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Our Approach To Learning

Smith’s liberal arts framework offers students a valid perspective on the world’s past, present and future. Students pursue studies in seven major fields of knowledge: literature, historical studies, social science, natural science, mathematics and analytic philosophy, the arts and a foreign language.

Seven Fields of Knowledge

Each discipline within the liberal arts framework offers students a valid perspective on the world’s past, present and future. Therefore, we recommend that students pursue studies in each of the following fields.

  • Literature, either in English or in some other language, because it is a crucial form of expression, contributes to our understanding of human experience and plays a central role in the development of culture;
  • Historical studies, either in history or in historically oriented courses in art, music, religion, philosophy and theatre, because they provide a perspective on the development of human society and culture and free us from the parochialism of the present;
  • Social science, because it offers a systematic and critical inquiry into human nature, social institutions and human relationships;
  • Natural science, because of its methods, its contribution to our understanding of the world around us and its significance in modern culture;
  • Mathematics and analytic philosophy, because they foster an understanding of the nature and use of formal, rational thought;
  • The arts, because they constitute the media through which people have sought, through the ages, to express their deepest feelings and values;
  • A foreign language, because it frees one from the limits of one’s own tongue, provides access to another culture and makes possible communication outside one’s own society.

Students who wish to become eligible for Latin Honors at graduation or who wish to have Liberal Arts Commendation indicated on their transcripts must elect at least one course in each of the seven major fields of knowledge.

The Writing Intensive Requirement

Each first-year student is required, during their first or second semester at Smith, to complete at least one Writing Intensive (WI) course with a grade of C- or higher.

At the core of Smith’s Writing Intensive requirement is the faculty’s shared conviction that thinking and writing are indispensably linked, working together to fuel students’ intellectual growth as you embark upon your college careers. We write to generate ideas; we write to test the value of those ideas against the standards of evidence and clarity demanded by the liberal arts disciplines; and we write to communicate our thoughts and convictions to an array of audiences both in and beyond the classroom.

Writing Intensive (WI) courses embrace the responsibility to prepare students for the writing tasks they will encounter as their intellectual careers at Smith unfold. Accordingly, first-year students in WI courses learn how to ask questions; to observe closely; to interrogate assumptions; to gather, analyze and present evidence; and to make careful, evidence-based arguments through writing. They hone these skills by engaging in a process of drafting and revising facilitated by timely, discriminating feedback from peers and instructors. Students can expect their WI courses to help them to:

  • articulate a thesis or central argument, or to create a description or report, with an orderly sequence of ideas, effective transitions, and a purpose that is clear to the intended audience;
  • support an argument or enrich an explanation with evidence;
  • compose paragraphs that are focused and coherent;
  • develop an awareness of library-supported research tools, and an ability to search for and evaluate relevant primary and secondary sources for scholarly work;
  • incorporate the work of others (by quotation, summary or paraphrase) concisely, productively, and with attention to the models of citation of the various disciplines and with respect for academic integrity;
  • and edit work until it forcefully and persuasively communicates its meanings.

While there is no one way to learn to think deeply and write powerfully, students can count on WI courses to:

  • be small enough to permit meaningful and consistent attention to the writing process (no WI course or WI section of a larger course may have more than 20 students, and most will have fewer);
  • offer an array of discrete writing assignments and opportunities during the course of the semester (rather than a single, longer paper or project);
  • and offer significant opportunities to revise work, guided by feedback from both instructors and peers.

Beyond these shared commitments, students may find that their WI course will employ a variety of pedagogical strategies (informal writing, writing workshops, etc.); that the writing opportunities it provides may be shaped by the intellectual values and practices of a particular academic discipline; and that the course may offer opportunities to write in the public-facing genres (e.g., the op-ed, the position paper, the blog post) or for the array of media platforms (e.g., the podcast, the website, the video essay) where writing does its work today. First-year students are invited to submit exceptional essays written in their WI courses to Smith Writes.

The required WI course is the beginning, not the culmination of a student’s writing life at the college. Just as one’s thinking and learning is never finished, working on the writing that enables that thinking and learning will continue across each student’s years at Smith, whether within the major or in the curriculum at large. For students working on an essay or a lab report, and for faculty members designing a writing assignment or rethinking the role of writing in a course, the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching, and Learning offers resources and the advice of professional writing instructors and well-trained peer tutors to advance and enrich your writing at Smith all along the way. For consultation on the research process for papers and projects, students and faculty are invited to email or meet with the Libraries’ Research Services and to review Library Guides for subject-specific primary and secondary sources.

Each first-year student is required, during their first or second semester at Smith, to complete at least one Writing Intensive (WI) course with a grade of C- or higher. Based on their level of proficiency, students will be directed toward particular writing courses. Ada Comstock Scholars and transfer students are also required to complete at least one Writing Intensive course, with a grade of C- or higher, during their first two semesters at Smith. The Writing Intensive requirement can be satisfied before matriculation based on transcript review by the registrar, in conjunction with the Committee on Writing and Public Discourse.

The Freedom To Explore


Nearly half of all Smith students major in a STEM field—almost double the national average for women. See what studying STEM at a women’s college is all about.

Student working on a math equation at a blackboard


Humanities are so much more than what’s in the classroom. At Smith, take part in one of our humanistic and social sciences (HSS) labs and apply your learning more broadly.

