Contact Us
Bryn Mawr College
101 N. Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr. PA 19010-2899
Phone: 610-526-5000
Fax: 610-526-6525
20109-2011 Undergraduate Catalog

Requirements for the A.B. Degree

Thirty-two units of work are required for the A.B. degree. These must include:

•   One Emily Balch Seminar.
•   One unit to meet the quantitative skills requirement.
•   Work to demonstrate the required level of proficiency in foreign language.
•   Six units to meet the divisional requirements.
•   A major subject sequence.
•   Elective units of work to complete an undergraduate program.

In addition, all students must complete eight half-semesters of physical education, successfully complete a swim proficiency test and meet the residency requirement.
Emily Balch Seminar Requirement

The aim of the Emily Balch Seminar is to engage students in careful examination of fundamental issues and debates. By encouraging focused discussion and cogent writing, the seminars help prepare students for a modern world that demands critical thinking both within and outside of the frameworks of particular disciplines.

Students who matriculated prior to the fall of 2009 complete one College Seminar to satisfy this requirement. Students who matriculate in the fall of 2009 or thereafter complete one Emily Balch Seminar to satisfy this requirement. Students must attain a grade of 2.0 or higher in the seminar in order to satisfy this requirement.

Quantitative Requirement

Before the start of the senior year, each student must have demonstrated competence in college-level mathematics or quantitative skills by:

•   Passing with an honor grade an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate (higher level) or A-level examination in mathematics or
•   Passing one course (1 unit) with a grade of at least 2.0 from those designated with a “Q”in the Tri-Co Course Guide.

The purpose of the quantitative requirement is to provide the Bryn Mawr graduate with the competence to evaluate and manage the wide array of information underlying many of the decisions she will make as an individual and as a member of society. The range of potentially useful quantitative skills is extensive and cannot be covered by any individual course. However, a single course can give the student an appreciation of the value of quantitative analysis as well as increase the facility and confidence with which she uses quantitative skills in her later academic, professional and private roles.

A course meeting the quantitative requirement will provide the student with the skills to estimate and check answers to quantitative problems in order to determine reasonableness, identify alternatives and select optimal results. Such a course is designed to help students develop a coherent set of quantitative skills that become progressively more sophisticated and can be transferred to other contexts. In all cases, courses meeting the quantitative requirement will have rigor consistent with the academic standards of the department(s) in which they are located.

Students who matriculated in the fall of 2002 or thereafter may count a single course or exam towards both the quantitative requirement and a divisional requirement, so long as that course is identified as Q and Division I, II, or III in the Tri-Co Course Guide.

Foreign Language Requirement

Bryn Mawr recognizes the inherent intellectual value and fundamental societal importance of acquiring a level of proficiency in the use of one or more foreign languages. The study of foreign languages serves a number of convergent curricular and student interests, including the appreciation of cultural differences, a global perspective across academic disciplines, cognitive insights into the workings of language systems, and alternative models of perceiving and processing human experience.

Before the start of the senior year, each student must have demonstrated a knowledge of one foreign language by:

•   Passing a proficiency test offered by the College every spring and fall or
•   Attaining a score of at least 690 in a language achievement test of the College Entrance Examination Board, or by passing with an honor grade an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate (higher level) or A-level test or
•   Completing at the College two courses (two units) above the elementary level with an average grade of at least 2.0 or a grade of at least 2.0 in the second course or
•   For a non-native speaker of English who has demonstrated proficiency in her native language, one College Seminar and one writing-intensive course.

Divisional Requirements

Before the start of the senior year, each student must have completed, with grades of 2.0 or higher, two units in the social sciences (Division I), two units in the natural sciences and mathematics (Division II), and two units in the humanities (Division III). Courses satisfying these requirements are marked “I,” “II,”or “III” in the Tri-Co Course Guide. Courses identified as interdivisional, e.g. “I or III,” may be used by a student to satisfy either one—but not both—of the appropriate divisional requirements. Only one of the two units used to satisfy any divisional requirement may be such an interdivisional course.

At least one required unit in Division II must be a laboratory course, designated “IIL” in the Tri-Co Course Guide. One unit of performance in music, dance or theater or one unit of studio art may be used to fulfill one of the two course requirements in the humanities. A student may not use courses in her major subject to satisfy requirements in more than one division, unless the courses are cross-listed in other departments. Only one of the two units used to satisfy any divisional requirement may be fulfilled by tests such as the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or A levels taken on work done before entering Bryn Mawr.

