Courses of Study 2021-2022 
    May 24, 2024  
Courses of Study 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Graduation Requirements

In the College of Arts and Sciences .


Undergraduate Degrees

Graduation Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts Degree

  1. Credit Requirement: 120 academic credits are required, 100 of which must be taken in the College of Arts & Sciences. 100 credits in Arts & Sciences is a minimum number, as is the 120 credit total.  A minimum of 80 credits must be in courses for which a letter grade was received.  AP, IB, CASE and A-Level credits count toward the 120 total credits but not toward the 100 A&S credits.  Transfer credits for non-transfer students cannot count towards the 100 A&S credits. (See list of courses that do not count as academic credit.)
  2. Residency Requirement: eight full-time semesters in residence are expected to complete degree requirements with a minimum of six full-time semesters being required.  External transfer students must complete a minimum of four full-time residence semesters.
  3. First-year Writing Seminar (FWS) Requirement: two courses are requiredA 5 on either the AP English Composition or Literature exam, or a 7 on the IB HL English Literature or Language exam will count towards one of these seminars. First-year students should take an FWS during their first semester at Cornell and are required to complete two by the end of their sophomore year.
  4. Foreign Language Requirement: a student must either pass an intermediate Cornell language course at the 2000-level or above (Option 1) or complete at least 11 credits in a single foreign language at Cornell (Option 2). AP and IB credits cannot complete this requirement, but usually indicate that a student can place into a higher level course. Note: Native speakers of a foreign language may be exempted from this requirement. For a list of language offerings and placement, see Language Study at Cornell.
  5. Distribution Requirement:
  1. Major Requirement: students must complete the requirements for at least one major in A&S.  See individual major listings for major requirements.
  2. Physical Education Requirement: completion of the university requirement of two PE courses and passing the swim test. Note: physical education credit is not academic credit and does not count toward the 120 credits needed to graduate.


Note: effective Fall 2019, the former requirements to take a certain number of elective courses and a minimum total number of courses are no longer in place. This applies to all current students.

Credit Requirement

Credits and Courses: Students must earn a minimum of 120 academic credits (which may include AP/test credits). Of the 120, a minimum of 100 must be from courses taken in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.

Courses that do not count toward the 120 credits required for the degree. The College of Arts and Sciences does not grant credit toward the degree for every course offered by the university. Courses in military training, service as a teaching assistant, physical education, remedial or developmental training, precalculus mathematics, supplemental science and mathematics, offered by the Learning Strategies Center and English as a second language are among those for which degree credit. Students can view the list of courses that do not count for academic credit here.

Other cases in which a course may not receive credit include the following:

  1. A course identified as a prerequisite for a subsequent course may not be taken for credit once a student completes that subsequent course.
  2. A repeated course. (For more information, see “Repeating courses,” below.)
  3. A “forbidden overlap,” that is, a course with material that significantly overlaps with material in a course a student has already taken. Students should consult the list of Forbidden Overlap List  for more information.

Courses that count toward the 100 required Arts and Sciences credits may include liberal arts courses approved for study abroad during a semester or academic year of full-time study (not summer abroad study), courses taken in certain off-campus Cornell residential programs, and a maximum of three courses that majors may accept from other colleges at Cornell as fulfilling major requirements.  A&S courses taken in Cornell’s summer session may count towards the 100 A&S credits.

Courses that do not count toward the 100 required Arts and Sciences credits include credits earned in other colleges at Cornell (except in the cases specifically noted in this section), transfer credits earned in any subject at institutions other than Cornell, and advanced placement/test credits. AP/test credits count as part of the 120 credits required for the degree but not as part of the 100 Arts and Sciences credits and may not be applied to distribution requirements. AP credits are posted on the transcript. If, subsequently, a student takes the course out of which they had placed, the AP credit will be removed because of the overlap in content.

Repeating courses

Students occasionally need to repeat courses. Some courses, such as independent study, some music and performance courses, and specific topical seminars, in which content is significantly different, do grant credit when the course is taken more than once. For all repeated courses, both grades appear on the transcript and are included in both the term and cumulative GPA.  For repeated courses that do not grant credit more than once, only one instance counts toward degree credits and requirements.

