planning which General Education courses they will take, making sure they follow all program requirements and rules. Each semester before registering online, students are reminded to review their electronic degree audit report, which will indicate the General Education requirements still needed. An academic advisor or the publications available on campus and online at www.american.edu/provost/gened may be able to assist students who have questions or are having difficulty in choosing a particular course. Students may also contact the General Education Program at 202-885-3879 or email@example.com.
What’s the connection between the General Education Program and the University Mathematics Requirement?
All students must fulfill the University Mathematics Requirement before enrolling in their first course in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences Foundational Area (Area 5), unless they have “placed” above Finite Mathematics. Students who have placed above the level of Finite Mathematics may take a course in Area 5 before or concurrently with course work taken to satisfy the University Mathematics Requirement.