Trinity General Education Requirements (Program I)

Programs I and II provide a variety of approaches to obtaining a liberal arts education. Both programs lead to the bachelor of arts (AB) or bachelor of science (BS) degree, and both involve completing 34.0 course credits to satisfy the requirements for the degree.

Trinity College of Arts & Sciences curriculum is meant to encourage breadth as well as depth and provide structure as well as choice. It reflects Duke’s desire to dedicate its unique resources to preparing its students for the challenging and rapidly changing global environment. The curriculum provides a liberal arts education that asks students to engage a wide variety of subjects: arts, literatures, and performance; civilizations; natural sciences; quantitative studies; and social sciences. It supports a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and fosters the development of students’ abilities to read and think critically and in historically and ethically informed ways, to communicate lucidly and effectively, and to undertake and evaluate independent research.

The curriculum has two components: general education requirements and the major requirements. Students must complete the requirements of the curriculum listed below—and explained more fully in the following sections—to satisfy the requirements for the degree. Students who receive an S (Satisfactory) will receive credit toward general education requirements, including curriculum codes, and the course will count toward the 34.0 course credits for graduation and continuation. Courses taken on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis may not, however, be used to satisfy the requirements of any major, minor, or certificate program (including prerequisites), unless the Director of Undergraduate Studies gives special permission.

General Education Requirements

The general education requirements include two interrelated features: Areas of Knowledge and Modes of Inquiry, which are described in more detail in the following sections. Since a course may have several intellectual goals and intended learning outcomes, it may simultaneously satisfy more than one general education requirement, as well as requirements of a major, minor, or certificate program.

Required Courses

Areas of Knowledge. 2.0 course credits must be completed in each of the following five areas. Courses satisfying one Area of Knowledge cannot be reused to complete requirements in a second Area.

Historically, the ways in which knowledge has been organized reflect both differences in subject matter and methods of discovery. This delineation is dynamic, marked by increasing differentiation and an array of academic disciplines. Disciplines have traditionally been grouped into three divisions: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Duke has chosen to divide the humanities and natural sciences further to assure that undergraduates engage the full range of substantive concerns and approaches there. Thus, the curriculum adopts the following division of courses (into the five areas of knowledge): arts, literatures, and performance; civilizations; natural sciences; quantitative studies; and social sciences. Because Duke believes that engagement with each is essential, not optional, for an informed and educated person in the twenty-first century, students must satisfactorily complete 2.0 course credits in each area.

  • Arts, Literatures, and Performance (ALP). Through courses in arts, literatures, and performance, students learn about the creative products of the human intellect.

  • Civilizations (CZ). Courses about civilizations ask students to engage in analysis and evaluation of ideas and events that shape civilizations past and present.

  • Natural Sciences (NS). Through courses in natural sciences students learn about the interpretation or application of scientific theories pertaining to or models of the natural world.

  • Quantitative Studies (QS): one of the QS courses must be in math, statistical science, or computer science. Courses in quantitative studies, including computer science, mathematics, and statistical science, help develop skills of inference and analysis.

  • Social Sciences (SS). Through courses in the social sciences students learn about patterns of human behavior and about the origins and functions of the social structures in which we operate.

Modes of Inquiry. Credits must be obtained in courses designated as offering exposures to each of the following inquiries, as indicated below. A single course can be used to satisfy up to three Modes of Inquiry, as well as one Area of Knowledge.

The first three of the six required Modes of Inquiry address important cross-cutting intellectual themes that represent enduring focal points of inquiry and involve application of knowledge to which many disciplines speak. Students need to be prepared to engage in a critical analysis of world issues pertaining to cross-cultural, ethical, and science and technology matters throughout their lives and careers. Students must take 2.0 course credits in each of these three modes.

  • Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI): 2.0 course credits. 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, and/or 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 engage in comparisons that extend beyond national boundaries and their own national cultures and to explore the impact of increasing globalization.

  • Ethical Inquiry (EI): 2.0 course credits. Undergraduate education is a formative period for engaging in critical analysis of ethical questions arising in human life. Students should 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 societal 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): 2.0 course credits. Advances in science and technology have brought profound changes to 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 has accelerated dramatically; science and technology 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 must 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.

