Starting your College Research: Exploring the academics part 2

Jan 29th, 2017 | By | Category: Majors, tips

Continuing a deeper dive into a college’s academic, it is time to take a look at other parts of the academic experience. Your major, in US colleges, account for about 33% of your actually classes. In other countries it is up to 100%. What happens in the US? What do you do with the rest of the time? Cterainly you have room for electives–in some colleges, a lot f electives. You can trade some of your electives in for a minor or even another major. 

Many US colleges require you to take certain classes to meet graduation requirements. Called things like the core curriculum (thank you Columbia) or General Education Requirements, you need to look at what specifically you must take to graduate. Let us look at three examples:

Columbia University. 

Regardless of your major, all students will complete the core curriculum, known affectionally The Core, which inlcudes the Great Books:


  • Literature Humanities
  • Contemporary Civilization
  • University Writing
  • Art Humanities
  • Music Humanities
  • Frontiers of Science

You also have to fufill some other requirements:


  • Science Requirement–Three courses bearing at least 3 points each (for a total of at least 10 points) must be completed to meet this portion of the Core Curriculum. 
  • Global Core Requirement–Students must complete two courses from the approved list of Global Core courses for a letter grade.
  • Foreign Language Requirement
  • Physical Education Requirement

Duke University

To graduate students must successfully complete two courses in each of five areas of knowledge:


  1. Arts, Literatures, and Performance (ALP) Courses focus on the analysis and interpretation of the creative products of the human intellect, and/or engage students in creative performance requiring intellectual understanding and interpretive skills.
  2. Civilizations (CZ) Courses focus on the analysis and evaluation of ideas and events that shape civilizations past and present.
  3. Natural Sciences (NS) Courses focus on the interpretation or interpretation of scientific theories or models of the natural world.
  4. Quantitative Studies (QS) Courses provide instruction in a quantitative skill to achieve proficiency in math, statistics, or computer science, or engage in the application of explicitly quantitative methodology to analyze problems.? NOTE: one of the two required courses must be taken in Math, Statistics, or Computer Science.
  5. Social Sciences (SS) Courses focus on the causes of human behavior and the origins and functions of the social structures in which we operate.


While there are robust offerings in each area. But it goes beyond just the areas of knowledge. To graduate students must successfully complete two courses (or 1-3 in a foreign language and 3 in writing) in each of six modes of inquiry.

The first three Modes of Inquiry address important cross-cutting themes that transcend individual disciplines and may be approached from various disciplinary perspectives. Students need to be prepared to grapple with issues pertaining to these themes throughout their lives and careers.

  • Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI). ?This Mode of Inquiry provides an academic engagement with the dynamics and interactions of culture(s) in a comparative or analytic perspective. It involves a scholarly, comparative, and integrative study of political, economic, aesthetic, social and cultural differences. It seeks to provide students with the tools to identify culture and cultural difference across time or place, between or within national boundaries. This includes but is not limited to the interplay between and among material circumstances, political economies, scientific understandings, social and aesthetic representations, and the relations between difference/diversity and power and privilege within and across societies. In fulfilling this requirement, students are encouraged to undertake comparisons that extend beyond national boundaries and their own national cultures and to explore the impact of increasing globalization.
  • Ethical Inquiry (EI). ?Undergraduate education is a formative period for engaging in critical analysis of ethical questions arising in human life. Students need to be able to assess critically the consequences of actions, both individual and social, and to sharpen their understanding of the ethical and political implications of public and personal decision-making. Thus, they need to develop and apply skills in ethical reasoning and to gain an understanding of a variety of ways in which, across time and place, ethical issues and values frame and shape human conduct and ways of life.
  • Science, Technology, and Society (STS). ?Advances in science and technology have wrought profound changes in the structure of society in the modern era. They have fundamentally changed the world, both its philosophical foundations, as in the Copernican or Darwinian revolutions, and in its practical everyday experience, as in the rise of the automobile and television. In the second half of the last century, the pace of such change accelerated dramatically; science and technology will play an even greater role in shaping the society of the future. If students are to be prepared to analyze and evaluate the scientific and technological issues that will confront them and to understand the world around them, they need exposure to basic scientific concepts and to the processes by which scientific and technological advances are made and incorporated into society. They need to understand the interplay between science, technology, and society-that is, not only how science and technology have influenced the direction and development of society, but also how the needs of society have influenced the direction of science and technology.
  • Foreign Language (FL). ?Duke has set internationalization as an institutional priority in order to prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse and interdependent world. By developing proficiency in a foreign language, students can develop cross-cultural competency and become more successful members of their increasingly complex local, national, and international communities. Foreign language study substantially broadens students’ own experiences and helps them develop their intellect and gain respect for other peoples. Students need an awareness of how language frames and structures understanding and effective communication, and a study of foreign language improves students’ native language skills.
  • Writing (W). ?Effective writing is central to both learning and communication. To function successfully in the world, students need to be able to write clearly and effectively. To accomplish this, they need to have a sustained engagement with writing throughout their undergraduate career. Thus, students must take at least three writing courses at Duke: a) Writing 101 in their first year and b) two writing-intensive courses (W) in the disciplines, at least one of which must be taken after their first year. Through the latter type of courses students become familiar with the various modes and genres of writing used within an academic discipline and learn how the conventions and expectations for writing differ among the disciplines.
  • Research (R). ?As a research university, Duke seeks to connect undergraduate education to the broad continuum of scholarship reflected in its faculty. Such a rich setting provides students with opportunities to become involved in a community of learning and to engage in the process of discovery and move beyond being the passive recipients of knowledge that is transmitted to being an active participant in the discovery, critical evaluation, and application of knowledge and understanding. Engagement in research develops in students an understanding of the process by which new knowledge is created, organized, accessed, and synthesized. It also fosters a capacity for the critical evaluation of knowledge and the methods of discovery. This is important not only for undergraduates who wish to pursue further study at the graduate level, but also for those who seek employment in a rapidly changing and competitive marketplace.

