A Liberal Education
As do all major universities, Stanford provides the means for its undergraduates to acquire a liberal education, an education that broadens the student's knowledge and awareness in each of the major areas of human knowledge, that significantly deepens understanding of one or two of these areas, and that prepares him or her for a lifetime of continual learning and application of knowledge to career and personal life.
The undergraduate curriculum at Stanford allows considerable flexibility. It permits each student to plan an individual program of study that takes into account personal educational goals consistent with particular interests, prior experience, and future aims. All programs of study should achieve some balance between depth of knowledge acquired in specialization and breadth of knowledge acquired through exploration. Guidance as to the limits within which that balance ought to be struck is provided by the University's General Education Requirements and by the requirements set for major fields of study.
These educational goals are achieved through study in individual courses that bring together groups of students examining a topic or subject under the supervision of scholars. Courses are assigned credit units. To earn a bachelor's degree, the student must complete at least 180 allowable units and, in so doing, also complete the Writing Requirement, the General Education Requirements, the Language Requirement, and the requirements of a major.
The purpose of the Writing Requirement is to promote effective communication by ensuring that every undergraduate can write clear and effective English prose. Words are the vehicles for thought, and clear thinking requires facility in writing and speech.
The Language Requirement ensures that every student gains a basic familiarity with a foreign language. Foreign language study extends the student's range of knowledge and expression in significant ways, providing access to materials and cultures that otherwise would be out of reach.
The General Education Requirements provide guidance toward the attainment of breadth and stipulate that a significant share of a student's work must lie outside an area of specialization. These requirements ensure that every student is exposed to different ideas and different ways of thinking. They enable the student to approach and to understand the important ways of knowing how to assess their strengths and limitations, their uniqueness, and, no less important, what they have in common with others.
Depth, the intensive study of one subject or area, is provided through specialization in a major field. The major relates more specifically to a student's personal goals and interests than do the general requirements outlined above. Stanford's curriculum provides a wide range of standard majors through its discipline-oriented departments, a number of interdisciplinary majors in addition to department offerings, and the opportunity for students to design their own major programs.
Elective courses, which are not taken to satisfy requirements, play a special role in tailoring the student's program to individual needs. For most students, such courses form a large portion of the work offered for a degree. Within the limitations of requirements, students may freely choose any course for which previous studies have prepared them.
Following are more detailed descriptions of these various requirements and the rationales upon which they are based.