Demystifying the Liberal Arts Curriculum


If you’ve talked to anyone at Transylvania or similar institutions about a liberal arts education, you’ve probably heard it described as a way to educate the whole person.

I like that definition, and I think it fits, but it doesn’t really tell you anything. Sure, the liberal arts experience is about much more than just the classes you take, but wouldn’t it be helpful to see what kind of classes you actually would be taking in order to earn a liberal arts education?

That’s why I’m here.

Our curriculum is broken up into five areas you need to fill, as a way to make things easier.

Area 1 covers general education courses:

  • First Year Seminar and First Year Research Seminar (loved both of those classes way back in 2011-12!)
  • Lifetime Fitness (I’m taking it now, and it’s easier than health/gym in high school. Nothing to be dreading!)
  • 1 Math course (I took Elementary Statistics and, for a person who has never loved/excelled in math, it was great!)
  • Foreign Language. You have to take two semesters of the same language (though you can test out of this requirement). I took Spanish II and III with Profesora Contreras and loved them both!

Area 2 covers more basic general education courses:

  • Humanities (I took Perspectives on Literature with Dr. Taylor, though introductory classes in fields like religion or philosophy could also count)
  • Fine Arts (I took Intro to Fine Arts in LONDON, but there are other classes to fill that one as well)
  • Natural Science (I took Environmental Science and it was probably my favorite class of my first year!)
  • Social Science (I took Intro to Sociology, even though my AP Psychology credit filled this one)

Area 3 requires you take a class from List A and List B — different groups of classes that expose you to different cultural traditions. I took Judeo-Christian Heritage and next year I’ll take Islamic Religious Traditions to fill that one — and both count for my religion minor, too!

Area 4 is where things get really liberal artsy. You take two sets of two upper-level classes in fields other than your major. This allows you to go more in-depth in multiple fields.

  • For my first set, I took two anthropology classes that also count for my environmental studies minor: Sustainable Development and Appalachia and the Environment.
  • For my second set, I’m taking two religion courses that count towards that minor — I’m in Buddhist Religious Traditions now and I’m taking Sustainability and Theology during May term.

Area 5 requires two writing-intensive courses outside of your major. I was strategic and took Area 4s that also counted for Area 5s — Sustainable Development and Buddhist Religious Traditions fill this one for me.

To start exploring requirements for majors and minors, check out the program websites here. As you can see, there is still flexibility within every requirement in our curriculum.

That’s what makes the liberal arts most meaningful — you can make your education anything you want!