American Studies

By graduation we expect our majors will have become:

  1. Adept at close reading of both primary and secondary sources
  2. Capable of interpreting sources that are written, visual, material, and, at least to some extent, aural.
  3. Attentive to the production of culture and to social and political change in a range of historical periods and social contexts.
  4. Informed about the multi-ethnic and multi-racial components of American society and culture.
  5. Capable of connecting scholarly work to contemporary issues of community, societal, national, and international concern.
  6. Capable of producing a well researched, well written, and persuasively argued, extended analytical essay on a topic of their choosing.

Anthropology & Sociology

Consistent with the broad ideals of a liberal arts education, our principal goal is to foster critical thinking on the part of our uniquely diverse and talented students so that they may meet the challenges of global citizenship in the twenty-first century. Through coursework, study abroad, advising, and senior thesis work, we challenge them to place their considerable accomplishments in a broader context, not to diminish them but to make clear that socio-cultural systems play an important role in shaping aspirations, aptitudes, and practices in the classroom and beyond. Our expectation is that through systematic exposure to discipline-specific concepts, theories, and methods of inquiry, majors in Anthropology and Sociology will strive to challenge conventional wisdom, wherever they find it, and contribute to a more just world.

Beginning with a parallel sequence of introductory, theory, and methods coursework, Anthropology and Sociology majors develop an understanding of basic sociological and anthropological concepts, of theories and theorists consequential in advancing disciplinary thinking over the years, and of methods for empirical documentation which will enable them to pursue systematic investigations of their own. Majors also complete elective coursework in each discipline (including, for Anthropology majors, at least one Sociology course and for Sociology majors, at least one Anthropology course) which enables them to construct an individualized program of study focusing on specific substantive areas while simultaneously striving to integrate concepts, theories and empirical findings across those areas. For seniors who choose to pursue it, the year-long thesis project focusing on an independently chosen topic serves as a capstone experience in which, through close and continued consultation with a faculty advisor, they demonstrate their accumulated knowledge, analytical skills, methodological proficiency, and intellectual creativity in the completion of a substantial research paper.

Through completion of an Anthropology or Sociology major, among the more specific intellectual competencies we seek to foster in our students are identifying the social and cultural underpinnings of human action and their variation across time and place; understanding how broad-based structures and institutional dynamics shape society, culture, and the self; exposing assumptions that underlie disciplinary research; grasping complex empirical and theoretical problems and developing appropriate analytical logics to study and explain them; comprehending power dynamics that generate stratification and inequality; grasping the political and ethical implications of social research; communicating anthropological and sociological knowledge effectively in written and oral forms; and recognizing and respecting social and cultural differences, including the role they play in rethinking the truth claims of hegemonic discourse, inside and outside the classroom.

Art & the History of Art

Concentration in The Practice of Art


By graduation a concentrator in The Practice of Art should have developed critical and analytical thinking in the visual arts as well as gained some mastery with the discipline's techniques and methods as a means to explore artistic, intellectual and human experience.

Methodological Skills

Students build toward creating a personal vision beginning with primary studies in drawing and introductory art history, proceeding to courses using a broad range of media, and culminating in advanced studio work that is more self directed. Working with their advisor, students are encouraged to nurture the strong interdisciplinary opportunities found both at Amherst and the other institutions in the valley.

The comprehensive examination, which consists of an honors thesis or an independent studio project, provides direct evidence of the level of achievement. The independent studio project is completed during the senior year. (It is waived for studio thesis students.) This project, which is a work of art designed and created independently by the student, can be in any medium or combination of mediums, and may be interdisciplinary in nature. Students are required to develop a statement that places their work of art within a historical and artistic context. Students' independent studio projects and corresponding statements are exhibited in the spring.

The studio faculty administers the oral comprehensives and determines each student's level of mastery of the material. The studio faculty also reviews the independent studio projects and statements and assesses the quality and ambition of the student's investigations.

Concentration in History of Art


By graduation a concentrator in the History of Art: Historical and Cultural Studies should be able to demonstrate a deep and broad visual understanding of a range of artistic traditions, and specifically be able to articulate diverse contexts and meanings of works of art and architecture across time.

