In keeping with the University’s educational mission, all undergraduates are required to complete a program of study that emphasizes the values of what historically has been called “a liberal education.” This consists of the development of a range of skills and an introduction to academic disciplines that span the range of human knowledge. This type of education teaches students to write and think critically and to develop a basic understanding of human society and activity in all its dimensions. The courses and experiences included in this program of study provide a solid and broad education that will equip students to become lifelong learners, while preparing them to complete more focused study in the major.
The Common Curriculum is the twenty-first century version of the traditional liberal arts curriculum, and it is through the Common Curriculum that SMU ensures that all undergraduates meet the general education requirements stipulated by the U.S. Federal Government and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Students are required, based on these standards, to complete, as part of their degree requirements, a general education curriculum that consists of 31 hours. This requirement ensures breadth of knowledge and introduces students to the humanities and fine arts, the social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics. Students with advanced language proficiency, who are able to demonstrate appropriate proficiency on an approved proficiency test, may be able to complete their general education curriculum in 27 hours. The courses in general education, according to these standards, must not focus on the skills, techniques and procedures specific to that student’s occupation or profession. SMU’s Common Curriculum meets these standards while ensuring that students cultivate the knowledge and skills they need to become successful in the workplace, able to adapt to demands of rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected world. (*updated* 3/30/2021)
The Common Curriculum
The motto of Southern Methodist University, Veritas Liberabit Vos (“the truth shall set you free”), epitomizes the ideals of an SMU education and is the fundamental principle for the University Curriculum. The wisdom to acquire and critically reflect on existing knowledge and the insight and capacity to create new knowledge - the hallmarks of an educated person - exemplify the characteristics SMU seeks to instill in its students.
The Common Curriculum contains both general education and graduation requirements. The general education component of the Common Curriculum comprises approximately one-third of the baccalaureate degree plan for all SMU students. It consists of two main coursework components, Foundations and Breadth. The Foundation requirements include two semesters of Writing and Reasoning (WR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR), and a Second Language (SL) requirement of intermediate proficiency in a language other than English. These Foundation requirements serve to build on the diverse educational backgrounds of students who enter the university and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills required to complete an SMU degree. The seven Breadth requirements introduce SMU students to the known range of academic disciplines and give students a variety of intellectual frameworks from which to approach the world and solve the problems they encounter in it. These requirements are Creativity and Aesthetics (CA), Exploring Science (ES), Historical Contexts (HC), Literary Analysis and Interpretation (LAI), Philosophical, Religious, and Ethical Inquiry (PREI), Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), and Technological Advances and Society (TAS).
In addition to the general education requirements, the Common Curriculum also contains seven graduation requirements. These are Civics and Individual Ethics (CIE), Community Engagement (CE), Human Diversity (HD), Global Proficiency (GPS), Oral Communication (OC), Quantitative Applications (QA), Writing (W), and Writing in the Major (WIM). These “proficiency and experience” requirements give students the soft skills necessary to be compassionate and engaged citizens of the world, and they are often satisfied in tandem with either general education or major requirements, and may be met with coursework or with the completion of co-curricular activities.
The number of courses and/or credit hours required to complete the Common Curriculum will vary according to the individual student’s academic background, preparation, major and curricular choices. The list of CC courses will vary by term, and will be listed on the Common Curriculum page, as well as in the course search function of my.smu. Each student has access to a regularly updated and individualized Degree Progress Report that charts their progress and identifies courses the student can use to meet the various requirements. Students are advised to work closely with divisional/departmental and University advisers in navigating the CC requirements and planning their coursework each term.
Summary of Common Curriculum Requirements
General Education Requirements
Common Curriculum Foundations
A university education must provide students in all majors with the tools to embark on a lifetime of learning. CC Foundations courses assure that students read and write critically, and possess basic awareness of multi-faceted nature of our complex world. Because these skills are essential for a successful college experience, Foundations courses should be completed within a student’s first four terms of enrollment.
Writing and Reasoning (6-9 credits, typically 6)
Students will develop competency, clarity, coherence, and organization in their writing and will demonstrate university-level critical reasoning proficiencies through written expression The Common Curriculum emphasizes academic writing and critical reasoning in the first-year Writing and Reasoning sequence. The Writing and Reasoning sequence introduces students to academic thought and written communication in seminars in which students work closely with faculty. All Writing and Reasoning seminars share the goal of assisting students in the development of critical reading and expository and analytical writing.