And still more:


  • First-year writing. Students must successfully complete Writing 101 in fall or spring of your first year. If they do not, they must enroll again during the summer (if offered) or the fall of sophomore year. Failure to do so can result in academic withdrawal for two semesters.
  • First-year seminar. During their first year, students must successfully complete a seminar (usually designated with an “S” after the course number). Participation in the Focus Program, the 89S seminar series (open to first-year students only), the 80S seminar series, or any seminar for which students qualify fulfills this requirement. If students do not take a seminar in their first two semesters, they must do so during summer session I or II. Failure to do so can result in academic withdrawal for two semesters.
  • Small Group Learning Experiences (SGLE). Students must complete two SGLEs – seminars, tutorials, thesis courses, and independent study courses – after their first year.

Brown University

Unlike the other Two, Brown subscribes to an Open Curriculum:

Brown’s Open Curriculum is based on three principles. The first is that students ought to take an active role in their education by assuming responsibility for the direction of their learning. Secondly, an undergraduate education is seen as a process of individual and intellectual development, rather than simply a way to transmit a set body of information. Finally, the curriculum should encourage individuality, experimentation, and the integration and synthesis of different disciplines.

While you will have requirements in your major, the only other thing you have to do is demonstrate “excellent skill in written English before they graduate.”


Each approach can have its advantages. Some will prefer a more freedom, others will want more direction. Some want choice. As you explore your options on your major possibilities, dig into what the university requires of you while you are there. As you explore this aspect, check on student’s experiecnes themselves through websites like Unigo and Niche

Brown, according to Niche:


What Students Say About Professors

of students say professors are passionate about the topics they teach.52 responses
of students say professors care about their students’ success.52 responses
of students say professors are engaging and easy to understand.52 responses
of students agree professors are approachable and helpful when needed.52 responses




What Students Say About Professors

of students say professors are passionate about the topics they teach.65 responses
of students say professors care about their students’ success.65 responses
of students say professors are engaging and easy to understand.65 responses
of students agree professors are approachable and helpful when needed.65 responses

What Students Say About Professors

of students say professors are passionate about the topics they teach.92 responses
of students say professors care about their students’ success.91 responses
of students say professors are engaging and easy to understand.91 responses
of students agree professors are approachable and helpful when needed.91 responses


Be sure to read the reviews, both at Niche and Unigo:

Duke, for example, is called her experience awesome: “I have taken three large lecture classes: Econ 51, Psych 11 and Compsci 82. Otherwise, almost every other class I have taken has had 16 or fewer students. I am an English major with a concentration in history, documentary and visual and media studies. My professors not only know my name by the end of the semester, but they know my goals and interests. From a practical perspective, this makes networking easy. Yet it makes for a much more meaningful classroom experience, as well. Class participation is expected and often encourages discussion outside of class.”

Brown also receives rave reviews for its academics: “Do professors know your name? In most classes yes · Tell us about your favorite class. I’ve had many! One is “Hispanics in the US”, where other than the readings and class discussions we each volunteer every week at a local public school and tutor, usually in Spanish. During spring break some of us also participated in a Brown community service project that takes volunteers to a clinic in the Dominican Republic · How often do students study? Depends on the student. But you can find a lot of people in the library on a Sat night. Kinda scary · Is class participation common? Yes, everyone loves to hear themselves speak · Do Brown students have intellectual conversations outside of class? Yes · Are students competitive? I don’t think so. Everyone just has high standards for themselves · Do you spend time with professors outside of class? I was invited to two holiday dinners with professors, and one professor in a class I took last semester, took 5 students to dinner at a restaurant after class every week.”

As does Columbia, although some do take exception of the workload:  “As I said before, the courseload is beyond ridiculous. The amount of reading is mindblowing and I am sure most of the professors could not even do it. Ya they could probably finish the readings for their individual class. But if they took an entire semester worth of classes and tried to keep up on the readings in every class simultaneously they would realize they are completely out of line with what they assign.”


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