Methodological Skills

We expect students to have the ability to work with several mediums (architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and material culture) in a range of historical periods (before and after 1800) and geographical expressions (Europe, as well as Africa or Asia); to integrate the practice of art into their historical study; and to develop substantial skills in cultural interpretation (i.e., political, religious, philosophical, aesthetic, and social dimensions)

The comprehensive examination, which is written and oral, provides direct evidence. The written component of the comprehensive examination asks students to respond to a particular theoretical writing by applying the ideas they encounter to works of art they have studied in one of their courses. The oral component of the comprehensive examination requires them to articulate their ideas in a seminar of all concentrators and faculty advisors. We currently have no formal means, such as surveys of our graduates, of soliciting indirect evidence. We speak informally with graduates about how well they were prepared for graduate study in art history or other fields they enter.

The faculty advisors of this concentration read the written comprehensives and participate in the seminar that constitutes the oral component of the comprehensive. The faculty members may review the transcripts of all concentrators (not just their advisees) to see if our requirements are guiding majors to the learning goals we expect. As presently constituted, our concentration is new, so we have not yet made changes in those requirements.

Asian Languages & Civilizations


By graduation a concentrator in Asian Languages and Civilizations is expected to have gained a sophisticated understanding of one of the four cultural areas that make up our department.  In addition, we expect students to expand their understanding of Asia by taking two classes in two of the three areas outside of their region of concentration.

Methodological skills

We expect students to have attained at least third-year competency in one Asian language.  In addition to gaining broad exposure to the history and culture of one region we expect them to have acquired the facility in at least one of the disciplines represented in our curriculum.


By graduation a Biology Major should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of biological principles and the ability to make connections across different levels of biological organization, from molecules to cells to whole organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems.
  • Use an inquiry-based approach to science; learn to form and articulate testable hypotheses and to design appropriate investigative approaches to test them.
  • Learn basic laboratory and field techniques used in a variety of biological sub-disciplines, and the quantitative skills necessary to interpret findings.
  • Comprehend and critically evaluate primary biological literature.
  • Communicate biological ideas effectively, both orally and in writing.

Determination of whether graduates have achieved the stated goals of the major:

  • Major Requirements: Students demonstrate breadth of knowledge by completing our two-course introductory sequence (BIOL 181: Adaptation and the Organism and BIOL 191: Molecules, Genes and Cells) and five courses among our advanced course offerings, which are divided into three distribution areas: (i) molecular and cellular mechanisms, (ii) integrative processes, and (iii) evolutionary explanations.  The major requirements also stipulate that students take five semesters of laboratory coursework in Biology, along with a minimum of four additional courses in Chemistry (with laboratory), Physics (with laboratory), and Mathematics (including statistics).  Many of these laboratory courses utilize an inquiry-based approach to learning, and through them students learn a variety of practical laboratory and field techniques.  Our advanced courses, in particular our seminars, require that students engage with the primary literature, write extensively, and make oral presentations.
  • Comprehensive Requirement: All Biology majors must fulfill the department’s comprehensive requirement, which has two components that are completed during a student’s senior year: (i) attendance at weekly Biology seminars and (ii) a 30-min oral examination on a topic of central importance in Biology.  The topic of the comprehensive examination is selected by the student, but the specific questions – which are drawn from a range of sub-disciplines – are determined by the two faculty examiners and are not given to students in advance.  Comprehensive examinations are administered and evaluated without knowledge of student GPA.  Students who do not meet expectations in their oral comprehensive examinations are required to research and write an essay on a subject that was poorly articulated.
  • Senior Thesis: Each year, 50-60% of our majors undertake a senior thesis, providing them an opportunity to pursue a research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor.  Independent work toward a senior thesis counts for three courses of Amherst College credit and culminates in the production of a scholarly document of approximately 80-100 pages.  Many of these result in presentations at national meetings and/or publication in peer-reviewed journals.  Each thesis student gives two public presentations attended by Biology and other departmental faculty, staff, and students; in the first they articulate their study objectives and methods and in the second they give an oral defense of their entire thesis.
  • Post-Graduation Outcomes: Data on post-graduation outcomes for Biology majors, particularly matriculation in graduate programs or medical schools, as well as post-graduate fellowships and scholarships, are routinely gathered by the department.

Black Studies

Learning Goals

By the time they complete the Black Studies major, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate broad familiarity with several regions in Africa, and the African Diaspora;
  • Read critically books and articles across the range of genres and disciplines in which scholars have written about race-related topics;
  • Recognize and utilize the elements of sound argument in their reading and writing;
  • Focus their work within the major on a particular field or a specific research question;
  • Prepare and complete an extended research project.