Students will satisfy this requirement by taking WRTR 1312 in the fall term and WRTR 1313 in the spring. Students scoring lower than a 580 on the SAT-R or lower than 21 on the ACT English section will begin in WRTR 1311 and go on to complete WRTR 1312 and WRTR 1313 . Students scoring at or above 580 (SAT-R) or at or above 21 (ACT English) will begin in WRTR 1312 . Students scoring a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement English Language/English Literature Test and students scoring 5, 6 or 7 on the IB English A Literature higher-level exam will receive credit for their scores, but must still take both WRTR 1312 and WRTR 1313 at SMU. No student may fulfill the Writing and Reasoning requirement through AP/IB or other exam credit.
Students participating in the University Honors Program satisfy this requirement with WRTR 2305 and WRTR 2306 in the fall and spring of their first year. Students in the Hilltop Scholars Program may fulfill the requirement with WRTR 2303 in the fall term, and WRTR 2304 in the spring. Each term, students must be enrolled in and may not drop Writing and Reasoning until they have completed the requirement. A minimum grade of C- is required to pass each course.
Quantitative Reasoning (3 credits)
Quantitative reasoning refers to the ability to understand, evaluate and use quantitative information. Quantitative information takes many forms, and quantitative reasoning skills span a vast spectrum from basic numerical manipulations to advanced statistics and mathematics. One three-credit course is required to ensure that students possess these necessary skills. Students scoring a 4 or 5 on the Calculus AB, Calculus BC or Statistics Advanced Placement tests and students scoring 5, 6 or 7 on the IB Mathematics higher-level exam will place out of this requirement. Math placement testing is also available through SMU’s Mathematics Department examinations.
Second Language (0-8 credits)
Students will demonstrate an ability to negotiate meaning in a language other than English in familiar contexts and will demonstrate cultural competence in the related target culture. Second-language learning is a multi-faceted intellectual endeavor that promotes enhanced communication skills in both the native and target language and that fosters cross-cultural communication and understanding. Second-language learners analyze the nature of language through comparison between the target language and their own language. Second-language learners also evaluate information and diverse perspectives that are available through the language and its cultures and engage in critical analysis of culture and identity; they are therefore more readily able to participate in multiple, multicultural communities and are, as a result, adaptable to the challenges of a changing world.
SMU students fulfill the Second Language Foundation Requirement by demonstrating proficiency in second language at the Intermediate level, which is equivalent to the level of proficiency attained at the end of the first-year’s study of language at the university level.
At SMU, proficiency can be achieved in one of the following ways, after matriculation:
- Students placing into and successfully completing a course in the second semester level of a language (or above) will be able to satisfy their Second Language Requirement with that course. SMU offers Arabic, Chinese, Classical Greek, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, American Sign Language, and Spanish
- Placing into the third term or beyond on the SMU World Languages placement test and also earning an appropriate score on an SMU designated Second Language Proficiency Test. (You will need to pay a non-refundable registration fee for your proficiency test and take the test within one year of matriculation at SMU.)
- Taking two approved substitution courses if recommended by the Office of Disability Accommodations and Success Strategies (DASS).
- Achieving a score of Intermediate-Mid or above on the ACTFL OPI examination in a language not taught at SMU.
Students can fulfill the Second Language Foundation requirement prior to matriculation in one of the following ways:
- Presenting an appropriate score on a recognized second language proficiency exam (4 or 5 on AP exam; 5, 6, or 7 on IB HL exam; 640 or above on SAT II).
- Demonstrating an existing proficiency in a language other than English as documented by:
- Matriculation as an International Student from a non-English-dominant country AND providing high school transcripts from a non-English-medium high school;
- Successful completion of one or more semesters of ESL WRTR at SMU. (*updated* 11/11/2020)
Please visit the Second Language site for more information.
While students in their first year of college may receive credit for dual and/or transfer credit earned prior to matriculation at SMU, these credits will not satisfy SMU’s Common Curriculum Foundation requirements.
Common Curriculum Breadth Requirements (maximum of 22 credits)
Students are required to complete Breath courses in seven distinct areas of university study that reflect fundamental ideas and approaches associated with core academic disciplines: Creativity and Aesthetics (CA); Exploring Science (ES); Historical Contexts (HC), Literary Analysis and Interpretation (LAI); Philosophical, Religious, and Ethical Inquiry (PREI); Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS); and Technological Advances and Society (TAS). Breadth courses may satisfy Proficiency and Experiences requirements as well (see below), and many of these courses may also count for major or minor credit. The maximum of 22 credits reflects that lab-based science courses may be four credits.