The goal of the divisional requirements is to increase the breadth and variety of the student’s intellectual experience at the College. The divisions represented in these requirements describe not only different aspects of human experience, but also characteristic methods of approach. Although any division of knowledge is imperfect, the current divisions—the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics, and the humanities—have the advantage of being specific while still broad enough to allow the student a good deal of flexibility in planning her coursework.

Social Sciences (Division I)

The social sciences are concerned with human social behavior; the motivations, institutions and processes that shape this behavior; and the outcomes of this behavior for different groups and individuals. Areas of inquiry include such wide-ranging topics as policy-making, cultural change, revolutions, poverty and wealth, generational conflict and international relations. The social sciences provide the student with a set of theoretical frameworks with which to organize her analysis of these substantive areas. At the same time, they offer a set of methodological tools with which to test empirically—in the uncontrolled laboratory of the real world—the hypotheses that these frameworks generate.

Natural Sciences and Mathematics (Division II)

Knowledge of the physical world is a fundamental part of human experience; understanding the workings of nature is essential to our lives. To achieve this understanding, the student should be familiar with the concepts and techniques of the natural sciences as well as mathematics, the language of science. This understanding must go beyond a knowledge of scientific facts to include a facility with the scientific method and the techniques of scientific inquiry, logical reasoning and clear exposition of results.

Humanities (Division III)

The humanities encompass the histories, philosophies, religions and arts of different cultural groups, as well as the various theoretical and practical modes of their investigation and evaluation. In humanities courses, the student creates and/or interprets many different kinds of artifacts, compositions, monuments, and texts that are and have been valued by human cultures throughout the world.

The Major

In order to ensure that a student’s education involves not simply exposure to many disciplines but also some degree of mastery in at least one, she must choose an area to be the focus of her work in the last two years at the College.

The following is a list of major subjects.

Astronomy (Haverford College)
Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
Classical Culture and Society
Classical Languages
Comparative Literature
Computer Science
East Asian Studies
Fine Arts (Haverford College)
French and Francophone Studies
German and German Studies
Growth and Structure of Cities
History of Art
Linguistics (Swarthmore College)
Linguistics and Languages (Swarthmore College)
Music (Haverford College)
Political Science
Religion (Haverford College)
Romance Languages

Each student must declare her major subject before the end of the sophomore year. The declaration process involves consulting with the departmental adviser and completing a major work plan. The student then submits the major work plan to her dean.

No student may choose to major in a subject in which she has incurred a failure, or in which her average is below 2.0.

A student may double major with the consent of both major departments and of her dean, but she should expect to complete all requirements for both major subjects. Even when a double major has been approved, scheduling conflicts may occur which make it impossible for a student to complete the plan.

Students may choose to major in any department at Haverford College, in which case they must meet the major requirements of Haverford College and the degree requirements of Bryn Mawr College. Procedures for selecting a Haverford major are available from the Haverford Dean’s Office at all times and are sent to all sophomores in the early spring. Similarly, students may major in Linguistics or Linguistics and Languages at Swarthmore College by meeting the major requirements of Swarthmore College and the degree requirements of Bryn Mawr College.

Please note that Bryn Mawr students who choose to major at Haverford must hand in their major work plans to the Bryn Mawr Dean’s Office. If double-majoring with one department at Haverford and the other at Bryn Mawr, a Bryn Mawr student should fill out the Bryn Mawr double-major work plan and ask the Haverford department if she needs to fill out the Haverford form as well. If she does, the Haverford form still needs to be brought to the Bryn Mawr Dean’s Office.

Every student working for an A.B. degree is expected to maintain grades of 2.0 or higher in all courses in her major subject. A student who receives a grade below 2.0 in a course in her major is reported to the Committee on Academic Standing and may be required to change her major. If, at the end of her junior year, a student has a major-subject grade point average below 2.0, she must change her major. If she has no alternative major, she will be excluded from the College. A student who is excluded from the College is not eligible for readmission. A student whose numerical grade point average in her major remains above 2.0 but whose work has deteriorated may also be required to change her major.

A student with unusual interest or preparation in several areas can consider an independent major, a double major, a major with a minor, or a major with an interdisciplinary concentration. Such programs can be arranged by consulting the dean and members of the departments concerned.

Each department sets its own standards and criteria for honors in the major, with the approval of the Curriculum Committee. Students should see departments for details.