The six required Modes of Inquiry also include Foreign Language, Writing, and Research.

  • Foreign Language (FL): 1.0 to 3.0 course credits in the same language, determined by level of proficiency. Duke has set internationalization as an institutional priority 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. Students should have an awareness of how language frames and structures understanding and effective communication. To satisfy the foreign language competency requirement students must complete one of the following:

    • For students who enter their language study at Duke at the intermediate level or above, and intend to complete the requirement in the same language:

      • Completion of a 300-level course that carries the FL designation is required. Therefore, students who place into the first semester of the intermediate level take three full courses, students who place into the second semester of the intermediate level take two full courses, and students who place into the 300 level take one course.

      • Russian requires an official written and oral proficiency examination at Duke for foreign language placement. Students who plan to continue studying any other language should consult with the director of undergraduate studies in that language or see the table "College Board Tests" here.

    • For students who begin the study of a foreign language at Duke at the elementary level (first or second semester) course and intend to complete the requirement in that language: The successful completion of three full sequential courses in the same language that carry the FL designation is required.

    Students are encouraged to register for an FL designated course no later than the first semester of their sophomore year

  • Writing (W): 3.0 course credits, including Writing 101 in the first year and two writing-intensive (W) courses in the disciplines, at least one of which must be taken after the first year. 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 3.0 course credits’ worth of 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, participate in multiple rounds of drafting and feedback, and learn how the conventions and expectations for writing differ among the disciplines.

  • Research (R): 2.0 course credits. 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 that allows them to be active participants in the acquisition, critical evaluation, and application of knowledge. 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. Students are required to complete 2.0 course credits’ worth of research exposures; one Research Independent Study (coded R) may be submitted for approval for the Writing in the disciplines (W) designation.

Advanced Placement credits, international placement credits, and prematriculation credits for college courses taken elsewhere before matriculation in the first-year class at Duke cannot satisfy Areas of Knowledge or Modes of Inquiry requirements.

Independent Study courses do not carry Areas of Knowledge or Modes of Inquiry designations, except for a research independent study course, which may carry the Research designation. A maximum of one research independent study (coded R) may also count toward the requirement of writing-intensive courses (W) in the disciplines.

Transfer courses and interinstitutional courses may be considered for approval to satisfy Areas of Knowledge requirements.

Small Group Learning Experiences

During the first year: one full-course seminar (i.e., a 1.0-credit course, not partial credit courses). After the first year: a total of 2.0 course credits designated as seminars, tutorials, independent studies, and/ or thesis courses. (The total may include partial credit courses.)

By supplementing the classroom and lecture methods of instruction, small group learning experience courses assure students have opportunities to engage in discussion, develop skills, refine judgment, and defend ideas when challenged. A seminar (indicated by the suffix S) is an independent course of twelve to fifteen (exceptionally to eighteen) students who, together with an instructor, engage in disciplined discussion. The number of meeting hours per term is the same as for regular courses of equivalent credit. A tutorial (indicated by the suffix T) is a group of one to five students and an instructor meeting for discussion which is independent of any other course. For independent study, students pursue their own interests in reading, research, and writing, but meet one-on-one with an instructor for guidance and discussion. See the section "Independent Study."

To meet the first-year seminar requirement, students who transfer to Duke with sophomore standing are required to meet the first-year seminar requirement, The first year seminar requirement is waived for students who transfer to Trinity with sophomore standing. are required to complete a seminar by the end of their sophomore year at Duke or to submit documentation that they completed a seminar course at the college they attended previously.

While discussion sections (D) and preceptorials (P) do not satisfy the formal Small Group Learning Experience requirement in Trinity, they offer additional opportunities for students to participate in small classes. A discussion section, with an enrollment limit set by the individual department, is an integral part of a larger regular course, and every member of the class is enrolled. A preceptorial (P) is a group of usually no more than twelve students and an instructor in which discussion is the primary component; it is an additional and optional unit attached to a regular course involving one or more extra meetings per week. No additional course credit is given for discussion sections or preceptorials.