Student sitting in chair in front of Lyman Plant House, looking at a book.

Five Colleges, One Education

Incorporated in 1965, Five Colleges, Inc., is one of the oldest and most highly regarded consortiums in American higher education. Its members are four private colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). As a student in the Five College system, you may choose from more than 5,000 undergraduate course offerings a year. Fare-free buses provide transportation day and night.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the course load at Smith?

In order to graduate from Smith with a bachelor of arts degree, a student has to earn 128 credits. Thirty-six to 48 of these credits must be chosen to satisfy the requirements of the major field; 64 credits must be chosen from outside the major department. First-year students must take a writing intensive course, chosen from a number of options.

In order to graduate with Latin Honors a student must elect at least one course in each of the seven fields of knowledge: literature, historical studies, social science, natural science, mathematics and analytical philosophy, the arts and foreign language.

The requirements differ for those who choose to seek a bachelor of science in engineering.

When do I declare a major?

A major must be declared during the fall or spring of sophomore year, or before a student begins junior year. While many first-year students arrive with a strong preference for a major, at least as many others arrive undecided, and many students change their minds once they start exploring areas of the curriculum that are new to them. In fact, you are encouraged to be flexible about your course choices, to discover new fields and to find subjects that use your talents and intellect in new ways.

While we prefer you declare your major in your sophomore year, it is important to pay attention to the curricular requirements of programs that interest you, such as study abroad programs or a preprofessional program in health. These programs may have specific requirements that you must consider when choosing your courses for this year. For more information, talk to representatives of these programs during orientation or this fall.

How many majors are offered?

See Courses of Study for a complete listing of majors. While not an easy process, if a student wants to design her own major she may do so. She must obtain the approval of the Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs of the Committee on Academic Policy. Student-designed majors must differ significantly from existing majors.

What about minors and concentrations?

See Courses of Study for a complete listing of minors. A student may complete a minor, which consists of five or six semester courses. Minors are offered by some departments and by groups of faculty members who combine courses intoan interrelated field of study.

There are also academic concentrations that allow students to organize academic and practical experiences, such as internships and service learning, around an area of interest. See Courses of Study for a complete listing of minors and concentrations.

What is the average class size?

The average class size is 19.

What is the student/faculty ratio?

The student/faculty ratio is 9 to 1. Students interact with their faculty both in and out of the classroom. Faculty hold office hours during which students visit with questions about class. Faculty are also available by individual appointment. Many students and faculty interact in non-academic arenas including over meals and tea in student houses.

When do I select my classes?

New students select their classes during orientation, which takes place the week before school begins. Every first-year student is assigned a Liberal Arts Adviser. Your adviser will have from eight to 10 advisees and will remain your adviser until you declare your major and ask a faculty member in your major department to be your adviser. During orientation your Liberal Arts Adviser will talk with you about your interests and goals and help you select a workable course load from the more than 1,000 courses we offer.

What are the most popular majors at Smith?

Economics, psychology, government, biology and art.

Will I be able to study abroad?

Smith offers a wide range of study abroad programs, from the Smith-run programs in western Europe to Smith-affiliated and Smith-approved programs all over the world. Smith faculty direct programs in Florence, Hamburg, Geneva and Paris. Each of these programs is for a full academic year. Smith also has a formal affiliation with programs in Japan, China, Rome, Spain, South India and Russia. Students may also arrange to study abroad on one of over 100 additional programs that have been approved by Smith.

Students participating in Smith-approved international study programs are billed and financial aid is available to them as if they are on campus. Smith will pay the study abroad program tuition and fees directly to the program. Students are responsible for all expenses and all travel during vacations.

General Requirements

Each student is responsible for knowing all regulations governing the curriculum and course registration, and is responsible for planning a course of study in accordance with those regulations and the requirements for the degree.

The requirements for the undergraduate degree are:

  • Minimum 128 credits of academic work. (See Degree Restrictions.)
  • Cumulative grade point average of 2.0 for all institutional work (including Smith Programs Abroad and Five College Interchange).
  • Completion of a major.
  • Satisfactory (C– or better) completion of a writing-intensive course during the first year of enrollment.
  • Four semesters of academic work, a minimum of 64 completed credits, in academic residence at Smith College in Northampton. Two of these semesters must be completed during the junior or senior year.
  • Bachelor of Arts: completion of 64 credits of academic work outside the department of the major (64-Credit Rule).
  • Bachelor of Science: additional requirements for the bachelor of science degree are listed in the Smith College Course Catalog (under "Engineering") and on the Picker Engineering Program website.

  • A limited number of performance credits may be counted toward the degree:

    • Exercise and Sport Studies (ESS): maximum of 4 credits
    • Music (MUS): maximum of 24 credits
    • Dance (DAN): maximum of 12 credits for non-dance majors, 20 credits for dance majors

    Courses completed beyond these limits are listed on the transcript but are not counted towards the degree.

  • A maximum of 16 credits of optional Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grades may be counted toward the degree.
  • A maximum of 16 credits of special studies may be counted toward the degree.
  • A maximum of 12 approved summer school credits and a maximum of 12 approved interterm credits at Smith or elsewhere may be applied to the degree, with an overall maximum of 32 credits of combined summer, interterm, AP and other pre–matriculation credits.