By graduation a Chemistry major should be able to

  • Apply a breadth of knowledge from across the sub-disciplines of chemistry to clearly define and solve chemical problems.
  • Generate chemical hypotheses; design and execute experiments to test hypotheses; analyze and interpret data to draw meaningful conclusions from experimental results.
  • Effectively communicate chemical concepts and research results orally and in written form to either general or specialized audiences.
  • Conduct and present classroom and independent work responsibly and within the highest scientific standards of honesty, accuracy, and objectivity.
  • Navigate the chemical literature effectively to retrieve specific information and to inform broader research questions; critically assess the experimental design, results, and conclusions of articles published in the primary literature.
  • Conduct chemical experiments safely and in compliance with relevant chemical-hygiene regulations; recognize and minimize hazards in the chemistry laboratory.


Upon graduation, a major in the Classics Department should be able to :

  • read Classical texts within their cultural and historical settings (Roman texts for Latin majors, Greek texts for Greek majors, and both for Classics majors);
  • read texts critically and analyze them closely;
  • write clearly and persuasively;
  • conduct basic research necessary for the study of the Classical world;
  • pursue graduate work in classics or a career in teaching Latin and/or Greek at the secondary school level

Computer Science

We expect computer science majors to graduate with the following knowledge and skills:

  1. To be able to apply abstraction and algorithmic reasoning to the task of solving problems and to communicate those solutions clearly and effectively. 
  2. To be able to design, implement, and evaluate computer programs that solve significant computational problems. 
  3. To recognize, and know when to apply, a standard body of algorithms, data structures, and algorithm paradigms. To be able to reason about problem complexity and design new algorithmic solutions when faced with new problems.  
  4. To understand how modern hardware and software systems are organized and why they are built that way.  To be able to work through the implications of specific design decisions regarding computer architecture, operating systems, and memory structures, and to evaluate those decisions.
  5. To work with a variety of approaches to computational problem-solving via our elective courses.  This experience may include: developing deeper understanding of theoretical aspects of computation; working with a variety of languages and language paradigms; understanding concurrency and network-based models of computation; and mastering techniques of specific problem areas such as artificial  intelligence, graphics, optimization,  and language and compiler design.


Specifically, students pursuing an economics major will

  • Learn how economists use the tools of economic theory to gain insight into how individuals, organizations and governments pursue their goals, and how these decisions interact to bring about economic outcomes.
  • Learn how economists use data and empirical methods to measure economic outcomes and test competing theories.
  • Gain an understanding of the role of public policy in addressing economic problems and an ability to evaluate economic policy proposals and debates.
  • Learn to effectively apply the theoretical tools and empirical methods used by economists to analyze real-world phenomena.
  • Have opportunities and encouragement to pursue independent economic research driven by their own interests, and to assist faculty with their research.


By the time of their graduation, we expect that students who major in English will have become:

  • Adept at reading closely and writing well.
  • Skilled at critical writing about works in multiple genres, including both written texts, performances and visual narratives such as film. Some students may choose to create works of their own in verse, prose fiction or other media.
  • Attentive to the production of literary culture in a range of historical periods and social contexts.
  • Informed about the relationship between literary texts, literary criticism, and theories about cultural production.
  • Well versed in the literature associated with at least one specific area of concentration.
  • Capable of producing a well researched long essay and/or completing a sustained creative project.

Environmental Studies

What knowledge/skills are expected:


Environmental Studies majors should gain a rigorous understanding of how past and present economic systems and systemic inequality shape environmental outcomes. They will also learn about environmental policies and practice, including how social and political movements contribute to the implementation of policies that protect natural resources and biodiversity while promoting economic, racial, and climate justice.

Majors are expected to obtain a scientifically-grounded appreciation of the underlying physical and biological processes that shape ecosystems on Earth, including a comprehensive understanding of major environmental challenges – climate change, depletion/degradation of natural resources, and loss of biodiversity.

We expect majors to learn basic research methods that can be used to analyze the natural or socio-political components of environmental systems, including statistics, ethnographic research, econometrics, survey methods, interview methods, or Geographic Information Systems. Majors will also acquire tools to analyze how natural systems interact with cultural, political, and economic forces.

We expect majors to be able to critically evaluate and engage with public debates about environmental issues.


By graduation majors should be able to:

   •  express themselves fluently and correctly in French, both orally and in writing;

   •  think critically;

   •  demonstrate general knowledge of French culture; and,

   •  know how to analyze and appreciate a literary text.