Creativity and Aesthetics (CA)
Students will demonstrate an understanding of the conventions of a particular art form in a specified context through production and/or analysis of that form. To develop an understanding of and appreciation for the creative impulse in a variety of artistic contexts, graduates of SMU will demonstrate an understanding of the conventions of arts forms and artistic analysis. They will be able to identify, explore and explain concepts fundamental to the visual, communicative, and performing arts through critical analysis, performance or the act of personal creation. Creativity and Aesthetics courses also seek to expose students to the fundamental role that creativity plays in maintaining a robust, adaptive and prosperous society. Students take one course from the Creativity and Aesthetics category.
Exploring Science (ES)
Students will demonstrate an ability to engage in scientific inquiry. To be active, engaged citizens in a global society, graduates of SMU will demonstrate an ability to engage in scientific inquiry. They will apply the scientific method in order to understand and interpret scientific information in a variety of contexts. Students should be aware of the evidence-based, empirical methods of science, and of the ways that scientific fields have shaped and informed the world around us. Students take one course from the Exploring Science category.
Historical Contexts (HC)
Students will demonstrate an ability to engage in historical thinking. Historical thinking is an acquired (learned) form of analytical reasoning that allows students to analyze data from the past and recognize patterns of cause and effect, and action and consequence. It requires factual knowledge of past events and allows students to use that information to infer consequences and to understand the relationship between past action and present or future action. Moreover, because historical thinking involves a recognition that there are multiple ways of interpreting historical data, it allows for an appreciation of diverse viewpoints on any given topic. However, because it is a fact-based type of analysis, it also teaches students to evaluate arguments and critically assess sources of information. Students take one course from the Historical Contexts category.
Literary Analysis and Interpretation (LAI)
Students will be able to analyze texts through close readings, and demonstrate an understanding of the text’s underlying historical, social, political, and cultural contexts, in pursuit of an individually-developed, well-argued analysis and interpretation. In order to expand their understanding of the world and the modes of communication in it, students will demonstrate an ability to analyze texts through contextualized close reading. Students will analyze meaningful texts such as novels, poems, plays, and films. Students must take one course from the Literary Analysis and Interpretation category.
Philosophical, Religious, and Ethical Inquiry (PREI)
Students will demonstrate an understanding of philosophical, religious, or ethical concepts, traditions, or practices and their corresponding methods of inquiry. Philosophical and religious inquiry and ethics are related fields of analysis that invite students to explore and engage critically with the concepts, problems, traditions, and practices that constitute those fields of inquiry. These fields provide students with the tools to understand and evaluate philosophical, religious, and ethical claims, to ask pointed questions about the world, and to discover how to attend to the philosophical, religious, and/or ethical convictions or assumptions that inform diverse peoples and traditions. Beyond this, these fields all build students’ analytical and communicative skills and cultivate an ability to engage in respectful dialogue. Students must take one course from the Philosophical, Religious, and Ethical Inquiry category.
Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS)
Students will demonstrate an understanding of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of human behavior, culture, and/or institutions. Almost every challenge humankind has ever faced, or will ever face, depends on the actions of people. Whether studying why people built pyramids across the ancient world, how people decide to spend their money, why people vote for one candidate over another, why people cheat on tests, or how groups and organizations alter individual trajectories, we must understand people’s behavior to answer these questions. Exploring how and why people and societies think and behave is fundamental to understanding our past, present, and future. The social and behavioral sciences provide students with the knowledge, methods, and tools to better understand individuals and societies, by advancing generalizable theories about human behavior based on empirical evidence. Undergraduate students at SMU must take one course from the Social and Behavioral Sciences category.
Technological Advances and Society (TAS)
Students will describe, analyze, and evaluate the impact of technology on society within a domain. Technological changes have driven societal change since ancient times. These changes continue to accelerate in the contemporary world, creating both opportunities and challenges. Technological literacy is essential to navigating the challenges humanity faces. Technological Advances and Society courses explore how the dynamics of technological advancements impact society on almost every level and in all areas of our lives. The classes will provide students the necessary background to describe, analyze, and evaluate the effects of these technological changes. The students will see just how these advances have reshaped domains in both narrow and broad contexts Students must take one course from the Technological Advances and Society category.