Residency Requirement

The College of Arts & Sciences is a residential community and students typically spend eight semesters of full-time study in residence to earn the B.A. degree.

The completion of a fall or spring term as a full-time registered student at Cornell counts as a semester in residence. Summer and winter terms at Cornell, study in Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and at other institutions do not count as semesters of residence.

The residency requirement has two components: a minimum number of semesters in residence and a requirement to spend the last full-time semester of study in residence.

Students matriculating into the College of Arts & Sciences as first-year students must have a minimum of six semesters in residence before graduating. First-year matriculants into A&S can count up to two semesters in an approved off-campus program as semesters in residence. Approved off-campus programs include A&S approved study abroad programs, Cornell in Washington, Cornell in Rome, and the Cornell-China & Asia-Pacific Studies (CAPS) Program.

Students who transfer into the College of Arts & Sciences after matriculating in their first-year in another Cornell college (internal transfers) must have a minimum of six semesters in residence, and a minimum of two semesters in the College of Arts and Sciences before graduating. Internal transfers can count up to two semesters in an approved off-campus program as semesters in residence.

Students who transfer into Cornell from another institution (external transfers) must have a minimum of four semesters in residence, and a minimum of two semesters in the College of Arts & Sciences, before graduating. External transfers can count up to one semester in an approved off-campus program as a semester in residence.

In addition to the minimum number of semesters in residence, all students must complete their final full-time semester of study (i.e., the last semester in which at least 9 academic credits are needed to meet graduation requirements) in residence. Students who have fewer than 9 credits to complete degree requirements, and have met the minimum number of semesters residency requirement, may elect to complete their degree requirements during Cornell summer and winter terms registered as an A&S student or at another institution with approved transfer credit. Students cannot meet final degree requirements registered as an extramural student at Cornell.

Exceptions to the residence requirement are not petitionable.

Foreign Language Requirement

The faculty considers competence in a foreign language essential for an educated person. Studying a language other than one’s own helps students understand the dynamics of language, our fundamental intellectual tool, and enables students to understand another culture. The sooner a student acquires this competence, the sooner it will be useful. Hence, work toward the foreign language requirement should be undertaken in the first two years. Students postponing the language requirement for junior and senior years risk not graduating on time. Courses in foreign languages and/or literature are taught in the College of Arts and Sciences by the following departments: Africana Studies and Research Center, Asian Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, German Studies, Linguistics, Near Eastern Studies, and Romance Studies. For a list of languages and placement see Language Study at Cornell .

The language requirement may be satisfied in one of the following ways:

Option 1: Passing (a) a non-introductory foreign language course of 3 or more credits at Cornell at the 2000-level or above or (b) any other non-introductory course at the 2000-level or above conducted in a foreign language at Cornell. OR

Option 2: Passing at least 11 credits of study in a single foreign language (taken in the appropriate sequence) at Cornell.

Any exceptions to these rules will be noted elsewhere in individual department descriptions.

Students whose speaking, reading, and writing competence in a language other than English is at the same level we would expect our entering freshmen to have in English (as shown by completing high school in that language or by special examination during their first year here at Cornell) are exempt from the college’s language requirement.

Major Requirement

Most departments and programs specify certain prerequisites for admission to the major; they are found on the pages for each department and program available at Degree Programs .

Students may apply for acceptance into the major as soon as they have completed the prerequisites and are confident of their choice. This may be as early as the second semester of freshman year, and must be no later than the end of the second semester of sophomore year. A student without a major at the beginning of the junior year is not making satisfactory progress toward the degree and risks not being allowed to continue in the college. Undeclared first-term juniors must file a Late Declaration of Major form with Student Services and may be placed on a leave of absence during their junior year if they have not yet declared a major.

Double majors

Completion of one major is required for graduation. Some students choose to complete more than one major. No special permission or procedure is required; students simply become accepted into multiple majors and are assigned to an advisor in each department. All completed majors are posted on the official transcript. Students are not allowed to continue their studies past their eighth semester to complete additional majors.

