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Areas of Knowledge

All schools and colleges of the University must require freshmen who start in autumn 1994 or later, and transfer students who enter the UW in autumn 1996 or later, to complete at least 40 credits of Areas of Knowledge courses, with no fewer than 10 credits in each Area.

10-20 credits Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts
10-20 credits Individuals and Societies
10-20 credits The Natural World
40 credits total

The University requirement does not restrict overlap between Areas of Knowledge and any other requirement, including the additional writing requirement, the quantitative/symbolic reasoning requirement, and the student's major and/or minor. (Note that none of the courses that satisfy the English composition requirement are approved for the Areas of Knowledge requirement.)

No courses used to meet graduation requirements, including Areas of Knowledge, may be taken Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory (S/NS).

Areas of Knowledge courses are indicated in the online Course Catalog and quarterly time schedules with the designations VLPA, I&S, and NW.

1985 to 1994

In autumn 1985 the University adopted a minimum "distribution" requirement of 30 credits, with at least 6 and at most 15 credits in each area.

  • 6-15 credits Group I (Language and Literature; Fine Arts)
  • 6-15 credits Group II (Social Sciences; History, Philosophy, & Civilization)
  • 6-15 credits Group III (Natural Sciences)

Also required under this plan were at least 18 credits total of two or more linked sets. The linked-set requirement has been dropped retroactively, meaning that no student is any longer required to complete linked sets.

Before autumn 1985 there was no University-wide general education requirement; each school and college set its own requirements.

Arts and Sciences requirement

Each student graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences must complete 75 credits of Areas of Knowledge courses, with no fewer than 20 credits in each Area. Up to 15 credits from the student's major department may be counted. This 75 credits of Areas of Knowledge courses must include:

20 credits Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts
20 credits Individuals and Societies
20 credits The Natural World
15 credits additional from one or more Areas
75 credits total

General-education courses designated with a "G" in the online Course Catalog, if any, may also count toward the 15 credits additional. (At present there are no courses with the G designation.)

This requirement applies to students who started college anywhere in autumn 1985 or later. For students who started college before autumn 1985, see Pre-1985 General Education and Basic Skills Requirements. See Determining quarter of entry if the date when the student started college isn't clear.General-education courses designated with a "G" in the online Course Catalog, if any, may also count toward the 15 credits additional. (At present there are no courses with the G designation.)

Students in the Honors Program earning College Honors follow a different general education plan.

Other colleges

Each college has structured its requirements to meet or exceed the University Areas of Knowledge requirement. Some colleges require specific courses to meet the requirement. SeeGeneral Education and Basic Skills Requirements of UW Schools and Colleges. In some UW schools and colleges, students who started college before 1994 (and students who transferred to the UW before 1996) are eligible for the pre-1994 general education requirements of that school or college. In many instances, however, the previous requirements of colleges meet or exceed the current requirements, and there is no advantage to claiming eligibility for earlier requirements. Each school or college of the University decides for itself to what extent it will follow the policy of Arts and Sciences in applying requirements to students who began college before 1985.

VLPA, I&S, and NW

VLPA courses focus on the history, interpretation, criticism, and practice of the arts. The requirement is meant to help the student develop a personal appreciation of the creative process and how it promotes a willingness to investigate the unknown as well as the commonplace, and thus a willingness to constantly debate and refine its modes of expression. Examples of departments that offer such courses include art history, classics, dance, drama, English, music, and foreign languages. Most rhetoric (speech, now part of the communication department) courses also count in this Area.

English composition at the freshman and sophomore levels is considered a skill rather than a literary art, and all the composition courses were deliberately excluded from the VLPA list. Creative writing, verse writing, and advanced composition courses in which prose style is treated as an art form do count toward VLPA, and do not count toward the English composition or additional writing requirements.

For information about counting foreign language courses toward VLPA see Special-category courses.

I&S courses include a wide variety of options for the study of human beings and societies. Courses focus on the history, development, and dynamics of human behavior, as well as social and cultural institutions and practices. Departments that offer such courses include American ethnic studies, anthropology, economics, geography, international studies, political science, psychology, sociology, and women studies. I&S includes, from departments such as history, philosophy, and religion, courses traditionally grouped with "humanities" at other colleges.

NW courses focus on the disciplined, scientific study of the natural world. The intent of this requirement is to teach students the current status of our understanding of the major concepts in the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences, and the methods by which we have arrived at that understanding. The Area can be divided into three broad categories: the mathematical sciences, the physical sciences, and the biological sciences. Departments that offer such courses include astronomy, biology, chemistry, fisheries, forest resources, mathematics, and oceanography.

