University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst: General Education

Umass Logo image 1 image 2 image3

The Value of Gen Ed


Curriculum Areas and Designations

There are five curriculum areas in the General Education experience:

Basic Math and Analytic Reasoning
Biological and Physical World
Social World
Social and Cultural Diversity

Each curriculum area has courses with different letter designations. Students are asked to take several courses with different designations in each area in order to foster an integrative experience.

For information on how to satisfy the requirements in the various curriculum areas, visit Fulfilling the Requirements.

The Gen Ed program also offers students the option of taking Interdisciplinary courses to satisfy certain requirements.

Note: Faculty members who wish to create a new Gen Ed course should refer to the more detailed information about the Curriculum Areas within the Teaching and Advising section.


Basic Math and Analytic Reasoning

Mathematics and a few other fields (statistics, computer science, logic, linguistics, etc.) have developed methods of analytic or formal reasoning that involve manipulating numbers or other symbols. Formal reasoning is a type of critical thinking, so this requirement complements the critical thinking skills taught in other Gen Ed courses.

There are two course designations in this area: R1 and R2. Completion of the Basic Math and Analytic Reasoning area requires the following:

  • One course designated R1 or a satisfactory score on the Tier I Math Exemption Exam and
  • One course designated R2

If you exempt out of the R1, you still need to complete the R2 requirement. If you would like to confirm your exemption, please look at your Degree Progress Report.

Students who begin their college career taking advanced Mathematics and Statistics courses can demonstrate their mastery of basic mathematical skills by successfully completing certain courses without having to take the Mathematics Exemption Test. For more information, visit the Registrar's website.

back to top

Biological and Physical World

Courses in the Biological and Physical World component are offered in all of the traditional sciences, the applied sciences, and a few other fields. These courses expose you to the method that science uses to develop knowledge about the world: formulating a hypothesis and then checking and improving it using data collected by experimentation or observation. This method is a type of critical thinking, and so these courses also hone those skills.

There are two course designations in this area: BS (Biological Science) and PS (Physical Science). A third option are courses designated SI (Science Interdisciplinary). Completion of the Biological and Physical World area requires three courses:

  • One course designated BS
  • One course designated PS
  • One course designated BS, PS, or SI (Note: Students who entered the University prior to Spring 2005 may also use an I to satisfy this requirement)

back to top

Social World

The Social World component of Gen Ed includes courses in social sciences, history, literature, and the arts. These courses are taught in many different departments at UMass, so they take many different approaches. Despite the differences, they share the goal of helping you to arrive at a better understanding of yourself and other people. All of these courses involve writing and critical thinking.

There are four course designations in this area : AL (Literature), AT (Arts), HS (Historical Studies), and SB (Social & Behavioral Sciences). A fifth and sixth option are courses designated I (Interdisciplinary) or SI (Science Interdisciplinary). Completion of the Biological and Physical World area requires six courses:

  • One course designated AL
  • One course designated AL, AT, SI, or I
  • One course designated HS
  • One course designated SB
  • One course designated SB, SI, or I
  • One course designated AL, AT, HS, SB, SI, or I

back to top

Social and Cultural Diversity

Understanding other people includes understanding people whose life experience may be a lot different from our own. Gen Ed has a diversity requirement to make sure that students choose some courses with this focus.

There are two course designations in this area: U (Diversity: United States) and G (Diversity: Global). Some courses are designated only U or G. Others may be combined with the Social World designations listed above and will appear [on SPIRE] as: ALU, ATU, HSU, SBU, IU, ALG, ATG, HSG, SBG, IG. Completion of the Social and Cultural Diversity area requires two courses, from the following:

  • One course designated U, ALU, ATU, HSU, SBU, SIU, or IU
  • One course designated G, ALG, ATG, HSG, SBG, SIG, or IG

Courses that are designated U and G may only be used for the Social and Cultural Diversity requirement. Those combined with Social World designations may count for both. For example, if you take a course designated ALU, it would count twice under the Social World and Social and Cultural Diversity.

back to top


The importance of writing well cannot be overstated; it is an essential skill in the modern world for one’s college experience, personal life, and professional career. The Gen Ed writing requirement seeks to enable students to write with greater clarity and logic, and with a confidence based on improved knowledge about the elements of prose style.

There is only one course designation in this area: CW. It is usually satisfied by taking a Freshman writing course, such as Basic Writing or College Writing, but students may also exempt out of this requirement through a Placement Exam, SAT/Achievement score, or an Advanced Placement score. Students may confirm their exemption by looking at their Degree Progress Report. All students are required to complete a Junior Year Writing course, but this will count in their major and not in the Gen Ed requirements. For further information on either Freshman or Junior Year Writing, please consult the Writing Program.

back to top

Interdisciplinary Option

Students are not required to take courses with an interdisciplinary designation, but may substitute them for other requirements, as listed in the curriculum areas above. Interdisciplinary courses are often experimental, issue-focused, and speak to the basic integrations of (many) fields of human study. Courses of this sort, which focus on topics and which often involve teams of interested faculty, may well be highpoints in the undergraduate experience.

There are two course designations in this option: I (Interdisciplinary) and SI (Science Interdisciplinary); they are often combined with the Social and Cultural Diversity component. Students may only take up to three courses of their Gen Ed requirements through an interdisciplinary option.

back to top