USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

General Education Program

College Academic Services Building, Room 200
(213) 740-2961
FAX: (213) 740-4839

Director: Richard Fliegel, Ph.D.

The university’s general education program is structured to provide a coherent, integrated introduction to the breadth of knowledge you will need to consider yourself (and to be considered by other people) a generally well-educated person. In thinking over what is necessary, the faculty identified five principal goals:

(1) to teach students the skills needed for critical thinking, writing and reading;

(2) to teach these skills in a specific context, i.e., social issues, cultures and traditions, science and society;

(3) to teach students how to apply these skills so that they can find, evaluate and use the vast amount of information now available via the media, the Internet, new technologies and traditional forms of knowledge;

(4) to teach students to discern and assess the values that underlie various critical positions, and to articulate their own with coherence and integrity; and

(5) to encourage a passion for learning.

To achieve these goals, the program is divided into two parts: the first part, called “Foundations,” presents courses that give you the “big picture” about (I) the development of western European and American culture, as well as (II) alternative cultural traditions and (III) the basic principles animating scientific inquiry. The second part, called “Case Studies,” provides particular opportunities for you to sharpen your critical intelligence by considering specific (IV) applications of science and technology, (V) works of literature, philosophy and art, and (VI) contemporary social issues of urgency and importance. In addition, all students must satisfy writing and diversity requirements to complete the USC core.

The freshman year semester of the writing requirement is co-registered with classes in the Social Issues category and a speaker series, helping to build intellectual community among students and faculty in the general education program.

As you look through the courses in each category, try to reach beyond the disciplines with which you are most familiar and comfortable. Draw broadly from the range of academic expertise and choose a thoughtful, provocative selection of “g” courses as your personal general education program. This academic background will serve you well in the future, as a basis for lifelong learning.

General Education Requirements

Students in all programs are required to take one course that satisfies each of the following six categories.

I. Western Cultures and Traditions one course
II. Global Cultures and Traditions one course
III. Scientific Inquiry one course
Case Studies:
IV. Science and Its Significance one course
V. Arts and Letters one course
VI. Social Issues one course

General Education Categories

Part One: Foundations

Courses in these categories help students locate themselves culturally, historically and intellectually in an increasingly complex world. The foundations categories are intended to give students a broad conceptual base for their further studies and their roles as informed citizens in the world of the future, training them to think critically and analytically about ideas and events, sharpening their ability to assess arguments and information, and engaging them with the principles of scientific inquiry and primary works of culture and civilization.

Category I. Western Cultures and Traditions

Courses in this category introduce students to an area of academic inquiry traditionally perceived to be central to general education. They stress concepts, values and events in Western history that have shaped contemporary American and European civilization. Courses are distinguished by their historical sweep, which allows students to become aware of the continuing legacies of the past in contemporary culture. Students learn to situate contemporary society in a broad historical context and to think critically about the past and its relationship to the present, while becoming acquainted with the most significant analytic methods by which we attempt to understand the meaning of history. Comparative insights may also be offered with the non-Western cultural traditions studied in Category II.

Category II. Global Cultures and Traditions

Courses in this category introduce students to cultures and civilizations associated with Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Native America and Russia. Each course examines distinctive qualities of the cultures studied and seeks to engage and explain those characteristics on their own terms. Students learn to understand the impact of historical development on cultures that interact in the contemporary geopolitical scene and to articulate the role that cultural differences play in those interactions. As a result, they are better prepared to participate actively in an increasingly global cultural and political landscape. Courses in this category are distinguished by their breadth of perspective over a substantial period of time. Comparative insights may also be offered between these cultures and those studied in Category I.

Category III. Scientific Inquiry

In this category, students learn about the process and methods of scientific inquiry, examining the principles underlying a body of scientific knowledge and how those principles were developed. Students learn to evaluate the soundness of scientific arguments and appreciate how current ideas might change in response to new data. Students engage in scientific inquiry through field experiences or a practical component. A section of laboratory or field experience is required.

As a result, all students should acquire substantive knowledge in science and technology; understand the processes by which scientists investigate and answer scientific questions; and be able to articulate the basic principles used to explain natural phenomena.

Part Two: Case Studies

In these categories, students learn to think critically through a focused inquiry into a particular area of knowledge. Analytical techniques and methodologies are demonstrated to illuminate specific topics in the natural and social sciences, the arts and humanities.

