The Undergraduate Degree
Your undergraduate degree is earned upon the successful completion of at least 180 college quarter credits, distributed in the following areas.
These credits must include the completion of General Education requirements, additional graduation requirements specific to each school or college, and an area of specialization (i.e., a major). Proceeding at a pace of 15 credits per quarter (autumn, winter, and spring), you will complete 180 credits in four years.
In addition to coursework, to graduate you must meet grade, credit, residence, and matriculation requirements.
General Education requirements
Your degree will be structured to a significant extent by the Areas of Knowledge, which consist of three broad areas of study: Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA), Individuals and Societies (I&S), and Natural World (NW).
In addition, you must demonstrate mastery in these areas: English Composition, Additional Writing, and Quantitative & Symbolic Reasoning. The UW also recently instituted a Diversity requirement. Some majors require a foreign language.
All undergraduate students must complete a major, an area of concentration which you study in depth. All majors require at least 50 credits in one department or a closely related group of departments. Your major will make up one-third to one-half of your bachelor's degree. Some examples of majors are Biology, Psychology, Drama, and Chemical Engineering. The UW has more than 120 majors to choose from.
Many students are undecided about their majors when they enter college — and many who think they have decided will change their minds more than once before they graduate. Although parents and friends will keep asking you what you're majoring in, you shouldn't feel pressured to make a quick decision. There is a lot to choose from at a university of this size, and there are many factors you need to think about as you are considering potential majors. On the average, people change majors three times and careers seven times. Take time to explore your interests and your options.
Electives and optional minors
The courses you take to meet the requirements for your degree will almost certainly not exactly total the 180 credits you need to graduate. The credits you need to bring your total to 180 are called "general electives." General electives don't count toward any requirement except the total number of credits required for graduation. Even though it seems like you have lots of required courses to take, depending on your major and how much you overlap requirements (i.e., how efficient you are), and with a little bit of luck, you may still have some room left for any courses you may want to take.
If you choose one of the smaller majors (i.e., one that requires only 50 credits in the major), you could have up to 65 credits that can be anything at all. There are a few programs, mostly in the sciences and engineering, that are so full of required courses that there are few or no electives. On average, most students end up with 30 credits or so of electives.
A minor is an additional area of specialization (25-35 credits). You are not required to have a minor, but you may complete up to three in addition to a major.
How should I spend my general electives?
That's up to you. These credits may be from virtually any undergraduate course offered at the UW, and even graduate-level courses if you have the instructor's permission.
Many students spend at least some of them investigating different majors by taking a variety of introductory courses. Most of these courses will count toward Areas of Knowledge, but if you take a lot of them in one Area some will end up being electives.
Some students concentrate their elective credits in one department, pursuing an interest and maybe completing the requirements of a minor.
Some students use their electives to prepare for a graduate or professional degree program that they hope to attend after completing a bachelor's degree. For example, if you plan to major in history and apply to medical school, you'll spend your electives on premed courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.
Or you may simply want to have some fun with your electives. Use the Course Catalog Search to find courses on any topic. Always had an interest in acting? Take some drama. Want to be more informed about environmental issues? The UW offers a wide spectrum of courses on this topic. Want to learn about Greek mythology, cave paintings, the Vietnam war, black holes, jazz? You're in the right place.
Overlaps between requirements
Although at first it might seem like the UW dictates many of the 180 credits you need to graduate, in fact there’s a great deal of overlap and flexibility built into the degree. In some cases, one course can count toward two or even three requirements.
Courses required by your major
In the College of Arts and Sciences, up to 15 credits in the major department may also be counted toward Areas of Knowledge. Some majors have courses in two or three Areas; in these cases, you can pick and choose which courses in your major you want to count toward AoK.
Many majors also require supporting courses—for example, biology majors must also take math, chemistry, and physics. Most of these supporting courses can count toward Areas of Knowledge.
If you complete two majors (double major or double degree), 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 is restricted.
Courses in your major department, if applicable, may also be counted toward the English composition, additional-writing, Q/SR, and foreign language requirements
Courses taken toward a minor, if applicable, can also count toward any general education requirement. And although you can’t major and minor in the same department, there are some interdisciplinary minors that could overlap to some extent with your major.
Your Q/SR course can, if applicable, also count toward any other requirement. Most students are able to count their Q/SR course toward AoK, or their major, or both.
The courses you take to satisfy the additional writing requirement may also count toward any other requirements they otherwise qualify for. For example, if GERMAN 311 Literary Studies (which is a VLPA) was offered as a W-course, you could count it toward VLPA and Additional Writing.