The Independent Major Program

The Independent Major Program is designed for students whose interests cannot be accommodated by an established departmental major. An independent major is a rigorous, coherent and structured plan of study involving courses from the introductory through the advanced level in a recognized field within the liberal arts. Independent majors must be constructed largely from courses offered at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.
The following is a list of some recent independent majors:

Creative Writing
Feminist and Gender Studies
Medieval Studies
Peace and Conflict Studies

Students interested in the Independent Major Program should attend the informational teas and meet with Dean of Studies Judy Balthazar in the fall of their sophomore year. In designing an independent major, students must enlist two faculty members to serve as sponsors. One, who acts as director of the program, must be a member of the Bryn Mawr faculty; the other may be a member of either the Bryn Mawr or Haverford faculty.
To propose an independent major, students must submit completed applications by the following deadlines:

•   the end of the first week of classes in the spring of the sophomore year (for students hoping to study abroad during one or two semesters of the junior year), or
•   the end of the fourth week of classes in the spring of the sophomore year (for students planning to remain at Bryn Mawr throughout the junior year), or
•   the end of the fourth week of classes in the fall of the junior year (for junior transfer students)

The application for an independent major consists of:

•   A proposal developed with the advice of the sponsors describing the student’s reasons for designing the independent major, explaining why her interests cannot be accommodated by a related departmental or interdepartmental major, identifying the key intellectual questions her major will address, and explaining how each proposed course contributes to the exploration of those questions.
•   An independent major work plan of 11 to 14 courses, at least seven of which must be taken at Bryn Mawr or Haverford. The plan will include up to two courses at the 100 level and at least four at the 300 or 400 level, including at least one semester of a senior project or thesis (403).
•   Supporting letters from the two faculty sponsors, discussing the academic merits of the independent major work plan and the student’s ability to complete it.
•   A letter from the student’s dean regarding her maturity and independence.
•   A copy of the student’s transcript.

The Independent Majors Committee, composed of three faculty members, two students and one dean, evaluates the proposals on a case-by-case basis. Their decisions are final. The fact that a particular topic was approved in the past is no guarantee that it will be approved again. The committee considers the following issues:

•   Is the proposed independent major appropriate within the context of a liberal arts college?
•   Could the proposed independent major be accommodated instead by an established major?
•   Does the proposal effectively articulate the intellectual issues the major will investigate and the role each course will play in this inquiry?
•   Does the student possess the intellectual depth necessary to investigate those issues?
•   Are the proposed courses expected to be offered over the next two years?
•   Will faculty members be available for consistent and good advising?
•   Does the student’s record indicate likely success in the proposed independent major?

If the committee approves the proposed major and its title, the student declares an independent major. The committee continues to monitor the progress of students who have declared independent majors and must approve, along with the sponsors, any changes in the program. A grade of 2.0 or higher is required for all courses in the independent major. If this standard is not met, the student must change immediately to a departmental major.

Physical Education Requirement

Throughout its history, the College has been committed to developing excellence. The Department of Athletics and Physical Education affirms the College’s mission by offering a variety of opportunities to promote self-awareness, confidence and the development of skills and habits that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. The College’s comprehensive program includes competitive intercollegiate athletics, diverse physical education and wellness curricula, and leisure and recreational programs designed to enhance the quality of life for the broader campus community.

Before the start of the senior year, all students must have completed eight credits in physical education, including a swim-proficiency test. All students begin by taking a required two-credit Wellness Issues class in the fall of their first year. Students may complete the remaining credits in a variety of ways. Semester-long courses (typically worth two credits) and half-semester courses (typically worth one credit) are offered in dance, aquatics, individual sports, team sports, outdoor recreation, wellness and fitness. Physical education credit is also awarded for participation on intercollegiate teams and approved clubs. Students may earn up to two credits in physical education for pre-approved independent study. Students are encouraged to complete the requirement by the conclusion of their sophomore year.

Residency Requirement

Each student must complete six full-time semesters and earn a minimum of 24 academic units while in residence at Bryn Mawr. These may include courses taken at Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges and the University of Pennsylvania during the academic year. The senior year must be spent in residence. Seven of the last 16 units must be earned in residence. Students do not normally spend more than the equivalent of four years completing the work of the A.B. degree. Exceptions to this requirement for transfer students entering as second-semester sophomores or juniors are considered at the time of matriculation.


All requests for exceptions to the above regulations are presented to the Special Cases Subcommittee of the Committee on Academic Standing for approval. Normally, a student consults her dean and prepares a written statement to submit to the committee.