two students talking in class

Liberal Studies

Cornell has a rich curriculum in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, enabling every engineering student to obtain a truly liberal education.  A minimum of six courses (totaling at least 18 credits) is required, and should be chosen with as much care and foresight as courses from technical areas.

Requirement for Engineering Students:

  • The six courses must be chosen from at least three of the following seven groups;

  • No more than two courses may be chosen from Group 7 (CE);

  • At least two courses must be at the 2000 level or higher.


Group 1 - Cultural Analysis (CA)
Courses in this area study human life in particular cultural contexts through interpretive analysis of individual behavior, discourse, and social practice. Topics include belief systems (science, medicine, and religion); expressive arts and symbolic behavior (visual arts, performance, poetry, myth, narrative, and ritual); identity (nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality); social groups and institutions (family, market, and community); and power and politics (states, colonialism, and inequality).

Group 2 - Historical Analysis (HA)
Courses in this area interpret continuities and changes--political, social, economic, diplomatic, religious, intellectual, artistic, and scientific--through time. The focus may be on groups of people, a specific country or region, an event, a process, or a time period.

Group 3 - Literature and the Arts (LA)
Courses in this area explore literature and the arts in two different but related ways. Some courses focus on the critical study of art works and on their history, aesthetics, and theory. These courses develop skills of reading, observing, and hearing and encourage reflection on such experiences; many investigate the interplay among individual achievement, artistic tradition, and historical context. Other courses are devoted to the production and performance of art works (in creative writing, performing arts, and media such as film and video). These courses emphasize the interaction among technical mastery, cognitive knowledge, and creative imagination.

Group 4 - Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasoning (KCM)
Courses in this area investigate the bases of human knowledge in its broadest sense, ranging from cognitive faculties (such as perception) shared by humans and animals, to abstract reasoning, to the ability to form and justify moral judgments. Courses investigating the sources, structure, and limits of cognition may use the methodologies of science, cognitive psychology, linguistics, or philosophy. Courses focusing on moral reasoning explore ways of reflecting on ethical questions that concern the nature of justice, the good life, or human values in general.

Group 5 - Social and Behavioral Analysis (SBA)
Courses in this area examine human life in its social context through the use of social-scientific methods, often including hypothesis testing, scientific sampling techniques, and statistical analysis.  Topics studied range from the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes of individuals to interpersonal relations between individuals (e.g. in friendship, love, conflict), to larger social organizations (e.g. the family, society, religious or educational or civic institutions, the economy, government), to the relationships and conflicts among groups or individuals (e.g. discrimination, inequality, prejudice, stigmas, conflict resolution).

Group 6 - Foreign Languages (not literature courses) (FL)
Courses in this area teach language skills, including reading, writing, listening, and spoken non-English languages, at beginning to advanced levels.

Group 7 - Communications in Engineering (CE) (No more than two courses from this category can be used to satisfy the liberal studies requirement).  This category contains communication in engineering courses to satisfy the College of Engineering technical communication requirement.
Courses in this area explore communication as a way of acting in the world. The primary aim is to provide students with the opportunity to practice performing a range of engineering-related communication skills within specific genres (e.g. proposals, reports, and journal articles, oral presentations, etc.). Each of these genres potentially engages a wide variety of audiences and, depending on the particulars of context, each may have multiple purposes. The secondary aim is to enable students to be aware of the choices they make as communicators and to be able to articulate a rationale for those choices.

List of Approved Courses:

There exists a comprehensive list of liberal studies courses approved for engineering students.  The tabs in the gray area at the top of the page signify (1) the two colleges where liberal studies courses are primarily taught (The College of Arts and Sciences (AS) and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)) and (2) the liberal studies groups cited above.  

As the liberal studies distribution is reviewed and updated throughout the year, new courses are added to the list and can be found by clicking on the "other yes" tab. Courses that have been reviewed and denied liberal studies status can be found by clicking on the "other no" tab.