Graduation Requirements


Graduation Requirements

Distribution Requirements

One of the most important aspects of a liberal arts degree is the breadth of study required. The distribution requirements are designed to ensure that students take some courses in each of the four academic divisions of the College during their four years. It’s a good idea to complete these distribution requirements early in your college career, but you won’t complete them all in your first semester. To identify the designation of a course, see the General Distribution Requirement section of the College Catalog for each department. Designations are also noted in the Class Schedule in 1600grand. Not all courses in each department will meet general distribution requirements. Courses taken to meet distribution requirements may also be used to meet other graduation requirements (major, general education, etc.)

  • Social Sciences (8 semester credits required): Courses with a Social Sciences designation may be found in American Studies, Anthropology, Asian Languages and Cultures, Economics, Educational Studies, Environmental Studies, Geography, International Studies, Linguistics, Media and Cultural Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
  • Natural Sciences and Mathematics (8 semester credits required): Courses with a Natural Sciences and Mathematics designation may be found in Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Studies, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Philosophy, Physics and Astronomy, Psychology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
  • Humanities and Fine Arts (12 semester credits required; with at least four credits in the humanities and at least four credits in the fine arts):
    Courses with Humanities designations may be found in American Studies, Asian Languages and Cultures, Classics, Educational Studies, English, Environmental Studies, French and Francophone Studies, German and Russian Studies, Hispanic Studies, History, International Studies, Linguistics, Media and Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Religious Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

    Courses with the Fine Arts designations may be found in American Studies, Art and Art History, Asian Languages and Cultures, Classics, English, International Studies, Media and Cultural Studies, Music,Theatre and Dance, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality

Credits earned through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or A-Level exams will not apply towards the distribution requirements.

There are also limits to the number of semester hours you may count towards graduation in a single discipline (60) or division (96). This is also to ensure that you have breadth in your studies.

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General Education Requirements

In addition to divisional breadth, Macalester also wants its graduates to develop the skills and sensibilities our complex world demands. The following four requirements were designed with that goal in mind.

Internationalism (I) Requirement
A rich campus life, language acquisition, study away, and interaction with diverse students and faculty all contribute to students' intellectual and experiential grasp of difference and of their own place in relation to the "other" and the world. In this context, the Internationalism graduation requirement is designed to prepare students to contribute as members of a thoughtful and principled citizenry in a global society. In learning about other peoples, cultures and global systems one dislodges presuppositions about others and, crucially, about one's individual and collective self. (One course with the "I" designation required.)

United States Identities and Differences (USID) Requirement
By recognizing that social groups and identities emerge from complex cultural, economic, political, social and institutional processes, the United States Identities and Differences Requirement focuses on the historical origins and contemporary implications of these power-laden processes. While this requirement focuses on the United States as an exemplar, the knowledge and skills that it fosters are transferable to other national and international contexts. (One course with the "USID" designation required.)

Quantitative Thinking Requirement
Many policy debates, scientific discussions, political issues, and personal and organizational decisions involve judgments about claims based upon quantitative evidence. To critically evaluate these claims, the individual must have basic familiarity with such concepts as counting, measurement, estimation, and data analysis. Equally important is the capacity to ask and answer questions in a manner appropriate to these quantitative tools and to understand when the use of quantitative tools is or is not appropriate. The purpose of the Quantitative Thinking requirement is to ensure that students have the opportunity to develop such skills. Students will learn approaches to collecting, interpreting, and presenting information about the world based on numerical, logical, and statistical skills.

Students must take one or more courses with a Q3, Q2, or Q1 designation. A single Q3 course completely satisfies the requirement; alternatively, a Q2 course together with another Q2 or Q1 course, or three Q1 courses, can meet the requirement.

Writing Requirement
(One course, taken after the first-year course and prior to the senior year): Macalester seeks to ensure that all students receive instruction in writing that gives attention to writing as a process (writing is rewriting), and that provides students individually with feedback on the mechanics and substance of their writing.  While First-Year Courses assist students in making a transition to college writing, each student is required to take at least one additional course with a W designation, in which they will hone their writing skills and go through a process of evaluation and rewriting.

A list of all the Fall 2014 courses approved to meet the general education (GenEd) requirements in Internationalism, US Identities and Differences, Quantitative Thinking and Writing can be found at  Designations are also noted in the Class Schedule in 1600grand under course attributes.  Courses taken to meet general education requirements may also be used to meet other graduation requirements (major, distribution, etc.)

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Second Language Proficiency

In order to graduate from Macalester all students must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English equivalent to four semesters worth of college level instruction in that language. Most Macalester students meet this requirement by completing Intermediate II in their chosen language at Macalester. Students who receive college credit for Intermediate II through a qualifying score on the AP exam, or take Intermediate II at another college and receive transfer credit, or earn a qualifying score on the SAT II exam (620 with listening or 700 without listening) will have this requirement marked as met once we receive the official scores or transcripts.

