The Curriculum

Independent Learning with a Flexible Structure

The College seeks to impart every student with self-renewing intellectual resourcefulness, the mark of a liberal arts education. Beginning with our general education curriculum, students develop a base in the sciences, the arts and the humanities—ways of knowing that incorporate traditional academic disciplines with an interdisciplinary focus. A flexible set of requirements, the Nine Ways of Knowing are designed to equip students to respond critically and creatively to a rapidly changing world and enable them to debate ideas from new perspectives. Barnard students learn to employ a variety of analytical methods in order to engage new complexities of social evolution and scientific knowledge. From introductory biology classes to senior capstone projects, Barnard students have the opportunity to explore new intellectual territory and create new knowledge.  Here, independent thinking is encouraged and research is welcomed.

 Major, Electives, Nine Ways of Knowing

Foundation courses:
First-Year Seminar and First-Year English

Barnard students begin their studies by fearlessly launching themselves into their studies through First-Year Seminar and First-Year English. These two seminars, known as the First-Year Foundation, help students polish their ability to read critically, write convincingly, and speak with authority and confidence. Both courses focus on developing advanced college-level skills in critical reading, analytical writing and oral presentation. All First-Year Foundations classes are limited in enrollment to 16 students, so that the intimate classroom environment can promote intense discussion among the faculty and student participants.

First-Year Seminar and First-Year English are taught by experienced faculty and engage students in debating and thinking in new directions, while also creating bonds both within and beyond the classroom. Barnard normally offers more than fifteen topics for the First-Year Seminar each semester, while First-Year English courses center on three major themes. Through these foundation courses, even the best Barnard writers become more accomplished and better able to manage the ambiguity intrinsic to academic exploration.

Reacting to the Past:
A Unique Pedagogical Approach

One First-Year seminar choice is distinctly different and distinctly Barnard. Next to time travel, Reacting to the Past may be the most authentic way to experience history.

In a series of elaborate simulation games, Reacting to the Past students take on the roles of historical figures. Instead of just reading about events, they delve into the motivations, perspectives, and thoughts of people who have shaped history. As students recreate the intellectual energy during times of tumult and change, they experience history and other disciplines in a captivating way.The game begins as each student is assigned a historical figure and an objective. It’s up to the students to run the class sessions; professors are there to guide rather than lead the class. Classic texts become the historical and social context of each character’s life. Students get caught up in the role-playing as they try to persuade other players to take action according to the personality and motivations of their characters. A student might take on the role of a scholar in 16th-century China, helping to decide who should succeed the emperor. Or she may play a member of the National Assembly in revolutionary Paris in 1791, struggling to create a constitution in the midst of chaos.

The Nine Ways of Knowing

There are many ways of knowing the world, and Barnard uses a framework from which our students learn to look through nine different lenses. Far more than a loose collection of courses, these Ways of Knowing will become an interdisciplinary foundation for your Barnard education—and help determine the way you understand our ever-changing world. The requirements are designed to give you maximum flexibility. Instead of taking a prescribed list of courses, you’ll choose among many wide-ranging topics (and often from a list of 50-100 courses), allowing you to shape your education to your interests.

Cultures In Comparison

Study the commonality of human experience, examining personal cultural assumptions, ideologies, and values through comparative methods.

Historical Studies

See how historical interpretations are shaped by theories and methods of data analysis. Learn how concepts of history shape our understanding of both past and present.

Laboratory Science

Master the tools of science and pique your curiosity about the natural world, analyzing new information and increasing both scientific literacy and problem-solving ability.


Develop ample proficiency to communicate with cultural fluency and work effectively in an increasingly global and multilingual society.


Acquire skills needed for an informed reading of texts from various times, places, and traditions, understanding theoretical and cultural contexts by which readers interpret meaning.

Quantitative and Deductive Reasoning

Develop powerful ways of thinking logically and with supporting detail and improve your ability to use quantitative and deductive reasoning to analyze problems.

Ethics and Values

Explore the development of human values, reason, and thought, and how they guide actions in the context of human rights, cultural diversity, and global equity.

Social Analysis

Investigate central concepts of the social sciences, critically examining social structure and the impact of individual and group behavior via qualitative and quantitative methods.

The Visual and Performing Arts

Examine the creative process, forms of artistic expression, and the use of art to enrich human condition in a complex social and historical context 

To learn which courses would satisfy requirements view a detailed list.