The following list is not comprehensive but gives a good overview of what we, as a department, expect of our majors.

  • Examine complex systems over the wide range of temporal and spatial scales encompassed by the earth sciences
  • Develop scientific methods of data collection and analysis and of formulating and testing hypotheses.  Conduct investigations with modern analytical methods and instruments
  • Understand and apply the technical literature; use geological literature to expand understanding, to find relevant information, to participate in the growth of knowledge and to know its limits
  • Apply quantitative reasoning and logic to problem-solving; become proficient in spatial reasoning through, among other means, use of geologic maps and cross-sections
  • Work directly with earth materials: minerals, rocks, fossils and water, and have hands-on experience with the earth in the field and laboratory
  • Be exposed to the importance of interdisciplinary approaches
  • Participate in collaborative problem solving
  • Develop the oral, written, and graphical skills necessary for the effective presentation of scientific studies

Many of these foundational cognitive skills are utilized in all geology courses and will be practiced by all geology majors.  The Geology Department recommends, nevertheless, that Geology majors strive to construct a sequence of courses that includes:

  • at least one writing and/or presentation attentive course such as Senior Departmental Honors (Geol 498, 498D, 499, and 499D), Seminar in Biogeochemistry (GEOL 451), Plate Tectonics and Continental Dynamics (GEOL 401);
  • one or more quantitative and/or symbolic reasoning courses such as Geochemistry (GEOL 431), Environmental and Solid Earth Geophysics (GEOL 341), and Hydrogeology (GEOL 301), or any course in Mathematics, Computer Science, or Physics;
  • spatial reasoning courses such as Mineralogy (GEOL 271) and Structural Geology (GEOL 291);
  • interdisciplinary courses such as Paleontology and Geobiology (GEOL 251), Seminar in Biogeochemistry (GEOL 451), Geochemistry (GEOL 431), and Environmental and Solid Earth Geophysics (GEOL 341)
  • at least one research-based course that engages the geologic literature and/or modern analytical equipment such as Senior Departmental Honors (Geol 498, 498D, 499, and 499D), Biogeochemistry (GEOL 451), Plate Tectonics and Continental Dynamics (GEOL 401) or Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology (GEOL 321).


The German department serves three interrelated, sometimes overlapping constituencies: all our courses, taught in German or in English, enhance students’ critical reasoning skills and cross-cultural awareness.

Our sequence of language courses (ranging from beginners to the advanced intermediate level) develops linguistic proficiency and cross-cultural competency that enables our students to interact with native speakers in an informed and culturally sensitive manner.  Our language program thus prepares students for a broad range of opportunities (such as study abroad, internships, and employment in or interaction with the German-speaking world).

The German Studies Major is broadly humanistic and cross-cultural.  Our students are required to develop German language skills at the advanced intermediate level (at the minimum) and cultural literacy skills for a critical understanding of the literary, historical, and cultural traditions of the German-speaking countries: The Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  The department offers effective preparation for graduate study in German literature and language while also opening up a broad range of interdisciplinary perspectives and opportunities.

Our English courses, open to all students regardless of preparation, focus in particular on developing students’ ability to engage critically with unfamiliar materials through close readings; on exposing them to a broad range of different perspectives; and on enhancing their skills in written and oral expression.

All majors must complete two courses of German cultural history which survey the field conceptually and historically.  In addition, they take a minimum of five advanced German courses of their choice. We welcome our students’ diverse specializations within the field, most often expressed in their thesis work, by special topics courses, and by their individually designed topics for their comprehensive exams.

Our senior comprehensive exams consist of three sections: a broadly conceived set of identifications which range through German cultural and social history, a section that requires close analysis of selected materials, and a section with essay questions which address very specific issues within the student’s field of specialization.

German majors have the option of writing a thesis on a topic of their choice: under the supervision of a member of the German department faculty, they conduct research or engage in an in-depth analysis of a particular thematic issue or corpus of textual and visual materials.

The success of our program is documented by the percentage of our majors who are accepted to leading graduate school programs; teach or take jobs in a German-speaking country; win domestic or international scholarships (such as Fulbright, Kellogg, German Academic Exchange Service etc.).  Likewise, many students who did not major in German but who took a substantial number of courses in our department have historically excelled at gaining major scholarships (including Rhodes, Marshall, Watson etc.)


Goals for the History Major

Students who complete the major in History will be able to

•  Think critically about the relationship between historical evidence and arguments.