Category IV. Science and Its Significance

In this category, students learn why science is important in people’s lives. Through a concentrated study of a single area of research or small set of related areas, students learn to articulate the relationships among observed phenomena, the scientific principles those observations inform, their technological applications and their societal implications. Scientific inquiry is understood in the context of its historical setting and philosophical assumptions, as well as its material consequences. A section of laboratory, field experience, and/or discussion and writing is required.

As a result, all students should be able to: connect science and technology to real-world problems and issues, including personal and societal needs; discriminate unsound from well-supported scientific claims about those issues; and talk about science cogently in articulating scientific concepts and their significance for other areas of their lives.

Category V. Arts and Letters

In this category students develop their skills for critical analysis through intense engagement with works of literature, philosophy, visual arts, music and film. The works studied may be associated with a particular country, time period, genre or theme. Students will learn to use techniques of literary and artistic analysis. At the same time they will become familiar with disciplinary and interdisciplinary methods of argument and persuasion. Because intensive reading and writing is demanded in these courses, they will generally be capped at 30 students.

Category VI. Social Issues

Courses in this category prepare students for informed citizenship by teaching them to analyze compelling local, national and/or international issues or problems. Analytical tools are examined systematically so that students may fruitfully apply them to understand a broad range of social and political phenomena. Students learn to assess the validity of arguments and discern the connections between data cited and conclusions drawn.

Students completing this category develop the basic critical skills needed to evaluate and use the vast amount of information concerning social issues now available via the Internet, media and traditional scholarship. They acquire the concepts and confidence necessary to discuss contemporary social issues in an informed manner and develop a passion for learning that will allow them to engage complex questions about human beings and society.


Advanced Placement Credit

Students may satisfy the requirements for Categories I or III with scores of 4 or 5 on specified Advanced Placement Examinations, but no such credit will satisfy the requirements of Categories II, IV, V or VI, or the writing requirement.

Transfer Credit

Students may satisfy the requirements for Categories I, II, III or V with transfer course work completed before the student has enrolled at USC, but no transfer credit will satisfy the requirements for Categories IV or VI. The first semester of the writing requirement may also be satisfied with transfer course work, if it is completed before the student has transferred to USC. However, no transfer course work may be used to satisfy any general education requirements or the writing requirement if those courses are taken after a student has enrolled at USC.

Courses Taken on a Pass/No Pass Basis

No more than four units of credit (or one course) counting toward the general education categories may be taken on a pass/no pass basis. The writing courses cannot be taken on a pass/no pass basis.


A very restricted number of exceptions to the rules governing the general education program has been allowed by the Provost for certain cohorts of students whose programs of study in the major discipline require such exceptions. For more information, see the listings under the individual schools.

Course Listing

For a complete list of general education courses, see the USC Core.

Other Requirements

In addition, all students at USC must complete a two-course writing requirement and a diversity requirement. All students in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and some in the professional schools (see listing for each school’s requirements) must also satisfy the foreign language requirement.

Writing Requirement

In their writing classes students learn to think critically, to build sound arguments and to express their ideas with clarity. The writing requirement comprises two courses (which cannot be taken on a pass/no pass basis). The first, taken during the freshman year, is linked to a course in the Social Issues category of the General Education program. The second, an advanced writing course taken in the junior year, is geared toward students’ areas of special interest, such as the arts and humanities, science, law, engineering or business. In this course, students learn to integrate more complex information and construct more sophisticated arguments.

Lower Division Writing Requirement

Most undergraduates take WRIT 140 Writing and Critical Reasoning as their first writing course. WRIT 140 is offered in affiliation with courses from the Social Issues category of the General Education Program (Category VI). Students enroll in this writing course either in the fall or spring of their freshman year.

Certain groups of students from the Schools of Architecture, Engineering, and Music whose schedules do not permit them to register in an affiliated writing class satisfy their first writing requirement by taking WRIT 130 Analytical Writing. Students may not enroll in this alternative course unless expressly permitted to do so by the academic advisers in the specified schools. Students in the Thematic Option program satisfy this requirement with CORE 111.

Some students are better served by taking a preparatory course before they enroll in WRIT 140. Entering freshmen who score below a specified level on the verbal portion of the SAT take the University Writing Examination. Based on the result of this examination, certain students enroll in WRIT 120 Introduction to College Writing or WRIT 121 Introduction to College Writing in a Second Language during their first semester at USC. Clearance to register for these preparatory courses may be obtained at the Writing Program Office.