Students whose native language is not English should submit appropriate documentation to the Academic Programs Office to have their proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking in more than one language verified. The most common means of demonstrating proficiency is a transcript from high school that indicates that the language of instruction in the student’s secondary school was a language other than English or that the student took courses in his or her native language as well as in English. Students who do not have such documentation should contact the Academic Programs Office once on campus to discuss other options for demonstrating multilingual proficiency.

Students who have met our four semester proficiency requirement are welcome to take advanced level courses in that language or to pursue a new language at the appropriate level based on their preparation.

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Language Placement

Students who have previously studied another language have several options for determining placement. Those who have taken a qualifying exam (i.e. SAT, AP, IB) may submit test scores to determine where in the language sequence they should begin.

Students who have not taken these exams, but will continue studying the language they pursued in high school, should place themselves in the course they feel is appropriate given their experience, course work, ability and the guidelines provided in the departmental section of this guide.

Students continuing in the study of French, German or Spanish are required to take an on-line placement test, offered through a program called “WebCape” at Brigham Young University. The test is offered free of charge and will help students decide which course to take.

Students who have studied Japanese or Chinese in high school are invited to take a placement test during orientation to confirm which course is most appropriate. The placement test will be on Friday, August 29, 8:30 a.m.

Instructions for taking the WebCape exam are as follows:

  1. On the web, go to
  2. Enter the password: learninglanguages14 (all lower case)
  3. Select the appropriate language.
  4. Follow the instructions on screen. (For your ID number, use your student ID number, if known. If not, use 5551.)

The test takes approximately 15-20 minutes. At the end of the test you will be taken back to the main screen where it will show your score. Please refer to the tables below to determine which language course to register for INSTEAD OF the course suggested on the screen at the end of the test.

The purpose of this test is to help you decide what level of language course to register for with a degree of confidence that you will complete the course successfully. Accordingly, we require that you take this test closed-book, with no assistance from others. The tables below provide you with guidance in interpreting the results of the test, by language. Find the range of scores that contains the score you received in the left-hand column and go across the row to the middle column, which lists the appropriate course to register for.


WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 200-400
301-369 102 410-470
370-459 203 480-580
460-550 204 590-610
Over 550 consult department 620+



WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 or 110 200-400
301-400 102 or 110 410-470
401-475 203 480-580
476-550 204* 590-610
Over 550 consult department 620+

*For German placement, you must visit the department office during orientation to confirm your placement in German 204.



WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 200-400
301-385 102 410-470
386-450 203 480-570
451-550 204 580-610
Over 550 consult department 620+

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The requirement of a major is to ensure appropriate depth of study within an area. Most (but not all) departments offer majors. Most majors require between 32 and 44 semester hours (usually 8 to 11 courses), and may require supporting courses from other departments. In some departments, introductory courses must be taken in the first year in order to complete the major in four years.

You’re not required to declare a major until the second semester of your sophomore year, but you’re welcome to do so earlier, if it helps you plan your path to graduation. You may choose from three options to meet this requirement:

  1. a departmental major (such as Anthropology or French),
  2. an established interdepartmental major (such as International Studies), or
  3. an individually designed interdepartmental major (IDIM).

These are described in depth in the Catalog.

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Advanced Placement (AP) / International Baccalaureate (IB)

College Board Advanced Placement Examinations (AP)
Students who have taken the College Board Advanced Placement Examinations may be eligible for advanced placement and appropriate credit. Scores of 3, 4 or 5 may result in credit or exemption. Academic departments have determined which scores result in credit or exemption for their subject. Some departments require the student to discuss their scores with the department chair before a credit determination is made. Refer to the AP section on the Registrar’s web page for specifics.

Students who wish to have their AP scores considered should have them sent directly to Macalester College by the College Board. You may visit the AP Exams website at or call 888-225-5427 to request your scores be sent directly to Macalester College – use 6390 for the college code.

Credit earned through AP Exams cannot be used to meet the college’s general distribution requirements, and grades are not factored into the grade point average.

Questions about AP policies should be addressed directly to the Registrar’s Office.

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International Baccalaureate Examinations

Students whose scores on Higher Level Examinations of the International Baccalaureate Program are 5, 6, or 7 may receive the equivalent of four or eight semester hours of credit for each such examination. Credit is determined by the appropriate academic department on an individual basis. No credit is awarded for the Subsidiary Examinations. Refer to the IB section of the Registrar’s web page for specifics.

Credit earned through International Baccalaureate Exams cannot be used to meet the college's general distribution requirements, and all grades are posted on the student's record as 'pass' (S).

Questions about these policies should be addressed directly to the Registrar's Office.

Please read the Registration Guide and Registration Instructions carefully. Then go here to register for classes.

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