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Undergraduate Degrees & Programs: General Education Requirements

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General Education Requirements

In order to graduate, undergraduates must complete the following General Education Requirements: 

  • Civic, Liberal, and Global Education Requirement (COLLEGE, new AY21-22, replacing the Thinking Matters requirement)
  • Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing (Ways) 
  • Writing and Rhetoric Requirement
    • Program in Writing and Rhetoric (2 courses required, PWR 1 and PWR 2)
    • Writing in the Major
  • Language Requirement


The General Education Requirements are an integral part of undergraduate education at Stanford. Their purpose is to introduce students to the intellectual life of the University, to foreground important questions, and to illustrate how they may be approached from multiple perspectives. They are intended to develop a broad set of essential intellectual and social competencies of enduring value no matter what field a student eventually pursues. Students have flexibility to select topics that appeal to them while building critical skills, exploring interests, forming relationships with faculty and peers, and forging connections between educational experiences in many spheres. Together with the major, the requirements serve as the nucleus around which students build their four years at Stanford.

Unless otherwise specified, General Education Requirement courses must be taken for a letter grade and a minimum of 3 units of credit. Courses taken to fulfill the Language requirement may be taken for credit/no credit. Courses taken to fulfill the Ways requirement must be taken for a letter grade unless a letter grade is not offered, and the course is only offered for a Satisfactory/No Credit grade. Prior to autumn 2022, only Creative Expression (CE) courses could be offered for Satisfactory/No Credit. Additionally, the Creative Expression (Way-CE) course requirement is 2 units instead of 3, and may be fulfilled with two 1-unit courses in the same department.

Civic, Liberal, and Global Education Requirement (COLLEGE)

Students matriculating in academic year 2022-23 or later are required to take two Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) courses during their first year. The requirement aims to:

  • Provide a unifying intellectual experience that respects the diversity of the Stanford student body through inclusive curriculum and teaching.
  • Establish a foundation and capacity for exploration of the full range of academic disciplines and opportunities offered to Stanford undergraduates.
  • Develop the critical and ethical thinking skills and knowledge base for responsible local, national and global citizenship.

Students may choose one course in each of two quarters (autumn, winter, or spring) from the offered COLLEGE curriculum.

Alternatively, students may take one of two residence-based, year-long programs:

  • Immersion in the Arts (ITALIC)
  • Structured Liberal Education (SLE)
    • Each of these also satisfies at least part of the Writing and Rhetoric Requirement as well as several Ways requirements.

Another option, in Autumn Quarter only, allows students to enroll in Education as Self-Fashioning (ESF) that satisfies one quarter of the Civic, Liberal, and Global Education requirement as well as PWR 1.

Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing (Ways)

Students must fulfill the Ways requirement which is a skills capacity-based approach to fostering breadth rather than a discipline-based approach. 

These courses provide students with educational breadth by giving instruction in essential skills and capacities in the areas of:

Students are required to take eleven certified Ways courses, with two courses in Way-AII, Way-SI, and Way-SMA, and one course in each of the remaining five Ways. Transfer students fulfill the Ways requirement as outlined in the “Transfer Credit for Ways” section below.

Although courses may be certified to fulfill two Ways, a student may only count a course toward one Way in a program of study. COLLEGE courses will typically fulfill a Way. Courses may also count for both major and Ways requirements.

Courses taken prior to matriculation, independent study courses, graduate courses, and online transfer courses are not eligible for Ways credit. Courses must be a minimum of 3 units and taken for a letter grade unless a grade is not offered, and the course is only offered for Satisfactory/No Credit grade. Prior to autumn 2022, the Satisfactory/No Credit grade was only an option for Creative Expression courses.

* A minimum of 2 units is required to complete the Creative Expression (CE) Ways requirement. This may be fulfilled by taking one 2-unit minimum CE course, taking a 1-unit CE course twice, or taking two 1-unit CE courses in the same program such as Dance, Music, or TAPS.

Transfer Credit for Ways

Incoming transfer students who matriculate with the following number of transfer units must complete the defined number of Stanford Ways courses as part of their undergraduate education. 

Number of Transfer Units

WAYs/GERs Course Requirement


5 courses certified in 5 different Ways


6 courses certified in 6 different Ways


7 courses certified in 7 different Ways


8 courses certified in 8 different Ways

44 or fewer

10 courses certified in 8 different Ways

  • Excludes Advanced Placement (AP) or other external test units, independent study, online courses, or additional transfer courses from other institutions.

