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Liberal Studies

Global and diverse societies require that engineers have an awareness of historical patterns, an appreciation for different cultures, professional ethics, the ability to work in multi-faceted groups, and superior communication skills. Cornell has a rich curriculum in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, enabling every engineering student to obtain a truly liberal education. 

Liberal Studies Degree Requirements

Liberal Studies Requirements for Students Entering Fall 2020 and later

Liberal Studies Requirements for Students Entering Fall 2019 and earlier

Examples of Learning Outcomes that Characterize Liberal Arts 

  • Understanding human life in cultural contexts through interpretive analysis of individual behavior, discourse, and social practice. (CA)
  • Ability to interpret continuities and changes – political, social, economic, diplomatic, religious, intellectual, artistic, and scientific – through time. (HA)
  • Appreciation of literature and the arts through critical study of art and its history, aesthetics, and theory. (LA/LAD)
  • Understanding the bases of human knowledge and decision-making, ranging from cognitive processes, to abstract reasoning, to the ability to form and justify moral decisions (e.g., cognitive psychology, linguistics, philosophy, ethics). (KCM)
  • Recognition of human life in its social context through the use of social-scientific methods, with topics ranging from attitudes of individuals to interpersonal and broad societal relationships. This includes understanding the challenges of building a diverse society, and/or examining the various processes that marginalize people and produce unequal power relations. (SBA)
  • Understanding of diverse cultures through the study of foreign languages. (FL)

How to Find Courses that are Approved for Liberal Studies for Engineers

The Liberal Arts commonly include courses in the humanities (e.g., history, art history and criticism, literary studies and writing, classics, philosophy, religious studies), foreign languages, and the social sciences (e.g., sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, psychology), as well as interdisciplinary courses involving these disciplines (e.g., area studies, women’s studies). Performance arts are also considered liberal arts and include theatre, dance, instruction in musical theory and/or musical performance (non-PE).

Students can find approved liberal studies courses in the following ways:

Courses of Study

Search for a particular course that you have in mind and view its description in the online Courses of Study to see if a liberal studies distribution category exists (CA, LA/LAD, ALC, SCD, HA, HST, KCM, ETM, SBA, SSC, GLC, FL, CE).  The course must have one or more of these categories to count for liberal studies for engineers.

Courses of Study

Class Roster

Search for a particular course that you have in mind and view its course description via the "view course details" tab in the Class Roster to see if a liberal studies distribution category exists (CA, LA/LAD, ALC, SCD, HA, HST, KCM, ETM, SBA, SSC, GLC, FL, CE).  The course must have one or more of these categories to count for liberal studies for engineers.

Class Roster

Approved Courses List

Search for hundreds of courses with approved distribution categories.  You can click in each of the gray category tabs (CA, LA/LAD, ALC, SCD, HA, HST, KCM, ETM, SBA, SSC, GLC, FL, CE) in the "Approved Categories/Courses" section at the top of our Liberal Studies database to view lists of courses approved for a specific category.

Approved Courses List


You can also click in the search bar at the top right of our Liberal Studies Database to conduct a keyword search for particular classes.

Liberal Studies Search Bar

Approved Petitions List

Check the College of Engineering's Approved Petitions List for additional course options from classes successfully petitioned in the past.  Pay close attention to the "Notes" column for additional course information.

Courses Not Approved for Liberal Studies for Engineers

Courses generally not considered Liberal Arts include those in athletics, business (including accounting, finance, marketing, management, and entrepreneurship), methods of practice of education, and engineering (including project teams and research involvement). Many of these courses belong rather to a “professional curriculum” covering specific methods and practicums or are largely technical in nature. However, Liberal Arts do include a subset of courses in business taught from a humanities or social science perspective (e.g., sociology of business, history of business, and business ethics).

Check the College of Engineering's Denied Petitions List for courses that were petitioned in the past but were denied.  These courses cannot count toward the liberal studies requirement.

How to Petition for a Liberal Studies Course Not Already Approved or Denied

The College of Engineering recommends students enroll in courses identified as fulfilling the liberal studies categories as listed in the current Courses of Study. However, students may petition additional courses not identified and not already denied by the College of Engineering on the Denied Petitions List. For more information on petition policies and to determine if a course may be petitioned, please refer to the Liberal Studies Petitions page.


Note: For an overview of the information on this page and the College's liberal studies requirement, you can also listen to a recording of a Liberal Studies Information Session presented by the Engineering Advising Office.