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Welcome to Barnumbia! You still have a bit of time before you have to commit, but now that you’re in, start reading as much as you can about your potential new school. Required Reading can help you out with that. If you want to see what life is really like on the upper west side, make sure you subscribe.

College nowadays is about so much more than just academics—there are extracurriculars, the social scene, things to do around the city, etc. That being said, academics still make up a big part of what your college experience will be like. Before you commit to Barnard, make sure you’re A-OK with its general education requirements (i.e., all students need to take these) plan.

Barnard’s curriculum is called Foundations, and it requires students to take classes within a handful of distributions. It consists of the First-Year Experience, four distributional requirements, and six Modes of Thinking. With the exception of the First-Year Experience (which has to be taken, surprise surprise, your first year), you can take the other requirements whenever you want.

First-Year Experience

First-Year Writing (one semester) and First-Year Seminar (one semester)

The Writing and Seminar classes are a great introduction to discussion-based classes and will teach you how to write a college-caliber essay. In these classes, you will improve your writing and speaking abilities while focusing on a particular theme. (For example, I’m currently in a seminar called Things and Stuff, where we’re focusing on how material goods shape our culture.) These classes must be taken during different semesters of your first year at Barnard.

PE (one semester)

A gym class also has to be taken during your first year. There are a variety of PE classes offered, like yoga, self-defense, and dance classes of all levels, so no matter your level of fitness, there will be a gym class that suits you.

Distributional Requirements

In order to get that whole ~liberal arts experience~, Barnard requires students to choose from a wide variety of courses to fulfill distribution requirements in arts/humanities, science (including a lab), language, and social sciences. You can find which classes fulfill which requirements here.

Language (two semesters)

You’re not just limited to what’s offered at Barnard—plenty of students take their language classes over at Columbia as well, so you won’t be starved for options. You can take something as classic as French or something as unconventional as Pulaar. (Note: Unlike the previous general education requirements, all students must take language classes—you’re not allowed to pass out of the requirement.)

Arts and Humanities (two semesters)

A few of the Foundations requirements (including this one) are very open-ended. Basically, a lot of history, visual and performing arts, literature, philosophy, and other humanities classes fall under this heading.

Science (two semesters) + lab (one semester)

This doesn’t just include your typical chemistry, biology, and physics classes (though those definitely do count). For the science requirement, you can also take cool classes like astronomy, ecology, animal behavior, and much more. Also, you’re better off than the kids fulfilling the Nine Ways of Knowing (the pre-Foundations general education requirements curriculum)—they have two semesters of lab.

Social Science (two semesters)

Another open-ended one. Again, a lot of history, political science, psychology, anthropology, economics, etc.

Modes of Thinking

Barnard wants its students to be able to think in all sorts of ways, so it implemented these requirements to make you a ~wholesome~ and ~well-rounded~ student. You can see which classes fulfill which modes of thinking here.

Thinking Locally–New York City

We get to take a class and explore NYC at the same time? What’s better than that? Classes that fulfill this mode are related to the city of New York and sometimes require you to step out of the MoHi bubble for further study.

Thinking Through Global Inquiry

In this mode, students look farther than the city and its surrounding area and culture. The focus of this requirement is global topics, so most classes focus on other cultures.

Thinking About Social Difference

Students learn all about the difference between people, as well as about the disparities of power and resources.

Thinking with Historical Perspective

Put simply, you have to take one history course.

Thinking Quantitatively and Empirically

This mode is basically a nice way of saying, “Take one semester of math.” There are even some good offerings for those who aren’t numerically inclined.

Thinking Technologically and Digitally

Think computer science or programming. In this day and age, it’s super important to know how to work a computer on a deeper level than posting to Facebook.

Note: One class can fulfill up to two requirements. For example, Intro to Art History can fulfill your Arts and Humanities distribution requirement and the Thinking with Historical Perspective mode of thinking.

Foundations isn’t for everyone. Some people want a heavy curriculum to expose them to the true liberal arts education and others know exactly what they want to do and don’t want to take. Knowing if you want to go to a school with such a heavy general education requirement is something you’ll definitely have to determine before you commit.

From a current first-year, here are my two cents: Foundations can be annoying and overwhelming, but the curriculum does have the benefit of ensuring that you’re able to talk knowledgeably about anything. And if you don’t yet know what you want to study, Foundations is a great opportunity for you to explore a variety of classes and find the major that suits you the best.

Have any questions about the Foundations curriculum? Ask us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum. We’re also very technologically adept folk, so you can also email any questions you have to

Isabella Monaco is Spectrum’s associate editor and a Barnard first-year. She has a love-hate relationship with Foundations. Reach her at

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