Matriculated students may fulfill a maximum of five Ways courses out of the 11 course requirement from another accredited college or university; these courses may be certified in any of the eight Ways categories but no more than one course in any one Way (i.e., up to one course in Way-A-II, Way-SI, Way-SMA, which have a two-course requirement; one course in Way-AQR, Way-EDP, Way-ER, Way-FR; and 2 units in Way-CE). No more than 45 units in total transfer credit may count toward the undergraduate degree. The five course transfer limit is cumulative over a student’s undergraduate career at Stanford.

Pre-Approval of Courses for Transfer Credit for Ways

Courses taken at another accredited college or university must be pre-approved for Ways certification prior to enrollment in the course.  Courses that have not been pre-approved prior to enrollment at another accredited college or university are not eligible for Ways credit.  Matriculated students must submit their Ways pre-approval request(s) by the quarterly deadline as defined on the Ways transfer credit page. The student is subject to a three-course limit for Ways pre-approval evaluation requests per term.

To request a Ways requirement through transfer work, the pre-approved course must be taken for a minimum of 3 quarter units and be taken for a letter grade, except for a Creative Expression course which can be taken for a minimum of 2 units. 

Once Ways transfer credit has been posted to the student’s record by the Office of the University Registrar, it is final and may not be changed. 

Students seeking transfer credit should consult the Ways transfer credit page and the Transfer Credit procedures page on the Office of the Registrar website.

Language Requirement

To fulfill the Language Requirement, undergraduates are required to complete one year of college-level study or the equivalent in a foreign language. Students may fulfill the requirement in any one of the following ways:

  1. Complete three quarters of a first-year, 4-5 units language course at Stanford or the equivalent at another recognized post-secondary institution subject to current University transfer credit policies. Language courses at Stanford may be taken with the Credit/No Credit grading basis, if so offered, to fulfill the requirement.
  2. Score 4 or 5 on the Language Advanced Placement (AP) test in one of the following languages: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latin, or Spanish. Advanced Placement (AP) tests in foreign literature do not fulfill the requirement.
  3. Achieve a satisfactory score on the SAT II Subject Tests in the following languages taken prior to college matriculation:

Test Subject

Satisfactory Scores for the SAT II Subject Tests



















4.  Take a diagnostic test in a particular language which either:

  1. Places them out of the requirement, or
  2. Diagnoses them as needing one, two, or three additional quarters of college-level study. In this case, the requirement can then be fulfilled either by passing the required number of quarters of college-level language study at Stanford or the equivalent elsewhere, or by retaking the diagnostic test at a later date and placing out of the requirement.

Written placements are offered online throughout the summer in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and Spanish for home background speakers.

For a full description of Language Center offerings, see the "Language Center" section of this policy under the school of Humanities and Sciences.

Writing and Rhetoric Requirement

All instructors at Stanford University expect students to express themselves effectively in writing and speech. The Writing and Rhetoric requirement helps students meet those high expectations.

All candidates for the bachelor's degree, regardless of the date of matriculation, must satisfy the Writing and Rhetoric requirement. Transfer students are individually reviewed at the time of matriculation by the Office of the University Registrar's Degree Progress section and, if necessary, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) as to their status with regard to the requirement.

The Writing and Rhetoric requirement includes courses at three levels. The first two levels are described in more detail below. Writing-intensive courses that fulfill the third level, the Writing in the Major (WIM) requirement, are designated under individual department listings.

All undergraduates must satisfy the first-level Writing and Rhetoric requirement (WR 1) in one of five ways:

  1. PWR 1: a course emphasizing writing and research-based argument.
  2. SLE: writing instruction in connection with the Structured Liberal Education program.
  3. ESF: writing instruction in connection with the Education as Self-Fashioning COLLEGE course.
  4. ITALIC: writing instruction in connection with the ITALIC Integrated Learning Environment.
  5. Transfer credit approved by the Office of the University Registrar for this purpose.

All undergraduates must satisfy the second-level Writing and Rhetoric Requirement (WR 2) in one of four ways:

  1. PWR 2, a course emphasizing writing, research, and oral presentation of research.
  2. SLE: writing and oral presentation instruction in connection with the Structured Liberal Education program.
  3. A course offered through a department or program certified as meeting the WR 2 requirement by the Writing and Rhetoric Governance Board. These courses are designated as WRITE 2.
  4. Transfer credit approved by the Office of the University Registrar for this purpose.

A complete listing of PWR 1 courses is available each quarter on the PWR website and in the PWR office in Sweet Hall, Third Floor. Complete listings of PWR 2 and WRITE 2 courses are available to students on the PWR website the quarter before they are scheduled to complete the WR 2 requirement.

For a full description of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), see the Writing and Rhetoric section of this policy under the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education.