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Distribution Requirements

The purpose of the distribution requirement is to have all students achieve common learning outcomes. Information presented in the organizational chart graphic below can also be located on the page.

 Distribution Requirements “At a Glance”

S/U grading option is accepted for distribution requirements, however letter graded may be required for some majors. A single course may not fulfill more than one CALS distribution requirement.

Introductory Life Sciences/Biology Requirement

Students must complete at least six academic credits from the list of courses that fulfill distribution requirements. (For more information, see tabs below.)

Physical and Life Sciences

18 credits in at least three disciplines of which six credits must be introductory life sciences/biology and three credits in chemistry or physics and a quantitative literacy course


Complete a minimum of three academic credits of chemistry or physics. Includes all Cornell courses with the CHEM or PHYS prefix at Cornell (excluding courses that are supplemental, independent study, research, TA, internship, and First-Year Writing Seminar).

Quantitative Literacy

Faculty legislation requires minimum competency in quantitative literacy. This requirement can be satisfied by earning a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus exam or a score of 5 on the AP Statistics exam, or transfer an approved calculus or statistics course with a minimum letter grade of “C” or better; or take an approved calculus or statistics course at Cornell.

Other Physical Life Sciences

Please refer to the comprehensive search engine of college distribution requirements for the most up to date list of courses that meet this requirement.

Written and Oral Expression

9 credits total, of which at least six must be in written expression. Oral expression is not required by the college, but may be required for some majors. If not required, all nine credits may be in written expression. Writing in the Majors courses do not count towards the writing requirement.

Social Sciences and Humanities

Students must complete four courses of 3 or more credits each from the following seven categories of courses in the humanities and social sciences (Cultural Analysis "CA", Foreign Language "FL", Human Diversity "D-AG", Historical Analysis "HA", Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasons "KCM", Literature and the Arts "LA", Social and Behavioral Analysis "SBA"). At least one course MUST be completed in three different categories. Human Diversity (D) is a required category and MUST be completed. No more than two courses in the same department will be counted toward the distribution requirement. To view a searchable list of courses, please search for courses that fulfill distribution requirements.

Human Diversity 

Courses considered for the CALS Human Diversity requirement will meet the following criteria:

  • At least 50% of course content focuses on the critical analysis of historically or contemporary marginalized communities and the culturally specific contexts that produce unequal power relations in terms of race, nationality, ethnicity, indigeneity, sexuality, disability, religion, gender, or economic status.
    • Definition of “marginalize”: Any groups with reduced access to social status, political influence, economic advancement, educational advancement, health care, information, or any of the goods, services, and powers of a society can be considered “marginalized.”  Causes of marginalization may be related to ethnic status, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, geography, economics, and government policies.  Those who exist on the furthest margins of a society are frequently subject to several of these forces.
  • Course is a minimum of three credits.
  • The following learning outcomes are assessed as part of the course: After taking the course, students will be able to
    • Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of the cultural practices, values, and beliefs of diverse groups of individuals.
    • Demonstrate understanding of systemic oppression at multiple levels.
    • Assess one’s own cultural perspective and the potential for associated biases.

Students are required to fulfill a Human Diversity requirement with a pre-approved Cornell course, please see the list of courses that fulfill distribution requirements. Cornell courses not on this list will not be considered by student petition, however Instructors may have their courses reviewed for the requirement by submitting a course proposal to the CALS Curriculum Committee.

  • Transfer courses will only be considered for Junior transfer students who have taken an appropriate course at their prior institution and whose schedule does not allow space to take a Human Diversity course at Cornell. These situations will be reviewed individually after a required appointment with CALS Student Services.