Instructors in all courses that satisfy the requirements for small group learning experiences, including independent study, must meet with the students at least once every two weeks during the spring/fall semesters and at least once every week during the summer terms. The requirements for small group learning experiences are listed under Program I, above.

A course may carry up to two Areas of Knowledge and up to three Modes of Inquiry. A course may count toward only one Area of Knowledge, but toward multiple Modes of Inquiry.

34.0 Course Credits

There are specific requirements concerning course credits in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Thirty-four (34.0) course credits are required for graduation, at least twenty-four of which must be Duke-originated courses. Duke-originated courses are defined as courses taught by Duke or Duke-affiliated faculty, offered through Duke University, and subject to the approval processes of Duke’s schools. Duke-originated courses include some Duke Kunshan University courses and the Duke-originated courses offered in Duke-In study abroad/away programs. The 34.0 course credits required for graduation are subject to limitations described elsewhere in this bulletin.

Of the 34.0 course credits required for graduation, a maximum of 2.0 course credits passed with a D grade (D, D+, D-) can be used toward the 34.0 course credits requirement. (Courses for which a D grade is earned do, however, satisfy all other requirements.) The 34.0 course credits may include

  1. no more than 1.0 course credit in physical education activity courses (i.e., two half-credit activity courses, including military science physical activity courses)

  2. no more than 4.0 course credits in dance/American Dance Festival technique/performance courses (i.e., eight half-credit courses)

  3. no more than 2.0 course credits in house courses (i.e., four half-credit courses)

  4. no more than 4.0 course credits in military science

  5. no more than 4.0 course credits electively taken on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading basis (not including courses offered only on that basis)

  6. no more than four interinstitutional courses

  7. no more than 6.0 course credits in graduate and professional school courses not listed in the Duke University Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction. These courses include all courses offered by the schools of business, law, divinity, nursing, and all graduate courses numbered 700 and above. These courses are generally not open to undergraduates and require special permission to enroll. Independent Study may not be taken in a professional school, unless listed as a course in the Duke University Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction or offered through a Trinity College of Arts & Sciences department or program. (See policies in the section Independent Study.)

For limitations on transfer credit and Advanced Placement credit, see the section “Entrance Credit and Placement," the section “Transfer of Work Taken Elsewhere,” and the “Residence” section immediately below.


Undergraduates at Duke are expected to complete either the bachelor of arts or the bachelor of science degree in eight semesters of enrollment. This period may be extended for one semester by a student’s academic dean for legitimate reasons. Very rarely, a student will be granted a tenth semester of study by an academic dean. Students are not permitted to complete more than ten undergraduate semesters at Duke.

For purposes of establishing the length of residence of a student admitted in transfer, the semesters completed at the institution previously attended are counted as semesters of residence at Duke.

For the minimum residence period, at least seventeen courses must be satisfactorily completed at Duke. If only seventeen courses are taken at Duke, they must include the student’s last eight courses.

The Major

The requirements for majors in the department or program in which a student wishes to obtain a bachelor’s degree are described after the course listings for each department or program.

Students are expected to acquire some mastery of a particular discipline or interdisciplinary area as well as to achieve a breadth of intellectual experience. They therefore complete a departmental major, a program major, or an interdepartmental major. Majors, including interdepartmental majors, are designed to give students breadth and depth in a particular discipline or interdisciplinary area. The courses required for majors are specified by the department or academic program, and include a progression from lower to upper level courses. Departmental and program majors require a minimum of ten courses; interdepartmental majors require a minimum of fourteen courses. The courses for a departmental major may include introductory or basic prerequisite courses and higher level courses in the major department or in the major department and related departments. The total number of courses that a department/program may require at any level in the major and related departments may not exceed 17.0 course credits for the bachelor of arts degree and 19.0 course credits for the bachelor of science degree. At least half the courses for a student’s major field must be taken at Duke, although individual departments and programs offering majors may require that a greater proportion be taken at Duke. Although no more than two D grades can count toward the 34.0-course-credit requirement, courses in which D grades are earned satisfy major, minor, and certificate requirements. Students are responsible for meeting the requirements of a major as stated in the bulletin for the year in which they matriculated in Trinity College; however, they have the option of meeting requirements in the major changed subsequent to the students’ matriculation. A student who declares and completes requirements for two majors may have both listed on the official record. A maximum of two majors may be recorded on a student’s record. See the page Declaration of Major for procedures on declaring a major.

