faculty member advising a student

Launching Your Journey

Academic Planning for New Students

Grinnell’s individually-mentored curriculum allows you to plan your own course of study while working closely with your academic adviser to make the most of your liberal arts education. This model reflects Grinnell’s long-honored philosophy of “self-governance,” which empowers students to make individual choices about their educational experience.

Unlike most other colleges, Grinnell does not prescribe a set of general education requirements, so you have a lot of freedom as you plan your academic journey. Of course, when charting a new territory, having a guide is essential, and your academic adviser will help you along the way. Your adviser will help you understand the facets of a liberal arts education, how to complete your major and the requirements for graduation, and how best to explore our many curricular opportunities (i.e., the heart of Grinnell College’s “mission”) while you pursue your individual goals (i.e., your personal “mission”).

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 as a person accountable to a life shared with others. 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 coursework in writing and literary studies, a non-native language, scientific studies based on experimental observation, quantitative reasoning, human behavior, and society past and present, and creative expression.

First Steps

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. (You will want to avoid writing twenty papers in one semester!)
  • Explore as many interests as you can. You will have exposure to disciplines not taught in most secondary schools. Even familiar disciplines 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.
  • Develop your command of written English, not only in the Tutorial but in at least one other reading and writing course during the first semester.
  • Strengthen skills in mathematics and foreign languages — these will serve you well in your life beyond college.
  • Think about extracurricular activities as a way to explore some of your areas of interest. There is a lot of learning outside of the classroom.

We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.