•  Challenge and revise existing narratives of the past, both to comprehend the events they describe and to shed light on society’s evolving needs and concerns.

•  Question their own ideas and assumptions, and reflect on the often hidden relationships between ideas and social institutions, and between individuals and their cultures.

•  Analyze texts, documents, and oral historical materials, and assess the uses made of these materials by other historians.

•  Frame research questions, conduct independent research, and write persuasively

The requirements for the history major encourage students to develop these capacities by studying the history of a particular region or historical topic in depth and by ranging more widely so as to fulfill geographical and chronological breadth requirements.

Majors will demonstrate their mastery of History by successfully completing nine history courses that include

•  Four courses in an individually chosen area of concentration

•  One course each in at least three different geographic areas

•  Either two courses that cover the pre-1800 period [P], or one pre-1800 course and one comparative history [C] course

•  A research seminar (numbered 400 and up) resulting in the completion of a 20 to 25 page research paper that conforms to the department’s “Guidelines for Research Papers”

•  History 301, Writing the Past OR History 402, Proseminar: Research and Writing

Some individual courses may fulfill more than one of the above requirements. Students who have taken history courses outside of the Five College Consortium (including history courses taken in study abroad programs) must petition the department to receive its approval to count those courses toward the major requirements. Majors should consult their departmental advisers as they select their courses or if they have questions about the requirements.

In addition, all majors must satisfy a comprehensive assessment by either

•  Completing a senior thesis on an independently chosen topic, and participating in an oral defense of the thesis with three faculty members chosen jointly by the student and the department. The thesis adds two to three additional courses (normally HIST 498 and 499) to the major program for a total of eleven or twelve history courses. The thesis is a requirement for the student to be a candidate for a degree with Latin honors.


•  Completing a capstone project. A major who elects not to write a thesis will prepare a brief (10 minute) oral presentation based on his or her 20 to 25 page research paper, and will also prepare a brief (5 page) written commentary on the paper. The presentation should highlight the research question, the sources and methods of investigation, and the overall conclusion. Students will give their presentations in their senior years, on a day designated by the department, and with faculty and junior and senior majors in attendance. The written commentary should highlight the research question, discuss how the student would revise the paper if he or she had more time, had access to distant archives, etc.,  and elaborate on how the paper draws upon the student’s background in the major.

Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought

Learning Goals

Upon completion of the LJST major, we expect our graduates to be familiar with the interdisciplinary study of the law, which means understanding how law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in regulating social life, as well as the place of law in a cross cultural and historical context.  In addition, we expect students to demonstrate their mastery of such an approach to law in their senior independent writing requirement.

Mathematics & Statistics

Upon completion of the Mathematics major, we expect our graduates:

  1. To have acquired both proficiency at calculation and a theoretical understanding of single-variable calculus, multivariable calculus, and linear algebra.
  2. To have developed an ability to read and understand mathematical proofs, as well as to construct and communicate their own mathematical proofs.
  3. To have demonstrated in a variety of courses the ability to learn and apply new mathematical concepts, definitions, theorems, reasoning skills, and proof skills.
  4. For honors students, to have delved deeply into an advanced topic and written a clear and detailed exposition in the form of a senior thesis.

Upon completion of the Statistics major, we expect our graduates:

  1. To have acquired proficiency with the application of a wide range statistical techniques, as well as a theoretical foundation including a strong mathematical background (including linear algebra) and statistical background in probability and statistical inference.
  2. To have developed computational and data analysis skills including facility with statistical software and acquisition of data management skills, with an emphasis on reproducible analysis.
  3. To have demonstrated in a variety of courses and in several formats, the ability to clearly communicate results of statistical analyses, as well as the ability to read and understand statistical techniques in primary research.
  4. For honors students, to have delved deeply into an advanced topic and written a clear and detailed exposition in the form of a senior thesis.


The goal of the music major at Amherst College is to provide you with a solid grounding in music theory and the fundamentals of composition, to teach you to think and write critically about music, and to help you achieve a level of sophisticated command in at least one of the following areas: performance; composition; music scholarship (music history, theory, ethnomusicology, and jazz and popular music studies), and music drama and opera studies. By graduation a major will have the following: 1) knowledge of and appreciation for the craft involved in creating and performing tonal music; 2) knowledge of one or more major time periods in Western music history; 3) the ability to think and write critically about music; and 4) a high level of achievement in at least one major area of musical study (performance; scholarship on a Western or non-Western topic; or composition), knowledge of at least two specialized areas, or knowledge of one specialized area combined with a broad base of knowledge.


