First Steps

Because Grinnell does not prescribe a set of classes you must take, you have a lot of freedom as you plan your academic journey. Your faculty adviser will serve as a guide, helping you understand the facets of a liberal arts education, how to complete the requirements for graduation and your major, and how best to explore Grinnell’s many curricular opportunities.

What is a liberal arts education?

A liberal arts education fosters skills and promotes experience in critical thinking, self-reflection, designing projects of discovery and creation, encountering differences, exchanging ideas, and developing ethical judgment. By offering an education in the liberal arts, Grinnell endorses life-long learning characterized by sustained intellectual curiosity and an open mind for assessing the unfamiliar.

One way to think about liberal arts education is to inquire about its purpose:

  • to encourage intellectual and aesthetic curiosity;
  • to promote confident and accurate verbal expression;
  • to foster the ability to work both independently and collaboratively;
  • to examine critically one’s own traditions and assumptions; to understand in depth at least one culture that is very different from one’s own;
  • to approach complex problems from a variety of analytical perspectives; and
  • to realize obligations and capabilities to serve the common good.

With the guidance of a faculty adviser, each student creates an academic plan that is appropriate to their interests, talents, and goals. You will do this planning based on the Elements of a Liberal Education (essential reading). Whatever major you choose and however you organize your academic schedule, students best succeed at Grinnell and beyond when they engage in coursework in writing and literary studies, a non-native language, scientific studies based on experimental observation, quantitative reasoning, human behavior, society past and present, and creative expression.

Getting Started

Think about the first year as a whole — you’ll likely take about 8 (four-credit) classes your first year. Simultaneously, you’ll begin to plan for your second year.

  • The first class you will take is the First-Year Tutorial. Between June 1 and 15, provide your top five preferences for the Tutorial on the New Student Checklist. This four-credit class is designed to give you significant practice in analytical and critical reading, writing, and speaking.
  • In the spring semester, you will take a one-half credit class called the First-Year Experience where you’ll develop skills that will contribute to your academic success and personal well-being during your time at Grinnell.
  • Study a variety of disciplines. Think broadly about different ways of learning. A diversity of courses helps balance your workload with different types of learning tasks.
  • Explore as many interests as you can. You will have exposure to subjects not taught in most secondary schools. Even familiar subjects are often taught differently at this level. Most students’ goals change over four years, and it’s important to keep your options open for several different possible majors.
  • Come prepared to take coursework in all three academic divisions of the curriculum: humanities, social studies, and science.
  • Further develop your writing skills, not only in the Tutorial but in at least one other reading and writing course during the first semester.
  • Strengthen skills in mathematics and languages — these will serve you well in your life beyond college.
  • Think about extracurricular activities, including campus jobs, as a way to explore some of your areas of interest. There is a lot of learning outside of the classroom.

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