Transfer courses

X credits

The Admissions Office uses 1XX, 2XX, etc. to designate courses that do not have an exact UW equivalent. Some transfer courses are designated as departmental X credit (for example, POL S 2XX). Transfer courses that don't fit into an existing UW department, such as Behavioral Sciences or Liberal Studies, are transferred as UW 1XX, UW 2XX, etc. The UW-X designation is also applied to "restricted-credit" (RC) courses, often vocational or technical, transferred on a limited basis from community colleges for students who enter the UW with a transfer associate degree. Restricted-credit courses (formerly called "grey-area" courses) are distinguishable from other UW-X courses by the fact that grades for restricted-credit courses don't count in the transfer GPA and are not shown on the transfer evaluation.

Many departmental X credit courses automatically count toward Areas of Knowledge. For example, all political science courses count toward I&S, so all POL S X courses count toward I&S. There is a list in the current Adviser's Guide of departments in which all transfer courses automatically count toward Areas of Knowledge. Other departmental X credit and UW-X credits may be counted toward Areas of Knowledge if appropriate, at the discretion of the adviser. Grey-area credits, however, will almost never be appropriate for Areas of Knowledge.

If an adviser decides that X credit can apply toward Areas of Knowledge, the adviser should add the appropriate designation to the course in the Student Data Base, on screen SRF330, so that the course will be counted appropriately whenever a DARS audit is run. It is not necessary to post the AoK designation for courses, like the POL S X credit mentioned above, where the AoK designation is automatic. In addition, some X-credit courses from Washington community colleges have already been assigned to an Area and the AoK designation will be posted by the admissions specialist who prepares the evaluation of transfer credits.

Coordinated Studies programs

A number of community colleges offer one-quarter programs, often called coordinated or integrated studies, in which students take an integrated set of courses for the quarter. The courses taken in these programs are given special consideration toward fulfillment of requirements; the UW counts them toward Areas of Knowledge in the same way that the community college counted them, whether or not the student has completed a transfer associate degree. For example, a coordinated studies program might include a 5-credit biology course and a 3-credit BIOL 299, independent study. The latter would not normally count toward NW (all independent study courses are excluded from AoK, unless approved on a case-by-case basis), but if it is part of a coordinated studies program it can be counted toward NW without petition.

Semester half-credits

In the College of Arts and Sciences (and most other colleges), 3-credit semester courses, which transfer as 4-1/2 quarter credits, may be counted as if they were 5-credit courses for purposes of fulfilling the Areas of Knowledge requirement. For example, if a student has completed four VLPA semester courses transferring as 4-1/2 credits each, we round up each course to 5 credits and calculate the total not as 4 x 4-1/2 = 18 credits, but as 4 x 5 = 20 credits. Note that any such courses will count as only 4-1/2 credits toward the 180 credits required for the degree. All other half-credit amounts (e.g., 1-1/2 or 7-1/2) may also be rounded up.

Bothell and Tacoma courses

Most Bothell- and Tacoma-campus courses have not been assigned to Areas of Knowledge categories for use at the Seattle campus. They may be evaluated by the adviser as if they were transfer X credits. The AoK designation should be entered into the DARS exception screen by the adviser, or email the information to the DARS office, and they will post the exception.

Grades required

Any passing grade is acceptable in Areas of Knowledge courses, including 0.7. Beginning autumn 1985, no UW course taken on the Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory (S/NS) student option may count toward a graduation requirement, including Areas of Knowledge.

Transfer courses taken on a pass/fail basis, if they were taken before the student first matriculated at the UW, may be counted toward Areas of Knowledge.

A UW course taken as a nonmatriculated student may be counted toward Areas of Knowledge even if taken S/NS, if the course was successfully completed before the student matriculated at the UW.


Overlap between Areas of Knowledge

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of many general education courses, many UW courses have more than one Area designation. PHIL 120, for example, may be counted as either I&S or NW. A student is allowed to count such a course toward only one Area. It is the student's choice how to count the course. If the course is not assigned to the area the student wants by DARS, send a message to and they will assign the course to that Area. (Because of the large number of these requests that turn out to be unnecessary as the student completes additional courses, the DARS office asks that advisers not submit these requests for freshmen and sophomores. If you want to make the DARS exception yourself, that's fine.

Although a course cannot be counted toward more than one Area of Knowledge at the same time, a course may be split such that some of the credits count toward one area, while the other credits count toward another. For example, if a student needed 3 credits of VLPA and 2 credits of I&S, COM 220, a 5-credit class that is VLPA/I&S, would fulfill both. DARS should do this splitting automatically in a way that best advantages the student.

