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Areas of Knowledge

Almost half of your degree will consist of courses in the Areas of Knowledge, more credits than most majors. These broad subject areas represent the foundation of your UW education and will support the advanced learning you will do the rest of your life, including the work for your major. The objective is to introduce you to many new ideas, rather than training you in one specific subject, so that you are in a position to create linkages across a wide expanse of different topics and disciplines. 

You will likely find one Area of Knowledge more consistently appealing than another. That’s okay. Your future major may lie in that Area. Nonetheless, you will get the most out of your time at UW if you recognize that all Areas have a powerful contribution to make to your overall growth, and that all Areas represent time-honored traditions of inquiry. Embrace the exploration of new ideas and work diligently to make connections, especially where none seem to exist.

The number of credits of AoK required by each college of the UW varies. For the College of Arts and Sciences, a minimum of 20 credits is required in each area, with 15 additional credits from any area (i.e., a total of 75 credits from the AoK). 

A number of UW courses may be listed in the Time Schedule and Course Catalog as being applicable to more than one Area of Knowledge. An example is Philosophy 102: Contemporary Moral Problems. It is designated as (VLPA/I&S). This means that it may count toward one or the other, but not both Areas of Knowledge.    

Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)

VLPA courses focus on questions of meaning and value in human life, as well as the effective expression of the human experience. Art is used here in a very broad sense, from the ancient Greek arête meaning excellence. Departments where many or most of the courses apply toward the VLPA requirement include Architecture, Art & Art History, Classics, Communication (speech & interpersonal communication), Comparative History of Ideas, Comparative Literature, Dance, Drama, English (literature & creative writing; NOT composition courses), Humanities, Landscape Architecture, Linguistics, Music, and Philosophy (ethics-related courses).

The following departments focus on the study of languages and their associated literature and culture. While first-year languages courses have limitations on use towards VLPA, second-year language courses and beyond always apply. Also, these departments offer many literature and culture courses that apply toward VLPA: Asian Languages and Literature, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, French & Italian Studies, Germanics, Scandinavian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Spanish and Portuguese Studies.

Sample VLPA courses

CourseTitle    AofK    CreditsNotesSize
C LIT 272Horror FilmsVLPA, W5$15 fee200
C LIT 303AContemporary Black CinemaVLPA535
C LIT 303BFilm NoirVLPA5Offered jointly with GERMAN75
COM 220Intro to Public SpeakingVLPA or I&S5165
CSE 131Science & Art of Digital PhotographyVLPA4No pre-requisites120
DRAMA 101Intro to TheaterVLPA5230
ENGL 345Studies in Film (Independent Film)VLPA540
FRENCH 212French Masterworks: Modern in EnglishVLPA5Intro to major figures in French culture. Taught in English.50
GWSS 241Hip Hop and Indie RockVLPA5Can count for VLPA or I&S; offered jointly as AFRAM 33790
HEBR 250Intro to Hebrew Lang & CultureVLPA2Can count for VLPA or I&S; no background in Hebrew required; graded CR/NO CR25
ITAL/ART H 261Italian Cities (focus on Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples)VLPA5Jointly offered by Italian and Art History120
L ARCH 322Intro to Planting DesignVLPA395
LING 100Fundamentals of GrammarVLPA5Intro to basic grammatical concepts and terminology. Intended for students planning to continue with linguistics OR a foreign language.300
LING 200Intro to Linguistic ThoughtVLPA5Can count for VLPA or I&S238
MUSIC 162BAmerican Pop SongsVLPA5Optional W credit90
SCAND 370The VikingsVLPA or I&S5Offered jointly with HSTAM100

Individuals and Societies (I&S)

I&S courses focus on the study of human behavior both individually and socially. This includes the history, development, and dynamics of human behavior, as well as social and cultural institutions.

Departments where many or most of the courses apply toward the I&S requirement include: American Ethnic Studies, African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, Anthropology (ANTH and ARCHY), Bioethics & Humanities, Communication, Comparative History of Ideas, Economics, Program on the Environment, Environmental and Forest Sciences, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, Geography, History, Humanities, International Studies, European Studies, International Studies, African Studies, Asian Studies, Comparative Religion, East Asian Studies, Jewish Studies, Latin American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, South Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Law, Societies and Justice, Near Eastern Languages & Civilization, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Scandinavian Studies, and Sociology.

Sample I&S courses

CourseTitle    AofK    CreditsNotesSize
AAS 210Asian American IdentityI&S545
ATM S 103Hurricanes and ThunderstormsI&S or NW3Can count for I&S or NW240
ATM S 111Global WarmingI&S or NW5Can count for I&S or NW240
COM 220Intro to Public SpeakingI&S or VLPA5165
ENV H 311Intro to Environmental HealthI&S3Can count for I&S or NW170
ENVIR 100Environmental Studies: Interdisciplinary FoundationsI&S or NW5Service learning course; optional linked writing available for C or W125
ESRM 100Intro to Environmental ScienceI&S or NW5Online course700/online
ESRM 101Forests and SocietyNW5Can count for I&S or NW325
FISH 260ARecreational Fisheries: Science, Management, and PolicyNW or I&S5Lecture with lab. Appropriate for students without science background, but should be of sophomore standing or higher50
FISH 260BRecreational Fisheries: Science, Management, and PolicyNW or I&S3Lecture only; appropriate for students without science background, but should be of sophomore standing or higher100
GEOG 301Cultural GeographyI&S5Optional W Credit40
GEOG 432Geographies and Politics of Poverty and PrivilegeI&S530
GWSS 200Intro to Women’s StudiesI&S550
GWSS 241Hip Hop and Indie RockI&S5Can count for I&S or VLPA; offered jointly as AFRAM 33790
GWSS 262Gender and SportI&S550
GWSS 290BAsian American Women in the PNWI&S550
GWSS 290CGender and Sexuality in the ClassroomI&S550
HEBR 250Intro to Hebrew Lang & CultureI&S or VLPA2Can count for VLPA or I&S; no background in Hebrew required; graded CR/NO CR25
HSERV 100Personal and Public HealthI&S3Satisfies PH major admission requirement; freshmen and sophomores only150
LING 200Intro to Linguistic ThoughtI&S5Can count for I&S or VLPA238
PHYS/JSIS B 216Science and SocietyI&S5Can count for NW or I&S60
POL S/ENVIR 385World Food PoliticsI&S5Can count for I&S or NW80
PSYCH 101Intro to PsychologyI&S5Optional linked W courses; online section available440
PSYCH 210Human SexualityI&S5525
PSYCH 250Racism and Minority GroupsI&S5100
SCAND 370The VikingsI&S or VLPAOffered jointly with HSTAM100
SOC 201AStability and Change in American LifeI&S5No pre-reqs. No seniors Period I.185
SOC WF 201Prevention Science: Bridging the Gap from Science to ServiceI&S5Only offered once every 2 years!40
URBDP 200Introduction to UrbanizationI&S5Intro gen ed course for those curious about cities95

