Curriculum: Overview

Curriculum Philosophy

Duke University seeks to empower students to develop their capacity to reason effectively, exercise sound judgment, synthesize knowledge, and conduct themselves in historically and ethically informed ways. In doing so, they can expect to develop their knowledge, intellectual abilities, competencies, and skills. Specifically, the university defines as general education outcomes:

1. Acquisition of knowledge of humanity, societies and cultures, and the physical and natural world as expressed through the Arts and Sciences:

  • Arts, Literatures, and Performance
  • Civilizations
  • Natural Sciences,
  • Quantitative Studies
  • Social Sciences

2. Development of intellectual abilities, competencies, and skills

  • Critical Thinking
  • Analytical Reasoning
  • Writing
  • Quantitative Literacy
  • Foreign Language and Transcultural Understanding
  • Synthesis and Integration of Knowledge

3. Development of personal and social responsibility

  • Civic Engagement (Using Knowledge in the Service of Society)
  • Ethical Reasoning
  • Engaging Difference

Graduation Requirement Overview

The Trinity College Curriculum, specifically the graduation requirements that you must fulfill, will help you to fulfill these competencies and chart a course through the undergraduate years that will be responsive to your talents and aspirations and prepare you well for the future. At the core of the Curriculum are four sets of specific curricular requirements:

  • Areas of Knowledge requirements lend breadth to your education by introducing you to the full range of disciplines taught at Duke.
  • Modes of Inquiry requirements insure that you will engage certain important cross-cutting intellectual themes and prepare you to leave Duke having developed proficiencies that will serve you later in life.
  • Small Group Learning Experiences assure opportunities to engage in discussion, develop skills, refine judgment, and defend ideas when challenged.
  • The Major provides depth of exposure to one discipline and its methodologies that will enable you to develop a degree of expertise in that area.

See Degree Requirements for a detailed description of the curricular requirements.

Areas of Knowledge

It is an important objective of the curriculum to expose Trinity College students to a broad array of course work in a variety of academic disciplines even as they concentrate their focus on the area of their major. The Areas of Knowledge requirement insures this breadth of exposure to different ideas and approaches to learning. Colleges and universities differ in how they categorize the various divisions of knowledge, but in all cases, liberal arts universities recognize that different academic fields set different goals for themselves, approach the investigation of knowledge using different methodologies, and define differently what undergraduates should be exposed to in the course of their studies. At Duke, we impose no restrictions on the level of the courses used in fulfillment of the Areas of Knowledge requirement and students may take courses below or above the 100-level. See Frequently Asked Questions.

The curriculum recognizes five Areas of Knowledge:

Arts, Literatures, and Performance (2 Courses Required) Among the courses coded ALP are many (but not all) courses in the arts (music, drama, dance, art and art history), in the various literatures of the world (whether taught in English or in a foreign language), and in literary theory.

Civilizations (2 Courses Required) The CZ designation includes many (but not all) courses in art history, history, philosophy, and religion as well as various individual courses offered in other departments.

Natural Sciences (2 Courses Required) Among the courses designated NS are many (but not all) courses in the biological, physical, and environmental sciences and some courses in other disciplines such as psychology.

Quantitative Studies (2 courses are required and, beginning with the class that matriculated in 2012, one of these must be a course that originates or is cross-listed in mathematics, statistics or computer science) Courses designated QS have as their main purpose instruction in a quantitative skill to achieve proficiency in mathematics, statistics, or computer science or the use of explicitly quantitative methodology.

Social Sciences (2 Courses Required) Among the courses designated SS are many (but not all) courses in cultural anthropology, economics, environmental sciences, linguistics, political science, psychology, public policy studies, sociology, and women's studies as well as various individual courses offered in other departments.

Modes of Inquiry

The curriculum requires the completion of six Modes of Inquiry. Three modes (CCI, EI, STS) ensure that undergraduates are exposed to important intellectual themes that transcend individual disciplines and that students need to know about if they are to be well prepared for life in the 21st Century. These themes represent important focal points that can be approached from many disciplinary perspectives. The second set of three Modes (FL, R, and W) is intended to help students develop certain critical proficiencies that will serve them well at Duke and in the rapidly changing, complex world they will enter after college.


Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI) (2 Courses Required) In a world where globalization is reshaping politics and economics as well as social and cultural relations, Duke students need formal and academic experience in exploring differences among peoples and among social systems with national and international contexts. CCI seeks to provide students with the tools to identify culture and cultural difference across time or place. It encourages critical and responsible attention to issues of identity, diversity, globalization, and power, so that students may evaluate complex and difficult issues from multiple perspectives.



Ethical Inquiry (EI) (2 Courses Required) Ethical issues and values frame and shape human conduct and ways of life. Courses coded EI encourage students to develop and apply skills in ethical reasoning, to assess critically the consequences of actions, both individual and societal, and to sharpen their understanding of the ethical and political implications of public and personal decision-making.



Science, Technology, and Society (STS) (2 Courses Required) Advances in science and technology have profoundly influenced society in the modern era. They have changed our 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. STS exposes students to concepts that they need in order to confront scientific and technological issues. Courses coded STS not only explore how science and technology have affected societal development but also how the needs of society have influenced scientific and technological development.




Foreign Language (FL) (1 to 3 Courses Required) The foreign language requirement may be met in different ways, depending upon the level at which students begin the study of the language in question, but every graduate of Trinity College is expected to attain proficiency at least equivalent to that of the first intermediate course in that language.

 If you begin your language study at Duke at the intermediate level or above, you can fulfill the language requirement by completing a 300-level course coded FL. 
See more detail.

Research (R) Research courses encourage students to become active participants in the discovery, critical evaluation, and application of knowledge. Courses coded R enable students to come to terms with the ways that new knowledge is created, organized, accessed, and synthesized in the various disciplines. Students who matriculated in Fall 2002 and subsequently must complete two research-intensive courses (coded R). Students who matriculated in Fall 2001 must complete one course coded R.

Writing (W) (Writing 101 and 2 additional courses coded W required) Effective writing is central to learning and communication. The Writing requirement is designed to provide students with sustained engagement with writing throughout their undergraduate career. The first-year writing experience helps students to develop the intellectual, organizational, and expository skills appropriate to university study. Later writing-intensive courses link writing to various fields of study, thereby providing students with the opportunity to deepen these skills. 

To fulfill the Writing requirement students must complete both of the following:
 Writing 101, to be completed in either the fall or spring of the first year, and 

two writing-intensive courses (coded W) in the disciplines, at least one of which must be taken after the first year.

Small Group Learning Experiences

The faculty of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences instituted a set of requirements intended to ensure that students have the benefit of small group learning experiences, i.e., participating in courses with limited enrollment and ample opportunity for discussion and close collaboration with an instructor.  The requirements are as follows:

First-Year Seminar Requirement (1 Course Required) First-year students are required to complete a 1.0 credit seminar in the first year; this requirement may not be postponed.  Transfer students who have completed 3 or more semesters at their previous institution may have the first-year seminar requirement waived.

Small Group Learning Experience Requirement (2 Credits Required) After the first year (i.e., during your sophomore, junior, and/or senior years), students must complete two credits in small group learning experiences (SGLEs). This requirement can be fulfilled with 0.5 and 1.0 credit courses that are designated as seminars, tutorials, independent studies, or theses. 

Major Requirements

Majors provide in depth exposure to one discipline and its methodologies, and enable students to develop a measurable degree of expertise in that area. A listing of majors is available on the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences website, and specific course requirements are maintained on department and programs websites. In general, 10 courses are needed to fulfill the requirements of a major.