English composition

Overlap between Areas of Knowledge and the English composition requirement is not allowed. English composition courses do not count toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement, so there is no possible overlap.

Foreign language

All courses through the third quarter of the language taken to meet the foreign language requirement cannot also count toward Areas of Knowledge. For information about other foreign language courses, see Special-category courses, below.

Q/SR and W courses

There are no restrictions on overlap between the Areas of Knowledge requirement and the quantitative/symbolic reasoning and additional-writing requirements. In fact, if so designated, it is conceivable that a single course could count toward all three requirements and the student's major as well.

Major department

In the College of Arts and Sciences, students are allowed to count up to 15 credits with the major-department prefix toward Areas of Knowledge. In addition, they may count any required courses with other prefixes, to the extent that the major requirements exceed 50 credits.

To look at it the other way around, there are two limitations on overlap between the major and the Areas requirement: (1) even if the major requires (or the student takes) more than 50 credits with the major prefix, he/she may count no more than 15 of those credits for the Areas requirement; and (2) even if the major requires fewer than 50 credits with the major prefix, there must be at least 35 credits of coursework required for the major that the student is not using for Areas of Knowledge.

Here are some examples:

  1. Political science requires 50 credits of POL S (the minimum that Arts and Sciences requires a major to consist of) and no other supporting courses. A student majoring in political science may use up to 15 credits of POL S toward Areas of Knowledge.
  2. The B.A. in economics requires 50 credits of ECON and an additional 5 credits of calculus. A student completing this program may use up to 15 credits of ECON and 5 credits of calculus toward Areas of Knowledge.
  3. Chemistry requires more than 50 credits of CHEM and, for the B.A., 15 credits of MATH and 13 credits of PHYS. A student could use up to 15 credits of CHEM toward the Natural World requirement, and fulfill the remaining 5 credits of NW (and the 15 "additional" AoK credits) with MATH and PHYS.
  4. The comparative history of ideas major requires 55 credits, mostly drawn from a variety of departments including history, philosophy, anthropology, religion, and comparative literature. A CHID student may count any 20 credits of the major toward Areas of Knowledge (15 credits + 5 credits because the major requires more than 50 credits).

Double majors and double degrees

In the case of a double major or double degree, the student is allowed 15 credits overlap with one major, as described above, and unlimited overlap with the other major. The student decides which major has the restricted overlap; it does not have to be the major the student declares first or lists first. This policy applies to all doubles, including double degrees in which the degrees are granted by different colleges.

For example, a student completing a double degree in business and English could choose business as the major in which overlap with Areas of Knowledge is limited to 15 credits. This student is allowed to count any number of credits of English toward the AoK requirement of the English degree. The student could, for example, count 20 credits of English literature toward VLPA and another 15 credits of English literature toward the 15 additional credits required to bring the total AoK to 75 credits. In majors with courses in two or even all three Areas, even more credits from the second major could count toward the 75 credits of AoK.

Note that DARS is not programmed to perform audits for double majors or double degrees, so it will not reflect the overlap allowed between AoK and the student's second major. To have the AoK overlap restriction removed for the second major, contact the DARS office at

Multiple-major departments

A student whose department offers more than one major is allowed to count any number of courses in the department's other programs toward Areas of Knowledge, even though they are, technically, in the major department. For example, a French major may use Italian courses for Areas of Knowledge.

The Direct Transfer Agreement

The Direct Transfer Agreement (DTA) is a statewide policy about transfer credit. The purpose of this voluntary statewide agreement is to facilitate the transfer of credit; it is not an admissions agreement. A qualifying DTA associate degree is generally defined as that degree awarded by a community college to students who have completed a transfer curriculum designed to fulfill most general education requirements for a baccalaureate degree program in Washington State. The approved DTA degree programs follow specific guidelines established by the Intercollege Relations Commission (ICRC), a commission of the Washington Council.

Because of the DTA, a student entering the UW College of Arts and Sciences (or one of the other colleges listed in #8 below) in autumn 1985 or later with an approved academic transfer (i.e., not vocational-technical) associate degree from a Washington community college receives the following benefit:

Transferrable courses which the student's school counted toward its general education requirement will be accepted by the College of Arts and Sciences toward Areas of Knowledge at the UW in the equivalent Area (humanities/ VLPA; social science/I&S; natural sciences/NW), even if they do not count that way for other students.