Natural World (NW)

NW courses focus on the scientific study of the physical world.

Departments where many or most of the courses apply toward the NW include: Astronomy, Atmospheric Sciences, Biocultural Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Program on the Environment, Environmental and Forest Sciences, Environmental Science & Resource Management, Fisheries, Mathematics, Oceanography, Physics, Psychology, Speech and Hearing Sciences and Statistics.

Sample NW courses

CourseTitle    AofK    CreditsNotesSize
ATM S 103Hurricanes and ThunderstormsNW3Can count for NW or I&S
ATM S 111Global WarmingNW5Can count for NW or I&S240
ENV H 311Intro to Environmental HealthNW or I&S3PH Majors only Period I; Can count for I&S or NW170
ENVIR 100Environmental Studies: Interdisciplinary FoundationsNW or I&S5Service learning course; optional linked writing available for C or W125
ESRM 100Intro to Environmental ScienceNW or I&S5Online course700/online
ESRM 101Forests and SocietyNW5Can count for I&S or NW325
ESS 102Space & Space TravelNW5Optional W credit195
ESS 105Living with VolcanosNW3Can count for NW or I&S
FISH 260ARecreational Fisheries: Science, Management, and PolicyNW or I&S5Lecture with lab. Appropriate for students without science background, but should be of sophomore standing or higher50
FISH 260BRecreational Fisheries: Science, Management, and PolicyNW or I&S3Lecture only; appropriate for students without science background, but should be of sophomore standing or higher100
GENOME 351Human Genetics & SocietyNW5
L ARCH 363Ecological Design and PlanningNW330
PHYS/JSIS B 216Science and SocietyNW5Can count for NW or I&S60
POL S/ENVIR 385World Food PoliticsNW5Can count for I&S or NW80

Grades required

Any passing grades (0.7 and above) are acceptable. Courses may not be taken on the satisfactory/not satisfactory (S/NS) grading option.

Overlap with other requirements

  • For majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, you may count 15 credits from your major department toward Areas of Knowledge. Overlap rules for majors in other colleges and schools vary; refer to the catalog listing of the specific major for details.
  • If you complete two majors, and at least one of the majors is in the College of Arts and Sciences, you may count 15 credits from one major toward Areas of Knowledge, and any number of credits from the other major. You choose which major has restricted overlap.
  • You may count any number of credits from courses counted toward a minor, or toward the additional writing requirement or the Q/SR requirement, toward Areas of Knowledge as well.
  • The courses on the English composition list do not count toward Areas of Knowledge.
  • Overlap with the foreign language requirement is a bit more complicated.

AP and IB

Except for AP credit in English composition, most credit granted from College Board Advanced Placement examinations and International Baccalaureate can be counted toward Areas of Knowledge. If you have AP or IB scores, check out the AP tables and the IB tables.

For transfer students

Most transfer courses similar to those offered by the College of Arts and Sciences will count toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement. Transfer courses that will not countinclude most business, engineering, and technical courses; physical education courses; and English Composition courses.

Many courses that transfer as X-credit (e.g., HIST 1XX) will be assigned to the appropriate Area of Knowledge automatically, based on the department. However, some departments (e.g., PSYCH) have courses that fall in different Areas and so must be evaluated by an adviser, who will determine in which Area(s) each course falls.

Although UW courses taken S/NS cannot be counted toward Areas of Knowledge, transfer courses taken on a pass-fail basis before you first enter the UW can be counted toward Areas of Knowledge.

You can check the UW Equivalency Guide for Washington Community and Technical Colleges to determine which courses from Washington community colleges count toward the UW's Areas of Knowledge requirement; they are marked in the lists as VLPA, I&S, or NW.

A student who has a transfer associate's degree from a Washington community college is allowed to count transferred courses toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement in the category the community college counted the courses. The courses most often affected are history and philosophy courses. If you have a transfer AA and transfer courses in history or philosophy you will want to become familiar with the Direct Transfer Agreement.

For postbaccalaureate students

Students who enter the UW with a bachelor's degree already completed, and plan to earn a second bachelor's degree from the UW, are required to complete the Areas of Knowledge requirement. Since the courses of postbaccalaureate students are not individually evaluated — that is, they are not individually translated into UW equivalents — postbaccalaureate students must meet with an adviser to determine how courses already completed apply to the Areas of Knowledge requirement.

Finding courses

You can generate a complete list of the Areas of Knowledge courses with space still available with the General Education Requirement Course Search.