Registrar's Guide to Degree Requirements

Goals for the First and Second Years


Distribution Requirements
The Writing Course Requirement
The PE Requirement
The Foreign Language Requirement
The NSEP Requirement
The 20-Credit Rule

This is a collection of recommendations on to how to fulfill the degree requirement goals for the first and second years.

Please also see the complete graduation requirements.

Distribution Requirement

Registrar's Guide to the Divisional Distribution Requirement

  • The Rule:
  • The Registrar recommends:
    • Take at least two courses per semester toward fulfilling the 3-in-3 rule, until done
    • Take courses in different Divisions each semester (until done with a division)
  • Keep in mind...
    • Writing Courses and NSEPs also count for distribution
    • If you are expecting AP (or other non-Swarthmore) credit, 
      • for AP (and transfer credit) only one credit per division counts towards the 3-in-3 rule
      • AP credit can count for the "different department" part of the Distribution requirement
      • Eligible AP credit must be of 1.0 credit awards (half credit does not count)
      • AP credit is limited to certain conditions listed in the AP and IB credit Guide
    • 3-in-3 rule courses need be at least 1.0 credit and specified as counting toward a division in the Course Schedule
      • Half-credit courses do not count toward the 3-in-3 rule
      • Non-divisional interdisciplinary courses do not count toward the 3-in-3 rule
      • 1.5 credit Language courses do count toward Humanities distribution
    • For the "at Swarthmore" part of the requirement (two in each division), courses must be taught on the campus at Swarthmore.
      • "At Swarthmore" excludes Trico, Penn, transfer credit and AP/IB credit. Those can be the third credit, but none of those count for the "at Swarthmore" part of the requirement.
  • What is a "non-distribution" course?
    • Courses without approval to count in a division (Humanities, Natural Science and Engineering, or Social Sciences), or courses of less than 1.0 credit are "non-distribution" courses.
      • Non-distribution courses can count toward other requirements according to the rules of the requirements.  They might count toward a minor. They all count either inside or outside for the 20-credit rule, and they all count toward the 32 credit requirement.
      • Many courses coded as part of an inter-disciplinary program are non-distribution.  This is by design since many inter-disciplinary programs intentionally span more than one division.

Writing Course Requirement

Registrar's Guide to the Writing Course Requirement

  • The Rule:
    • Take 3 designated Writing courses, from 2 of the 3 divisions
  • The Registrar recommends:
    • Try to finish the requirement in the first 3 semesters
    • See the cartoon video
  • Here's why...
    • The Writing Course designation means the course includes explicit attention to teaching writing -- not just doing it.
    • Most designated Writing Courses are introductory in nature and are appropriate for first-year or second year students
    • Many designated Writing Courses are First-year seminars, and those are only open to first-year students
    • After sophomore year, the attractiveness of other course options can make it challenging to schedule designated Writing courses
    • Most upper level courses with a lot of writing are NOT designated Writing Courses because the courses focus on content without explicit attention to teaching writing
  • WARNING: Look for the label!
    • Designated Writing Courses are labeled
      • In the Course Catalog the label "Writing Course" follows the course description
      • In the Course Schedule the label "W" is the last thing in the course title.
    • The other way to know is to look on the approved list.

The PE Requirement

Registrar's Guide to the PE Requirement

  • The catalog chapter
  • The Registrar recommends:
    • Complete at least 1 PE unit per semester until the requirement is done
    • Swimming Requirement
      • Either pass the swim test, OR complete a Swarthmore swimming class
        • The swim class earns a PE unit and fulfills the Swimming requirement at the same time
  • PE units are only available from one of these four ways:
    • 1) PE classes offered by the PE department or
    • 2) PE Dance classes offered by the Dance department or
    • 3) Varsity sports or
    • 4) Student Activity Groups and Clubs approved by the PE department for PE units
      • There is a limit of 2 units of club sports or SAGs any student can apply to the PE requirement of 4 units
      • Seniors are not allowed to take club sports or SAGs toward fulfillment of the PE requirement
    • Note that working out on your own does NOT earn PE units.

The Foreign Language Requirement

Registrar's Guide to the Foreign Language Requirement

  • The catalog rule -- see #4
  • The Registrar recommends:
    • If you think you have fulfilled the requirement but your degree audit does not indicate fulfillment, meet with the registrar to explain.
      • You may need to provide additional documentation.
  • The requirement is fulfilled by successful completion of the second-half of a year-long language course, or higher.
    • You can take language courses here at Swarthmore, at trico, or elsewhere in summer school.
    • The language requirement can be fulfilled by transfer courses approved for transfer by the department, or by non-transferred courses proven to the registrar with an official transcript.

The NSEP science lab requirement

Registrar's Guide to the NSEP Requirement

  • The catalog rule
  • The Registrar recommends:
    • Consider taking an intro science NSEP in your first year
  • NSEPs are labeled in the Schedule and Catalog
  • NSEPs count toward NS distribution as well as NSEP
  • Explore the subject as a prospective major

The 20 credit Requirement

Registrar's Guide to the Twenty course-credit rule

  • The Rule:
  • The Registrar recommends:
    For the first two years take courses in a variety of subjects
  • You will need by graduation 20 credits in subjects different from your major
    • For regular (non-special) majors, sum the credits with four-letter subject codes which are different from your major's four-letter code
    • There are different rules for special majors
    • The 20 credits can come from all kinds of degree-applicable credit, and it all counts without limits based on type of credit
      • AP credit counts (outside your major subject)
      • Transfer credit counts (outside your major)
      • Half-credit courses count (outside your major)
  • For double majors, the 20 course credit rule is calculated as if you had only one major
    • You only have to complete the rule once, from the perspective of either one of your majors (not both)