What Core Classes Do You Take in College?

Before students can dive into the exciting classes that are actually part of their specific majors, they must take a certain amount of core classes to fulfill the general education requirements. These basic core classes are essential for all students to take if they want to graduate, regardless of what their majors may be. Some of the courses in the core curriculum cover subjects like math, humanities, history, writing, and science. What Core Classes Do You Take in College? Learn below

What Core Classes Do You Take in College?

The purpose of these classes is to help students learn to think critically, develop strong writing skills, and analyze data before jumping into the topics related to their respective majors. Most colleges offer similar types of courses that intend to further their students’ knowledge of the world. Here is a list of the core classes that the top five universities in the United States include in their curriculum.

Core Classes at University of California, Berkeley

  • Reading and Writing: Coming in as the number one top college in the United States, the University of California, Berkeley requires its students to fulfill two writing classes: Entry Level Writing and Reading and Composition. The Reading and Composition course is meant to provide students with a solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking. The Entry Level Writing course is for students to show that they have a clear understanding of the English language.
  • History: A second core class the university requires is American History and Institutions. The purpose of this core requirement is that students who have graduated from an American university should have the knowledge of the history and government in the United States and how the past pertains to today’s modern institutions. Berkeley offers a multitude of classes that are eligible to fill the requirement. Some of these classes include The History of American Capitalism, Immigrants and Immigration in U.S History, African American History and Race Relations, Introduction to American Politics, and many more highly interesting topics.
  • Culture: All undergraduate students must take an American Cultures course in order to graduate. The American Cultures requirement is designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of race, culture, diversity, and ethnicity within the United States. This will help students learn to work with people from cultures different from theirs. The classes available for students to take do cover a variety of different minority groups such as African Americans, Asian Americans, indigenous people, and much more.

Core Classes at Yale University

  • Quantitative Reasoning: This core requirement has its roots in mathematics, which is extremely beneficial across many areas of study. It teaches undergraduates to evaluate and make logical arguments. The classes used to fulfill this skill set can be found in the departments of mathematics, statistics, computer science, and economics. 
  • Writing: At Yale, clear and concise writing is an important tool that students must continue to strengthen and exercise. Their English department supplies writing courses that work to enhance student collaboration through peer reviewing and group discussions. However, classes that are part of the creative writing program or writing classes that are not taught in English, do not count towards fulfilling the writing requirement.
  • Foreign Language: All students at Yale must study a language for at least three years if they have not already had previous experience and knowledge of studying a language before entering college. If students have language credits earned from prior institutions, they are not required to complete all three years. Yale encourages its students to pursue a second language since it is now more important than ever to know more than one language due to globalization.
  • Some additional core subjects are humanities and arts, social sciences, and sciences. Two course credits are required in each of these three areas of study.

Core Classes at Princeton University

  • Culture and Difference: Cultural differences are present in almost every aspect of students’ daily lives, especially when residing in the U.S. In whichever major a student selects, culture will be represented in it. This core discipline emphasizes cultural analysis and gives students a chance to critique unbalanced cultural dynamics throughout history.
  • Language: Students at Princeton University must become proficient in a second language other than English because the college places value on cultural communications. Students are expected to take at least three years of language courses.
  • Epistemology and Cognition: This core class is about philosophical thought and human reasoning and encourages students to look more deeply into the existence of knowledge and what it is.
  • Ethical Thought and Moral Values: Another core class is ethical thought and moral values, which focuses on what is considered to be right or wrong and the lines of thinking that led to these conclusions. This class gives students the opportunity to see how people’s thoughts differ and allows them to question their own moral values.
  • Historical Analysis: It is important for students at Princeton to learn about the past and how it connects to modern-day life. Analysis of history and critical thought can help students carve a better path for the world today.
  • Literature and the Arts: This core requirement pushes students to develop their imaginations and interpretation skills. In this discipline, students can actually create things themselves. It is crucial towards letting students express themselves and tapping into their artistic side. 
  • Social Analysis: Social analysis classes discuss social problems and the flaws in American institutions. It allows students to engage in concrete data analysis as well as interact with the material in a personal way.

Core Classes at Stanford University

  • Civic, Liberal, and Global Education: The classes available for this core requirement at Stanford University include Citizenship in the 21st Century and Global Perspectives. The purpose for these core classes is to educate first-year students about the values of personal and individual development while in college.
  • Ways of Thinking/Doing: This is a core requirement that is unique to Stanford. It aims to build a solid foundation for students to make close relationships with peers and faculty while also developing a wide range of social and intellectual skills. There are a variety of classes for students to take under this discipline. A few of them are Ethical Reasoning, Exploring Difference and Power, and Creative Expression. Courses to fulfill this core requirement can be completed at any time during a student’s undergraduate years.
  • Writing and Rhetoric: For the writing and rhetoric requirement at Stanford, students are expected to take two core writing courses, PWR 1 and PWR 2. The first class sculpts first-year students into college-level researchers and writers while the second one adds an emphasis on oral communication. Both classes inspire students to be more confident in writing.
  • Language: Students need to complete one year of a foreign language. These core classes open up a whole new world of cultures and materials they otherwise would not previously have had access to.

Core Classes at Columbia University

  • Science: In this core class, students learn how to ask questions, evaluate evidence, and obtain results. The topic of focus is the happenings of nature. Students typically take the course called Frontiers of Science during their first year at the university.
  • Global Studies: This requirement offers a lens into multiple traditions and civilizations that exist in the world today and in the past. Students must complete two core courses under this discipline.
  • Foreign Language: Like several other universities, Columbia has a foreign language as part of its curriculum. Columbia believes that learning a foreign language will not only assist students in gaining more information about a different culture, but it will also make them look at their own cultures in a new light.
  • Physical Education: Students have to complete two core physical education classes within their undergraduate career. They must take either a beginner’s swimming class or pass a swimming test to meet the swimming requirement.


Overall, there is a common pattern of core classes among the top five universities in the U.S. Most of the universities discussed in this article require core classes in the foreign language department and all of them involve some variation of cultural classes in their core curriculum. Although many of these core classes may not relate to certain majors, they are necessary for developing college students’ education and helping them to be more well-rounded individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much of the degree do core classes take up?

The total number of core classes you take may vary between colleges, but it can be up to 60 credits. 

  • When can core classes be taken? 

Most colleges expect students to take the core classes during their first two years because it helps students stay on track to graduate within four years and lets them explore multiple subjects before deciding on a major. However, at some colleges, it doesn’t matter when you take the core classes as long as they get completed sometime during your undergraduate years.