By means of this requirement the College seeks to instill an understanding and an appreciation of the major areas of learning. Students are not expected to master all areas in detail, but should develop a coherent view of essential concepts, structures, and intellectual methods that typify these disciplines.

Courses offered by the academic departments and programs of the College are divided into five area categories:

  • the natural sciences
  • the social sciences
  • the humanities
  • mathematics and symbolic analysis
  • creative expression

Each of these divisions represents a different perspective on human knowledge and learning; some departments and programs overlap these divisions while others may stand outside them.


Natural Science

Natural Science courses focus on the understanding of our natural world through application of the scientific method, which emphasizes observation, experimentation, formation of testable hypotheses about natural phenomena, and testing of those hypotheses.

Social Science

Social science courses focus on the study of the social behavior of individuals, groups, societies, nations, and states. Social scientists often use qualitative methods, such as ethnography, oral history, and descriptive analysis of archival materials and artifacts. They also use quantitative tools grounded in the scientific method to collect and analyze data, and form testable hypotheses about social phenomena.


Humanities courses focus on the human condition as expressed, for example, in literature, religion, philosophy, and the visual and performing arts. Its methods are analytical, critical, and speculative, and can often be contrasted with the quantitative and qualitative methods employed in the social sciences.

Mathematical and Symbolic Analysis

MSA courses focus primarily on the mathematical and statistical tools used to support the study of the natural and social sciences. Rather than mathematical manipulation or computation, these courses focus on the methodology used to analyze quantitative information to make decisions, judgments and predictions. This involves defining a problem by means of numerical or geometrical representations of real-world phenomena, determining how to solve it, deducing consequences, formulating alternatives, and predicting outcomes. In addition to mathematics and statistics, MSA courses are taught in a variety of subjects, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, economics, the environment, geological sciences, philosophy, physics, and sociology.

Creative Expression

Creative Expression (CE) courses entail hands-on activities that allow students to express their creativity through a wide range of arts. This differs from courses in the Humanities (HU) that are taught at a more theoretical or abstract level. For example, HU music courses focus on theory without making sounds or practicing music. CE courses teach students how to apply the theory not only on paper but through playing an instrument, creating sound, composing music, or arranging music. CE courses may address many different mediums, including the performing arts, fine arts, plastic and visual arts architecture, ceramics, metalworking, paper and textiles, woodworking, and glass.


Interdisciplinary courses  combine in roughly equal measure the approaches within two or three of the primary distributions (HU, NS, and SS) in order to examine the differences and similarities between disciplines and explore alternative ways of discovering and organizing knowledge. Interdisciplinary work is primarily concerned with crossings and connections between areas of knowledge, inquiry, and method. ID courses emphasize critical thinking, team-based intellectual work, and the analytic skills characteristic of each discipline.

Area Distribution Requirement

All candidates for the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from the College must fulfill the 30-credit Distribution Requirement.

This broad intellectual experience, which forms an essential part of a liberal arts education, is to be achieved in the following way:

  1. Students must complete 7 credits in each of the following three areas: Natural Science (NS), Social Science (SS), and Humanities (HU), for a total of 21 credits.
  2. Students must also complete 3 additional credits in three of the following five areas: (NS), (SS), (HU), Mathematical and Symbolic Analysis (MSA), and Creative Expression (CE), for a total of 9 credits. Credits in courses designated Interdisciplinary (ID) may be used to satisfy up to 9 credits of this part of the requirement.

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts 500 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI  48109 © 2016 Regents of the University of Michigan