Areas of Knowledge
You may count 15 credits from your major, and any number of credits from a minor, toward Areas of Knowledge. You may also count W-courses and your Q/SR course toward AoK, if they appear on the AoK lists.
The course you use to satisfy the English composition requirement may not also count toward Areas of Knowledge or the additional writing requirement. (It may count toward your major, but very few majors include courses that count as English composition.)
In the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Social Work, and College of Education, none of the first-year courses you take in the language that meets the foreign language requirement—first, second, and third quarter—count toward the Areas of Knowledge requirement. If you continue on in the language (or place high enough to start at the 200 level), all courses at the second-year level and beyond will count toward VLPA—if taken for a grade and not S/NS.If you take a second foreign language, and complete at least the third quarter, all the credits earned can count toward VLPA. (In the College of Engineering, you can count only third-quarter foreign language courses and beyond toward VLPA.
You may be wondering if there’s a limit to the number of credits you can take at UW, or a limit to how long you can take to earn your bachelors degree. The short answer is yes.
Your limit has two parts, a clock part and a credit part. The clock part keeps track of how many quarters of college classes you have taken after you complete high school. Transfer quarters are included; Running Start quarters are not. The clock also does not include summer quarters. The credit part keeps track of how many college credits you’ve earned that apply towards your bachelors degree, regardless of where or when you took them. This includes AP and IB credit.
You are expected to graduate by the time your clock strikes 12 and by the time you have earned 210 credits, whichever comes last. Your limit is not reached until both parts are fulfilled. Note that since 180 credits is the minimum number of credits needed to earn an undergraduate degree 210 represents 30 credits beyond this minimum.
You have some wiggle room. There are some exceptions to these absolute numbers, primarily for students pursuing a double degree, but the formula of “minimum credits + 30” still holds. Another way of thinking about this is that your limit of 210 credits won’t be enforced until you’ve completed 12 quarters of college work beyond high school, not including summers.
Both your clock and your credits can be found at the bottom of your unofficial UW transcript. Since this may be a little tricky to understand at first, talk with an academic adviser if you have questions about how this policy impacts you.
Generally, to graduate with a baccalaureate degree, a student must earn a cumulative GPA of 2.00 for all work done in residence (see below) at the University. The College or School may also require a 2.00 minimum GPA in the major at the time of graduation. Some programs require a higher GPA, overall and/or in the major.
To graduate with a baccalaureate degree, a student must complete a minimum of 180 academic credits1. In the College of Arts and Sciences, at least 90 of the 180 credits must be completed outside the student's major department.
To graduate with a baccalaureate degree, a student must complete at least 45 credits in residence at the UW. Residence credits are UW credits earned through the campus granting the degree.
In addition, 45 of the last 60 credits must be taken in residence; this is referred to as the final-year residence requirement. The idea is that in order to earn a UW degree, the majority of your final courses — which are usually upper division courses in your major — should be taken through the UW. These courses may be part of a study abroad program as long as the courses are offered as part of a UW program. Exceptions to the final-year residence rule may be made by each individual college.
Residence credit includes:
- Day and evening courses from the quarterly time schedule at the student's home UW campus, including fieldwork and individual-study courses that don't require that the student be on campus, but not including C-prefix or DL-prefix online learning courses
- Evening Degree Program courses
- Credit courses offered by UW Professional and Continuing Education taken by students in good academic standing, except C-prefix and DL-prefix online learning courses
- Foreign study credit earned through UW-sponsored International Programs and Exchanges that are recorded on the transcript as UW credit
Residence credit does not include:
- Transfer courses
- UW online learning courses, including both UW C-prefix and DL-prefix courses
- Any UW courses taken by students on drop status
- UW-Bothell or UW-Tacoma credits, for students matriculated at the Seattle campus, and vice-versa. Only credits earned at the campus granting the degree are considered residence credits.
- AP and International Baccalaureate credit
- Advanced placement credit
- Credit by examination
- College in the High School, including courses sponsored by UW Professional and Continuing Education
- Armed Forces Training School credit
- Foreign study credit that appears on the student's transcript as transfer credit
A matriculated student is one who has been admitted to a UW school or college, as a premajor or declared major. To be granted an undergraduate degree, a student must complete at least 45 UW credits as a matriculated student.
After a student has been admitted to the UW, types of UW credit which count toward this matriculation requirement include "regular" credit courses listed in the quarterly Time Schedule, credits taken at another UW campus, credit courses offered by UW Professional and Continuing Education, and all UW online learning courses.