Common Curriculum Graduation Proficiency and Experience Requirements (maximum of 21 credits)
To prepare SMU graduates for both career development and lifelong learning, the Common Curriculum requires all undergraduates to develop and refine a set of life skills that extend beyond the introductory level. These Proficiencies and Experiences (P&E) graduation requirements must be fulfilled by all undergraduate students and may be met through credit-bearing coursework or approved, noncredit, co-curricular activities that have been identified as meeting that requirement:
Civics and Individual Ethics (CIE)
Students will demonstrate an ability to engage in ethical reasoning about civic and individual life. Moral judgments confront us everywhere. Ethical reasoning provides students foundational skills to reflect rigorously on ethical issues and to apply ethical reasoning in civic and individual life. It allows students to identify their own ethical convictions, think self-critically about them, and reflect on their merits. This is a key component of a liberal arts education. Undergraduates at SMU are required to take one course or participate in one, approved, sustained experience that requires them to reflect meaningfully on the nature of what is right, wrong, moral, immoral,
Community Engagement (CE)
Students will demonstrate the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation necessary to contribute to the civic life of communities. Undergraduate students at SMU are required to complete one approved community engagement activity, through a course, a cultivated experience, or, with prior approval, on their own. Community engagement encompasses actions wherein individuals participate in activities of personal and public concern that are both individually life enriching and socially beneficial to the community; it prepares students for their public lives as citizens, members of communities, and professionals in society. Through the process of community engagement, students gain experience participating in multiple types of civic action and skills, and they are given the opportunity to integrate their academic learning with direct action and involvement. In this way, students develop collaborative skills and enhanced perspectives that will serve them throughout their lives.
Global Perspectives (GPS)
Students will demonstrate an informed perspective on the challenges contemporary societies face in the broader global context. Effective and transformative global learning gives students an ability to analyze and explore complex global challenges, collaborate respectfully with diverse others, apply learning to take responsible action in contemporary global contexts, and evaluate the goals, methods, and consequences of that action. Global learning enhances students’ sense of identity, community, and perspective taking. The Global Perspectives requirement challenges students to participate in a reflective way by partaking in activities outside or inside the classroom or by engaging intellectually with cultures outside the U.S. or in immigrant communities inside the U.S. This requirement may be satisfied by participating in an SMU Abroad program.
Human Diversity (HD)
Students will demonstrate an understanding of human diversity and the systems of structural inequality that shape human experiences and behaviors. Understanding human diversity gives students the ability to navigate and appreciate the realities of diverse communities and nations that exist in a multi-faceted world. Cultivating this understanding requires knowledge of a variety of cultures, subcultures, and social systems, in local, regional, national and global contexts. Courses and experiences that fulfill the Human Diversity requirement help students to better understand the factors that contribute to individual identity as well as the environmental and historical circumstances in which social and cultural systems and provide students with insights into the ways in which inequalities are created, enacted and upheld.
Oral Communication (OC)
Students will demonstrate an ability to engage in clear and concise live communication. Oral communication consists of both extemporaneous and prepared communication, and it is intended to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors. Oral communication is fundamental to individual, professional, and social growth. It enables the free expression and exchange of ideas, allowing individuals, organizations, and communities to understand and learn from one another through expression. SMU undergraduate students are required to develop their oral communication skills through substantial activities, inside or outside the classroom.
Quantitative Applications (QA)
Students will demonstrate an ability to interpret mathematical models in the form of formulas, graphs, and/or tables and draw inferences from them in a specified domain. SMU undergraduate students are required to participate in Quantitative Applications courses and experiences that provide students the ability to use and apply the tools of mathematical and/or statistical analysis to a wide range of subject areas. Students use information to solve problems in disciplines ranging from the Sciences and Engineering, Business to the Social Sciences and Humanities. These courses and experiences promote numeracy and data literacy as skills that enhance the understanding of any topic or subject.
Students will demonstrate university-level writing proficiencies appropriate to their coursework. We write not only to communicate what we know, but to understand ourselves better, to comprehend our world more fully, and to discover what we think. The ability to write well promotes success in college regardless of major; after college it enhances success in any field that involves sustained thought. Being able to write well is the mark of an educated person. But writing well is a skill that takes time to develop and requires practice. The Writing Proficiency or Experience requirement gives students further opportunities to practice what they have learned in the first-year Writing and Reasoning sequence (WRTR 1312 and WRTR 1313 ) and to advance their skills.
