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Area Distribution Requirement

LSA seeks to instill an understanding and an appreciation of all major areas of learning. Students are not expected to master all areas in detail, but they 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.

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 seven 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 three 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 nine credits. Credits in courses designated Interdisciplinary (ID) may be used to satisfy up to nine credits of this part of the requirement.

General Policies for Area Distribution Plans

An area distribution plan may include:

  1. prerequisites to a major elected outside the department of the major;
  2. courses elected pass/fail, credit/no credit, or by any other non-graded pattern;
  3. courses elected to satisfy one of two major plans by students who elect a double major;
  4. transfer credit from other schools and colleges of the University of Michigan and from other academic institutions;
  5. a course elected outside the department of major or major requirements used to meet the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, the Race and Ethnicity Requirement, or the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement;
  6. courses in Non-LSA units offering courses with a Creative Expression designation. (Credits are counted as non-LSA.)

An area distribution plan may not include:

  1. any course from the department of major;
  2. required cognates in a major plan;
  3. courses at the 400-level and above;
  4. experiential courses, Independent Study, and University (UC) mini-courses;
  5. Advanced Placement credits.

Area Definitions

Natural Science

Natural Science (NS) 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 (SS) 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 (HU) 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

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 (ID) 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.

General Guidelines for Distribution Courses

In general, Distribution courses should:

  • Be broad in scope rather than narrowly focused
  • Be accessible to students with no background in the subject
  • Be introductory in nature rather than a specialized upper-level course

These types of courses will not be approved for Distribution:

  • Independent studies, experiential and research courses
  • Courses designed to develop or hone specific skills (e.g. introductory composition and language courses)