Academic Affairs

Trinity College Curriculum

A research university links its undergraduate curriculum to the processes of inquiry and discovery as well as the work of its faculty. Trinity's undergraduate liberal arts curriculum encourages breadth and depth while balancing structure with choice. It is built upon the cornerstones of research and writing, designed to develop the ability to:

  • make meaning of complex information
  • evaluate and discern among competing claims
  • collaborate as well as compete
  • engage difference
  • apply knowledge in the service of society

This innovative curriculum reflects Duke's desire to dedicate its unique resources to preparing its students for the challenging and rapidly changing global environment. The curriculum provides a liberal arts education that asks students to engage a wide variety of subjects: arts, literatures, and performance; civilizations; natural sciences, quantitative studies; and social sciences. It supports a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and fosters the development of students' abilities to read and think critically and in historically and ethically informed ways, to communicate lucidly and effectively, and to undertake and evaluate independent research.

Trinity College General Education Competencies

Duke University seeks to empower students by expanding their capacity to reason and to empathize by developing knowledge; intellectual abilities, competencies, and skills; and students' personal and social responsibility. Specifically, the University defines as general education outcomes:

1. 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. Intellectual Abilities, Competencies, and Skills

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

3. Personal and Social Responsibility

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

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

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

General Education Requirements

The general education component includes two interrelated features: Areas of Knowledge and Modes of Inquiry. Since a course may have several intellectual goals and intended learning outcomes, it may potentially and simultaneously satisfy more than one general education requirement*, as well as requirements of a major, minor, or certificate program.

*A course may count for only one Area of Knowledge, but up to three Modes of Inquiry.

Areas of Knowledge

To graduate students must successfully complete two courses in each of five areas of knowledge:

  • Arts, Literatures, and Performance (ALP) Courses focus on the analysis and interpretation of the creative products of the human intellect, and/or engage students in creative performance requiring intellectual understanding and interpretive skills.
  • Civilizations (CZ) Courses focus on the analysis and evaluation of ideas and events that shape civilizations past and present.
  • Natural Sciences (NS) Courses focus on the interpretation or interpretation of scientific theories or models of the natural world.
  • Quantitative Studies (QS) Courses provide instruction in a quantitative skill to achieve proficiency in math, statistics, or computer science, or engage in the application of explicitly quantitative methodology to analyze problems.
 NOTE: one of the two required courses must be taken in Math, Statistics, or Computer Science.
  • Social Sciences (SS) Courses focus on the causes of human behavior and the origins and functions of the social structures in which we operate.

Modes of Inquiry

To graduate students must successfully complete two courses (or 1-3 in a foreign language and 3 in writing) in each of six modes of inquiry.

The first three Modes of Inquiry address important cross-cutting themes that transcend individual disciplines and may be approached from various disciplinary perspectives. Students need to be prepared to grapple with issues pertaining to these themes throughout their lives and careers.

  • Cross-Cultural Inquiry (CCI). 
This Mode of Inquiry provides an academic engagement with the dynamics and interactions of culture(s) in a comparative or analytic perspective. It involves a scholarly, comparative, and integrative study of political, economic, aesthetic, social and cultural differences. It seeks to provide students with the tools to identify culture and cultural difference across time or place, between or within national boundaries. This includes but is not limited to the interplay between and among material circumstances, political economies, scientific understandings, social and aesthetic representations, and the relations between difference/diversity and power and privilege within and across societies. In fulfilling this requirement, students are encouraged to undertake comparisons that extend beyond national boundaries and their own national cultures and to explore the impact of increasing globalization.
  • Ethical Inquiry (EI). 
Undergraduate education is a formative period for engaging in critical analysis of ethical questions arising in human life. Students need to be able to assess critically the consequences of actions, both individual and social, and to sharpen their understanding of the ethical and political implications of public and personal decision-making. Thus, they need to develop and apply skills in ethical reasoning and to gain an understanding of a variety of ways in which, across time and place, ethical issues and values frame and shape human conduct and ways of life. 

  • Science, Technology, and Society (STS). 
Advances in science and technology have wrought profound changes in the structure of society in the modern era. They have fundamentally changed the 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. In the second half of the last century, the pace of such change accelerated dramatically; science and technology will play an even greater role in shaping the society of the future. If students are to be prepared to analyze and evaluate the scientific and technological issues that will confront them and to understand the world around them, they need exposure to basic scientific concepts and to the processes by which scientific and technological advances are made and incorporated into society. They need to understand the interplay between science, technology, and society-that is, not only how science and technology have influenced the direction and development of society, but also how the needs of society have influenced the direction of science and technology. 

  • Foreign Language (FL). 
Duke has set internationalization as an institutional priority in order to prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse and interdependent world. By developing proficiency in a foreign language, students can develop cross-cultural competency and become more successful members of their increasingly complex local, national, and international communities. Foreign language study substantially broadens students' own experiences and helps them develop their intellect and gain respect for other peoples. Students need an awareness of how language frames and structures understanding and effective communication, and a study of foreign language improves students' native language skills. 

  • Writing (W). 
Effective writing is central to both learning and communication. To function successfully in the world, students need to be able to write clearly and effectively. To accomplish this, they need to have a sustained engagement with writing throughout their undergraduate career. Thus, students must take at least three writing courses at Duke: a) Writing 101 in their first year and b) two writing-intensive courses (W) in the disciplines, at least one of which must be taken after their first year. Through the latter type of courses students become familiar with the various modes and genres of writing used within an academic discipline and learn how the conventions and expectations for writing differ among the disciplines. 

  • Research (R). 
As a research university, Duke seeks to connect undergraduate education to the broad continuum of scholarship reflected in its faculty. Such a rich setting provides students with opportunities to become involved in a community of learning and to engage in the process of discovery and move beyond being the passive recipients of knowledge that is transmitted to being an active participant in the discovery, critical evaluation, and application of knowledge and understanding. Engagement in research develops in students an understanding of the process by which new knowledge is created, organized, accessed, and synthesized. It also fosters a capacity for the critical evaluation of knowledge and the methods of discovery. This is important not only for undergraduates who wish to pursue further study at the graduate level, but also for those who seek employment in a rapidly changing and competitive marketplace.

Additional Requirements

Thirty-four course credit total. Students must successfully complete at least 34 course credits (without receiving a D grade in more than two courses). There are restrictions on certain types of courses, including half-credit courses, professional school courses, military science courses and internships. Please consult advisers for more information.

  • First-year writing. Students must successfully complete Writing 101 in fall or spring of your first year. If they do not, they must enroll again during the summer (if offered) or the fall of sophomore year. Failure to do so can result in academic withdrawal for two semesters.
  • First-year seminar. During their first year, students must successfully complete a seminar (usually designated with an "S" after the course number). Participation in the Focus Program, the 89S seminar series (open to first-year students only), the 80S seminar series, or any seminar for which students qualify fulfills this requirement. If students do not take a seminar in their first two semesters, they must do so during summer session I or II. Failure to do so can result in academic withdrawal for two semesters.
  • Small Group Learning Experiences (SGLE). Students must complete two SGLEs – seminars, tutorials, thesis courses, and independent study courses – after their first year.

Please feel free to contact Ingeborg Walther, the Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Curriculum and Course Development with any questions, suggestions, or concerns.

Majors / Minors / Certificate Programs

Students need only one major to graduate. Students who have a strong secondary interest in another discipline might consider a minor or certificate or even a second major.  No more than two majors are allowed; the combined number of majors, minors, and certificates cannot exceed three.

The specific requirements of majors, minors, and certificate programs are provided in the Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction and generally also on departmental Web sites.