Interdepartmental Major. A student may pursue an interdepartmental major in two Trinity College departments or programs that offer a major. The student works with an advisor in each department to adopt an existing interdepartmental major or to design a new one. The major must be approved by the directors of undergraduate studies in both departments who define a course of study covering core features of each discipline, such as theory, methodology, and research techniques. The criteria must include at least fourteen courses split evenly between the departments. At least four of the seven courses required by each department are to be taught within the department. All courses must be among those normally accepted for a major in the two departments. The directors of undergraduate studies in the two departments must agree to an initial list of courses that the student will take in the two departments and jointly approve any subsequent changes to that course of study. Students proposing an interdepartmental major must present a descriptive title for the major and a rationale for how the program of study will help them realize their intellectual goals. The dean for the curriculum must also give final approval for the proposal.

The directors of undergraduate studies in two Trinity College departments or programs that offer a major may also propose an interdepartmental major (IDM). The proposed IDM will define a course of study covering core features of each discipline, such as theory, methodology, and research techniques. Current active departmental IDMs and their dates of inception are as follows:

  • Ancient Religion & Society — Classical Studies and Religious Studies (Fall 2018)

  • Computational Media — Computer Science and Visual and Media Studies (Fall 2021)

  • Data Science — Computer Science and Statistical Science (Fall 2018)

  • Data Science — Computer Science and Mathematics (Fall 2020)

  • Global Gender Studies — Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and International Comparative Studies (Fall 2020)

  • Linguistics and Computer Science — Computer Science and Linguistics (Fall 2019)

Additional information about IDMs can be found at

The Minor

Minors are available, though not required. They are described after the course listings for each department or program.

The courses required for a minor are specified by the department/academic program. Minors require a minimum of five courses. Further information about specific minors is available on their program pages in this bulletin. Students may not major and minor in the same department/program with the exception of four departments in which multiple majors or concentrations are possible: (1) Asian and Middle Eastern studies, (2) art, art history, and visual studies, (3) classical studies, and (4) romance studies. At least half the courses taken to satisfy a minor must be taken at Duke although individual departments may require that a greater proportion be taken at Duke.

Certificate Programs

A certificate program is a course of study that affords a distinctive, usually interdisciplinary, approach to a subject that is not available within any single academic unit. All certificate programs have a required introductory course as well as a required culminating capstone course. There are two versions of certificate programs: the traditional certificate, consisting primarily of academic coursework (minimum six courses), and the experiential certificate, consisting of a combination of coursework (minimum four courses) and immersive co-curricular experiences. Eligible undergraduates electing to satisfy the requirements of a traditional certificate program may use, for that purpose, no more than two courses that are also used to satisfy the requirements of any major, minor, or other certificate program; for experiential certificates, no more than one course may be used to satisfy the requirements of any other major, minor, or certificate program. Individual programs may prohibit such double counting or restrict it to one course. At least half the courses taken to satisfy a certificate must be taken at Duke, although individual programs may require that a greater proportion be taken at Duke. More complete descriptions of these certificate programs appear in the Programs section.

Restrictions on Majors, Minors, Certificates

A student must declare one major and may declare a second (although not a third) major. The combined number of majors, minors, and certificate programs may not exceed three. Thus, a student may declare as a maximum: two majors and either a minor or a certificate program; a major and two minors; a major and two certificate programs; or a major, a minor, and a certificate program.

Elective Courses

Advanced placement credits, international placement credits, and prematriculation credit for college courses taken elsewhere before entering the first-year class may function only as elective courses and do not satisfy general education requirements aside from counting toward the 34.0-course-credit requirement (with limitations). Elective courses taken after a student matriculates may or may not carry general education designations.