International students take the University Writing Examination after having completed any course work required by the American Language Institute.

Advanced Writing Requirement

All students at USC (with the exception of Thematic Option students who satisfy the second writing requirement with CORE 112), must complete WRIT 340, a course that will help them write on topics related to their disciplinary or professional interests. Students usually enroll in WRIT 340 Advanced Writing in their junior year and may not take the course earlier than their sophomore year. Different schools at the university offer sections of this course. Students should consult their major department to learn which section of WRIT 340 best complements their program of study.

All sections of WRIT 340 teach students to write clear, grammatical, well-structured prose; to discover and convey complex ideas critically; and to appreciate the nuances of effective argumentation. The principal aim of the requirement is to develop a student’s capacity to formulate thoughtful, informed arguments for specific academic, professional and public audiences.

Diversity Requirement

The diversity requirement is designed to provide undergraduate students with the background knowledge and analytical skills to enable them to understand and respect differences between groups of people and to understand the potential resources and conflicts arising from human differences on the contemporary American and international scene. Students will increasingly need to grapple with issues arising from different dimensions of human diversity such as age, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation and social class. These dimensions and their social and cultural consequences will have important ramifications for students’ personal, professional and intellectual lives, both for the time they are students and in later life. Students will gain exposure to analytical frameworks within which these issues are to be understood and addressed, including social, political, cultural, ethical and public policy analysis. It is the university’s goal to prepare students through the study of human differences for responsible citizenship in an increasingly pluralistic and diverse society.

Course Requirement

The diversity requirement must be met by all USC students. It can be met by passing any one course from the list of courses carrying the designation “m” for multiculturalism here. In addition to fulfilling the diversity requirement, some of the courses on the list also meet general education requirements; others also meet major requirements; still others meet only the diversity requirement but count for elective unit credit.

Foreign Language Requirement

Students may satisfy the foreign language requirement only by (1) earning a passing grade in Course III of a foreign language sequence at USC or its equivalent elsewhere or (2) scoring on the placement examination at a level considered by the department as equivalent to the completion of Course III or (3) scoring on a national or statewide examination at a level set by the department and approved by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Students who can supply proof of at least two years of full-time secondary schooling beyond the age of 14 taught in a foreign language may request exemption from the foreign language requirement.

All students earning degrees granted by or under the jurisdiction of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences or earning degrees in programs of other schools that require three semesters of foreign language who do not meet the criteria of (1), above, must take a placement examination to determine their level of language proficiency. Placement in elementary and intermediate foreign language courses is made by the appropriate placement examination. Transfer courses equivalent to a USC elementary or intermediate language course fulfill the prerequisite for the next course in the sequence, but students may be advised, although not required, to repeat without additional credit a semester or semesters of instruction if their skills are judged insufficient at the time of testing.

All students who as freshmen enrolled in degree programs that have a foreign language requirement are expected to fulfill that requirement by the time they have completed 64 units at USC. Students who do not satisfy the foreign language requirement before the completion of 48 units at USC will have a “mandatory advisement requirement” warning them of the need to complete the foreign language requirement. Students who do not satisfy the requirement before the completion of 64 units at USC will be required to seek approval to register.

Students admitted as transfers for whom foreign language is a requirement should fulfill it before they have completed 48 units at USC. Students who do not satisfy the foreign language requirement before the completion of 32 units at USC will have a “mandatory advisement requirement” warning them of the need to complete the foreign language requirement. Students who do not satisfy the requirement before the completion of 48 units at USC will be required to seek approval to register.

Students admitted into programs without a foreign language requirement who subsequently make a change of major into a program with a foreign language requirement must satisfy the requirement before completion of 48 units at USC after switching into the major.

International students whose native language is not English are exempt from the foreign language requirement. Students with advanced skills in languages other than those taught at USC may request exemption from the foreign language requirement if (1) they can supply proof of at least two years of full-time secondary schooling taught in a foreign language beyond the age of 14, or (2) if they can pass a competency exam testing for advanced language skills and administered at USC subject to the availability of suitable academic examiners; the competency exam will test proficiency in speaking, reading and writing skills. Students with documented learning disabilities or physical impairments inhibiting language acquisition may petition for substitution.

Course Listing

For a complete list of diversity courses, see the USC Core section, Diversity Course List.