General Education Requirements (Classes 2021, 2022 and 2023)

Over the course of your undergraduate career you will explore several important fields of inquiry in addition to the specialized knowledge you will gain in your field of concentration. The general education requirements will introduce you to significant intellectual issues as well as show you how to view problems and formulate solutions in new ways. While the requirements for the A.B. and B.S.E. degrees are different, both are easily fulfilled within your overall degree program.

The general education areas are proposed for undergraduate courses by the course instructor, then reviewed and approved by the Office of the Dean of the College on behalf of the faculty Committee on the Course of Study. General education distribution areas are not changed retroactively, and the Office of the Dean of the College does not approve petitions from individual students to substitute a different distribution area for one that is formally assigned to a course. In rare circumstances, a course that had no distribution area may have one assigned to it in a subsequent semester; in those cases, students may petition to have the distribution area awarded retroactively provided that the course has not changed and the distribution area is awarded to all students who successfully completed the course. Graduate courses, reading courses, and courses taken at Rutgers or Princeton Theological Seminary under our cross-registration agreement do not satisfy distribution requirements.

If you would like to see what courses will fulfill a particular distribution requirement, go to Course Offerings and use the dropdown menu to select a distribution area for your course search.

Please note that you cannot use advanced placement units to fulfill your writing or distribution requirements. Unless you are participating in term-time study abroad, you may use a maximum of two outside courses to fulfill A.B. distribution requirements and only one outside course in any single distribution area (LA, SA, ST). Outside science courses with or without a lab may count only for STN credit; you must still complete at least one STL course at Princeton. If you are a B.S.E. student, you should consult Dean Peter Bogucki.

A.B. Students

  • Language Requirement— demonstrated proficiency or one to four terms of coursework depending on the language you choose and the level at which you start
  • Distribution Requirements:

Epistemology and Cognition (EC) — one course
Ethical Thought and Moral Values (EM) — one course
Historical Analysis (HA) — one course
Literature and the Arts (LA) — two courses
Social Analysis (SA) — two courses
Quantitative Reasoning (QR) — one course
Science and Technology (STL/STN)— two courses; at least one course must be a science and technology course with laboratory (STL)


B.S.E. Students

  • School of Engineering and Applied Science Requirements — four terms of mathematics, two terms of physics and one term each of chemistry and computer science
  • A minimum of seven courses in the humanities and social sciences, which must include one course in four of the six areas listed below:

Language (at the 107/108 level or above)

Epistemology and Cognition (EC)
Ethical Thought and Moral Values (EM)
Historical Analysis (HA)
Literature and the Arts (LA)
Social Analysis (SA)

Writing Requirement

The Writing Seminars give Princeton first-year students an early opportunity to belong to a lively academic community in which members investigate a shared topic and discuss their writing together, with the aim of clarifying and deepening their thinking. The seminars are interdisciplinary in nature to emphasize transferable reading, writing and research skills. You’ll learn how to frame compelling questions, position your argument within a genuine academic debate, substantiate and organize claims, purposefully integrate a wide variety of sources and revise for greater cogency and clarity.

Language Requirement

When you become proficient in a language, you acquire more than a communication skill; you become literate in another culture and gain another perspective on the world. All candidates for the A.B. degree at Princeton must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before graduation. Many undergraduates satisfy the language requirement by demonstrating proficiency when they enter the University. In order to fulfill the language requirement through coursework, we expect successful completion of courses normally numbered through 107/108. 

Epistemology and Cognition (EC)

The requirement in epistemology and cognition will introduce you to the critical study of the nature, sources and bounds of human knowledge. Courses in this category examine topics ranging from the basic perceptual capabilities that humans share with other animals to the distinctively human capacity for language; from theoretical models of human knowledge to empirical models of an individual's cognitive abilities; from the historical record of collective inquiry in the sciences and elsewhere to informed speculations on the outer limits of what is knowable.

Ethical Thought and Moral Values (EM)

The requirement in ethical thought and moral values is designed to engage you in disciplined reflection on human conduct, character and ways of life. Through inquiry into questions of ethics and morality as presented in works from one or more cultural traditions, these courses will help you to discern, understand and appreciate ethical issues and to articulate, assess and defend moral judgments in an informed and thoughtful way.

Historical Analysis (HA)

Historical analysis begins with the problem of understanding the differences between the world of contemporary experience and the worlds of the past. Some courses in historical analysis focus on the distinctiveness of one or another part of the past, with the intention of bringing you to an understanding of political, social and cultural configurations quite different from your own. Others stress the processes of historical change through which one configuration of institutions, ideas and behavior is supplanted by another. Common to all courses in historical analysis is the presumption that the categories of social analysis are themselves historical and historically contingent, and that to understand the past requires entering imaginatively into languages, institutions and worldviews quite different from those of the present day.

Literature and the Arts (LA)

The requirement in literature and the arts allows you to develop critical skills through the study of the history, aesthetics and theory of literature and the arts, and to engage in creative practice. You may choose among courses in literature (in English, English translation, or other languages), visual and performing arts, music, architecture, film and electronic media. In addition to courses emphasizing critical analysis, you may explore the creative arts through practice in creative writing; in the studio arts of architecture, painting, sculpture, drawing and photography; in the performing arts of music, theater and dance; and in the media of film and video.

Social Analysis (SA)

The requirement in social analysis is designed to familiarize you with different approaches to the study of social life and to introduce you to modes of thinking about social institutions and cultural norms and their interconnectedness with forms of human behavior. Courses in this area examine how individuals interact with, and are shaped by, social groups and institutions, including those associated with politics, economics, religion, family, the arts, health and education; how and why particular forms of social organization and social relations emerge within a group or culture; and the origins, characteristics and consequences of social conflict and change.

Quantitative Reasoning (QR)

Quantitative reasoning is a process in which complex problems are described mathematically and solved within a structured mathematical framework. Courses in this area involve the manipulation and interpretation of numerical and categorical information and the quantification of inferences drawn from that information. The goal of courses in this category is to give you some understanding of basic mathematical methods and their applications; to provide you with an ability to understand and appreciate quantitative issues that have become part of everyday life; and to instill in you a lasting interest in quantitative methods and their applications.

Science and Technology (STL/STN)

The requirement in science and technology is designed to give you a basic knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of scientific inquiry and technological development. The common purpose of courses in this area is to instill a lasting interest in science and technology; to impart some understanding of the value of scientific thinking and its relation to societal issues; to foster an appreciation of the essential role of experimentation and measurement; and to convey the excitement of doing scientific research. The laboratory component is essential to an understanding of how scientific concepts are tested and of the limitations of the scientific method, including the concepts of error and reproducibility.