Writing in the Major (WIM)
Students will demonstrate university-level writing and critical reasoning proficiencies in the discipline of their undergraduate majors. Majors vary widely: a major may be primarily practical, speculative, empirical, interpretive, creative, or some mixture, depending on the discipline(s) from which it draws. Learning to write well in a major means learning to understand the ways of thinking characteristic of its discipline, as well as the specialized vocabulary and idiom used by its scholars and professionals. It also means engaging critically, in writing, with what scholars or professionals in the field have written; or offering one’s own knowledge, informed by work in a discipline, according to the conventions of that discipline; or conveying highly specialized knowledge in language a non-specialist can understand. SMU undergraduates are required to participate in one course or experience that builds their writing skills and develops their ability to write to the standards of their professional field or academic discipline.
Co-Curricular Fulfillment of Proficiency and Experience Graduation Requirements
Students may elect to fulfill the Proficiency and Experience graduation requirements through co-curricular activities. A list of pre-approved activities is available on the Common Curriculum website. Students may request, through petition, to fulfill these requirements through other activities by submitting a formal request to the Office of General Education using a form available on the Common Curriculum website. Please note, students wishing to use a non-approved activity must obtain approval from the Office of General Education prior to starting the activity.
Common Curriculum Protocols
- Credit earned by examination may be used to fulfill the Second Language and Quantitative Reasoning Foundation requirements, as well as up to three of the required Breadth requirements, in accordance with the university’s Credit by Exam policies.
- Following SMU matriculation, students must meet Writing and Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and the Second Language Foundations requirements through SMU coursework.
- Following SMU matriculation, students must meet all Breadth requirements through SMU coursework.
- For ES courses, if the lecture course has an associated lab, students must take both the lecture and lab courses, and pass both to fulfill the ES requirement.
- A minimum grade of C- is required in all WRTR-sequence courses, and students must be enrolled in and may not drop Writing and Reasoning until they have completed the WRTR requirement.
- Students may request the transfer of coursework taken at another regionally accredited institution after high school graduation and prior to matriculation at SMU. Students may further request that such transferred coursework be evaluated for fulfillment of CC requirements. All CC student requests for fulfillment through transfer work must include a complete syllabus and concrete evidence that the proposed alternative course or experience satisfies the specific Student Learning Outcomes and Content Criteria associated with the CC requirement being petitioned. These requests will be reviewed and evaluated by the Assistant Provost for General Education. Appeals of decisions by the Assistant Provost for General Education may be made to the Committee on Academic Petitions.
- Students may not request that non-approved SMU courses be allowed to satisfy CC Foundation or Breadth requirements. Only courses proposed by an SMU faculty member and approved by the Council on General Education may be used to satisfy these requirements.
- With the exception of courses that are offered only with pass/fail grading, courses taken to fulfill CC requirements may not be taken pass/fail.
- Probation and suspension rules related to the Foundations components of the Common Curriculum are found under “Academic Progress: University-wide Requirements” in the Academic Records and General and Enrollment Standards section of this catalog.
- SMU faculty, through the Council on General Education, are responsible for determining whether SMU courses meet Foundation, Breadth and Proficiency and Experience requirements.
- In keeping with the University’s educational mission, all undergraduates are required to complete a program of study that emphasizes the values of a liberal arts education. This includes the ability to write, speak, and reason, and the ability to frame knowledge through a variety of disciplines and lenses. With these elements, a liberal arts education provides an understanding of human society in all its dimensions and prepares an individual for a process of lifelong learning. SMU’s general education curriculum—the University Curriculum—allows students to build the foundations of a university education through courses and experiences that will equip students to compete in and adapt to the rapidly changing contemporary world while preparing students for focused study in the major.
- The University Curriculum is the vehicle through which SMU ensures that all undergraduates meet the general education requirements set forth by the Department of Education and by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). These requirements are that, through general education “students encounter the basic content and methodology of the principle areas of knowledge: humanities and fine arts, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics. Courses in each of these specific areas introduce a breadth of knowledge and reinforce cognitive skills and effective learning opportunities for each student. Therefore, it is important that courses selected by students do not focus on skills, techniques and procedures specific to that student’s occupation or profession. Such courses may also include interdisciplinary courses.”