Early and Delayed Graduation

Graduating Early

A student may elect to graduate early if they are able to complete all graduation requirements in fewer than eight semesters.

Students must still satisfy the college’s residency requirement as part of the graduation requirements. This residency requirement requires that students who are first-year matriculants into Cornell spend a minimum of six semesters in residence, external transfers must spend a minimum of four. To request an early graduation, students must notify the A&S Registrar’s Office in KG 17 Klarman Hall or at

The earliest a student can request to graduate early and officially change their graduation date is immediately following the pre-enrollment period for their anticipated final semester.  The student should have pre-enrolled in the classes required to meet the graduation requirements by the requested graduation date. The student must then complete Part I in DUST and have Part II completed by their major advisor.

Graduating Late: Ninth Term Enrollment

The Bachelor of Arts degree is expected to be completed in eight terms. If degree requirements cannot be completed in eight terms, students may seek permission to continue their studies. Requests will only be granted for students who have found themselves in emergent circumstances beyond their control which have prevented them from completing the degree in eight terms. Requests cannot be made until a student’s final expected graduation term and will not be reviewed and approved until after the university drop deadline for that semester. Study beyond the eighth term is not automatically granted for the purposes of changing a major. Such requests must be discussed with a college academic advisor and require registrar approval. Requests to add an additional major or minor will not be approved for study beyond the eighth term.

If approved, students in the ninth and tenth term will be in a conditional status and will have restrictions placed on their enrollment to ensure successful completion of their degree. To request a ninth term, students must have their faculty advisor update Part II for any remaining major requirements. They will also need to submit a study plan to their college advisor listing the specific courses that will meet degree requirements for one major.

Student may elect to prorate credits if enrolling in 9 or fewer credits or take a full-time load if they desire. However, enrollment will be limited to 18 credits for the term so students can focus on their remaining required courses. In the rare case where a student may need to enroll in a tenth term to complete their degree, they will be required to prorate tuition and their enrollment will be limited to only the courses/credits needed for successful completion of one major. Additional enrollments will not be allowed.

Graduation Procedures

Application to Graduate

In the first semester of their senior year, students are prompted by Arts & Sciences Student Services to complete an online application to graduate. The application is intended to help seniors identify problems early enough in the final year to make any necessary changes in course selection to satisfy those requirements. Nonetheless, ensuring graduation requirements are fully met is the student’s responsibility and any problems that are discovered, even late in the final semester, must be resolved by the student before the degree can be granted. Students are responsible for checking their DUST reports and transcripts each term and alerting Student Services of any problems with their academic record. To check on their progress in the major, students should consult with their major advisors.

Degree Dates

Cornell has three official degree conferral dates in the year: December, May, and August. Students who plan to graduate in August may attend commencement ceremonies in the preceding or subsequent May. Students graduating in December are invited to a special recognition ceremony in December and may also attend Commencement the following May.  All academic work must be complete by the official conferral date in order to receive a degree on that date.  Incomplete academic work will result in a later conferral date.


Bachelor of Arts with Honors

Almost all departments offer honors programs for students who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishment in the major and succeeded in research. The conferring of honors, and the requirements for conferral (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude) are set by the departments for each major, the Independent Major Program, or the College Scholar Program. Minors do not offer honors programs. Students should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies with questions about honors in the respective program.

Bachelor of Arts with Distinction

The degree of Bachelor of Arts with distinction in all subjects will be conferred on students who have completed the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts, if they have met the following requirements by the end of their final semester:

  1. completed at least 60 credits while registered in regular sessions at Cornell;
  2. achieved a GPA in the upper 30 percent of their class at the end of the seventh semester, or next-to-last semester for transfers and accelerants;
  3. received a grade below C– in no more than one course;
  4. received no failing grade (excluding PE);
  5. have no frozen Incompletes on their records; and
  6. maintained good academic standing, including completing a full schedule of at least 12 academic credits, in each of their last four semesters. (Students who have been approved to have prorated tuition for their final semester are considered to be in good academic standing).