All Washington baccalaureate institutions, including the UW, have provisos that clarify how the DTA applies to students entering their institution. Please note the following:

  1. To qualify for the DTA, the student must complete all the coursework required for the associate degree before s/he matriculates at the UW.
  2. Courses which do not transfer for credit cannot be counted toward Areas of Knowledge.
  3. Courses counted toward the UW's English composition or foreign language requirement cannot also be counted toward Areas of Knowledge. In particular, many students will have to count first-year foreign language courses toward the foreign language requirement rather than Areas of Knowledge.
  4. Students who satisfy the foreign language requirement with coursework in one language (call it language A), or who are native speakers of a language other than English, can count count toward VLPA any courses in a different foreign language (call it language B) taken before transfer to the UW -- again, if the student satisfies the foreign language requirement with a different language than the one being counted toward VLPA. The student is allowed to count all foreign language B courses toward VLPA even if the community college allowed only some (or even none) of the credits to count toward humanities.

    Example: A student completes, as part of a transfer associate degree at a Washington community college, GERMAN 101, 102, 103 and FRENCH 101. The student then transfers to the UW. The student uses the GERMAN to satisfy the foreign language requirement and can count the FRENCH 101 toward VLPA.

  5. Students (except those who started college before autumn 1985) must meet the additional writing requirement. Many AA degrees require 10 credits of English composition, 5 of which can usually be counted toward the additional writing requirement. Note that many community colleges count creative writing and verse writing toward these 10 credits of English composition, but the UW does not allow those courses toward either the English composition or the additional writing requirement. (They do count toward VLPA at the UW-even if the community college did not allow them to count toward the humanities requirement of the associate degree.)
  6. Many community colleges do not require a 20-20-20 general education plan; the number of credits required in each area may be a combination such as 15-15-15, or 20-20-15, etc. Students must eventually complete the entire 75-credit Areas of Knowledge plan required by the UW College of Arts and Sciences.
  7. If the student does not meet the Arts and Sciences Areas of Knowledge requirement entirely with courses taken before transfer, the student must select UW courses with the appropriate Area designations to complete the requirement.
  8. The following UW schools and colleges other than Arts and Sciences also honor the DTA: Built Environments, Business Administration, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.

Some community colleges assign courses to different Areas than the UW, particularly history and philosophy courses. See the chart Counting History, Philosophy, and Journalism Courses from Washington Community Colleges toward UW's Areas of Knowledge Requirement for specific information about each community college in Washington state.

Postbaccalaureate students

Postbaccalaureate (fifth-year) students are not exempt from the Areas of Knowledge requirement. Eligibility for the pre-1985 general education requirements is determined in the same way as for any other student, and is unaffected by the fact that the student already has a degree. Since transcripts of postbaccalaureate students are not evaluated by the Office of Admissions, advisers must work directly from the original transcripts to determine how many credits the student has earned toward Areas of Knowledge. The criteria used to assign courses to Areas are the same as those used to evaluate X credits. It isn't necessary for the adviser to do a detailed evaluation of the student's credits; it is sufficient, for example, to list "History - 12 credits" or "Math - 9 credits."

Changes in the Areas of Knowledge list

Courses added to or deleted from the Areas

To check the designation of a particular course later dropped from the curriculum, check the Areas of Knowledge archive. When additions to or deletions from an Area are made, the following rules apply:

Courses added to an Area

If a student has taken a course that is subsequently added to an Area, s/he may count that course toward that Area. In other words, all additions are retroactive.

Courses removed from an Area

Courses transferred from one Area to another

If a student takes a course before it is removed from a list, s/he may still count the course toward the requirement. If a student takes a course after it has been removed from the list, s/he may not count it toward the requirement.

Such courses may be counted in either Area if taken before the time of transfer, but only in the Area to which the course was transferred if taken after. 

An adviser who feels that a student acted in good faith but took the wrong course to meet a requirement should assist the student in submitting a petition to the his or her College graduation committee.

Special-category courses

First-year foreign language courses

  • All courses taken to fulfill the foreign language requirement cannot also be counted toward Areas of Knowledge. For example, a student who meets the foreign language requirement with SPAN 101, 102, 103 may not count any of those 15 credits toward VLPA.
  • If the student has satisfied the foreign language requirement, first-year foreign language courses in a second language may count for VLPA as long as the student completes the whole first year of the language, if the first year totals at least 12 quarter credits.
  • The requirement (to count a second foreign language toward VLPA) is only that the student completes the first year of the language, not that the student completes the sequence with a numerical grade. For example, a student who has satisfied the foreign language requirement and then completes FRENCH 101 and 102 with numerical grades and FRENCH 103 with a grade of S, is allowed to count the FRENCH 101 and 102 toward VLPA.
  • Foreign language courses in a language other than the one used to satisfy the foreign language requirement can count toward VLPA if the courses were transferred under theTransfer Associate Degree Agreement, even if the student didn't complete the entire first year of the language.
  • Because of the policy of its accrediting agency, the College of Engineering does not allow the first two quarters of a foreign language to count toward VLPA, under any circumstances.
  • See Counting Specific Foreign Language Courses toward Requirements for information about specific courses.

American Sign Language

American Sign Language counts toward VLPA in the same ways as other languages.

Internship, research, and independent study projects

Almost all the undergraduate courses in the College of Arts and Sciences that don't count toward Areas of Knowledge are those that grant credit for internship, undergraduate research, or independent study projects, where the nature of the learning experience is highly unpredictable.

If a student feels that such a course taken at the UW met the spirit of the Areas of Knowledge requirement, the student may petition his or her college graduation committee, providing a description of the work completed. For such courses transferred from other colleges, any adviser can discuss the content of the course with the student and make a determination.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, the graduation committee asks that the student describe in as much detail as possible the scholarship (i.e., creative practice, original research contribution, etc.) involved: what they will be doing, what they will be reading, who will be supervising them, what will be produced, and how they think it meets the spirit of the Area in question. Faculty input is required. If at all possible, such petitions should be done before the quarter begins so the student can respond to feedback from the committee. Although independent study courses are rarely approved for AoK in the College of Arts and Sciences, this process gives students every chance to get their request heard in time to make changes if necessary.

College of Arts and Sciences graduation committee has determined that internship credit is not eligible for AoK designations. Petitions to count internship credit toward AoK will invariably be denied.

Special-topics courses

Some special-topics courses are included in the Areas of Knowledge lists; others, where the content varies across AoK lines, are not. Also, the usual AoK designation may not be appropriate in some quarters. In advance of a course, departments may request an AoK designation, or a change in designation for a particular quarter, by sending the request and a syllabus to the Curriculum Office ( For individual students, any adviser may, after discussing the course content with the student, decide to count one of these courses toward Areas of Knowledge. The adviser should either make a DARS exception or send the information to

Honors core course sequences

Courses designed especially for the honors general education requirement may be counted toward Areas of Knowledge by students who leave the honors program. The natural science sequence counts toward NW, and the western civilization and world civilization sequences can usually be counted toward either VLPA or I&S, or split between the two Areas. The courses have already been identified for DARS and will be assigned to Areas of Knowledge in DARS audits.

Duplicate credit

If credit is not allowed for both of two courses because the content is judged too similar, a student may not count both toward Areas of Knowledge. Both grades will be calculated into the student's GPA. See Duplicate Courses for a list of these courses and more information.

Lower-level courses taken after a higher-level course in a sequence

In math and foreign languages, students are not allowed credit toward graduation for a course that is part of a series if a higher-level course in the same series has already been completed. For example, a student who completes ITAL 203 and then completes ITAL 201 is not allowed to count ITAL 201 toward the 180 credits required for graduation or toward Areas of Knowledge. Both grades, however, will be calculated into the student's GPA.

999 extension credits

The course-number fields in the Student Data Base screen for extension courses (SRF320) will not accept "1XX", "2XX", etc., as course numbers, so 999, 998, 997, etc. are used as substitutes. These credits (awarded for the International Baccalaureate program and for extension credit granted by other universities) may be evaluated by the adviser as if they were transfer X credits. Permission to count the courses toward requirements should be entered into the DARS exception screen by the adviser or the DARS office.

Non-credit courses

Non-credit courses such as MATH 098 may not be counted toward graduation, nor toward any general-education requirement including Areas of Knowledge.

Courses taken to remove a high school deficiency

These may be counted toward Areas of Knowledge if (1) the UW grants credit for the course; (2) the course is not counted toward the English composition or foreign language requirement; (3) the course appears on the Areas of Knowledge list; and (4) the course, if taken at the UW autumn 1985 or later, was taken for a grade.

Uncompleted hyphenated sequences

If credit and a grade are recorded on the student's transcript for the first quarter of a hyphenated sequence (e.g., BIOL 101-), the student is allowed credit toward both the 180 credits required for graduation and any appropriate graduation requirements. If a grade of "N" is recorded for the first quarter, the course may be counted toward requirements only if the student completes the sequence and receives a passing grade, or if terminal credit is formally granted by the department. See Hyphenated Course Sequences for a list of current hyphenated sequences and more information.