The Philosophy Department at Amherst College promotes the following:

  • familiarity with the central figures and texts in the history of philosophy, both ancient and modern;
  • familiarity with, and thoughtful reflection upon, contemporary philosophical topics and practices;
  • the ability to read, analyze, and articulate arguments in primary philosophical texts and in classroom discussion, and to provide a fair and balanced evaluation of them;
  • the ability to communicate clearly, precisely, and cogently in speech and writing;
  • the ability to offer original arguments in support of philosophical positions; and
  • the ability to anticipate and even welcome objections to one’s views, and to respond to these objections reasonably, imaginatively, and respectfully.

Students who complete the philosophy major will reach a high level of mastery in all these areas. In addition, they:

  • will acquire a broad understanding of the work of major figures in the history of philosophy from ancient Greece to the twentieth century;
  • will develop a deeper and more detailed understanding of a major historical figure or movement;
  • will become conversant with essential questions and ideas in the core areas of philosophy such as: ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language;
  • will engage intensively with cutting-edge philosophical investigations; and
  • will learn basic formal logic and how to apply logical techniques in philosophy and elsewhere.

Physics & Astronomy

No clear learning goals posted

Political Science

Our curriculum is specifically designed to achieve several goals:

  1. Students should acquire a broad background in the study of politics through the study of four subfields: Institutions and Law; Society and Culture; International and World Politics; Political Theory.
  2. Students should develop an in-depth understanding of a political theme of their own choosing through the identification of a “core concentration” within the major consisting of four courses.
  3. Students should cultivate their writing and research skills through an advanced research seminar and a thesis (for those who choose to write one).
  4. Students should become informed and reflective citizens as well as being knowledgeable about the historical forces and global dynamics that influence the shape and content of political life.


Students who graduate with a Psychology major will develop knowledge, skills, and values consistent with the science and application of psychology. Specifically, they will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends in psychology.
  • The major is designed to expose students to the breadth of the discipline in Introductory Psychology and the 200-level core courses. Majors are required to complete at least one 200-level course in each of the three main content areas of psychology: Physiological Psychology, Cognitive/Developmental, Social/Personality/Clinical. In each content area the major concepts and theoretical perspectives are examined in greater depth. 
  • Upper-level (300-level and senior seminar) courses require majors to not only further develop their understanding of the specific areas but also to integrate theories and empirical findings across content areas.

Understand and apply basic research methods in psychology, including research design, data analysis, and interpretation.

  • Majors are required to take Psychological Statistics (in their first two years) and Research Methods (in their first three years) to provide this foundation. These courses are designed to place majors in the role of researcher as well as consumers of information. Through these classes our majors develop an understanding of the progression from development of a hypothesis and study design to assess questions of interest, determining the appropriate analyses to test a stated hypotheses, as well as understanding how to interpret statistical analyses.

Respect and use critical and creative thinking, skeptical inquiry, and, when possible, the scientific approach to solve problems related to behavior and mental processes.

  • Students are exposed to critical thinking and the scientific approach to psychological questions as defining modes of inquiry for psychologists in Introductory Psychology, and these skills are practiced and refined throughout the major.

Students who graduate with a Psychology major will also develop knowledge, skills, and values that are consistent with a liberal arts education.  Specifically, they will be able to:

  1. Use the most advanced technology to independently gather and analyze information from the widest array of resources.
  • Students learn to use technology for the analysis and presentation of data in both Psychological Statistics and Research Methods, and use these skills in a variety of upper-level courses throughout the major.

Demonstrate effective writing and oral communication skills, exhibit quantitative literacy, and collaborate effectively with others.

  • These skills are emphasized throughout the major, with a particular emphasis on quantitative literacy in Psychological Statistics and Research Methods, and an emphasis on writing and oral presentation in our seminars.  

Recognize, understand, and respect the complexity of sociocultural diversity.

  • Many courses in the Psychology curriculum emphasize the relevance of a sociocultural analysis for a thorough understanding of the human experience, including Introduction to Psychology, Social Psychology, Close Relationships, Adolescence, Personality, and Aging.


Students Majoring in Religion at Amherst are expected to

  • Acquire a strong foundation in at least one religious tradition – Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam -- and be able to recognize its diverse manifestations in history.  Students will be able to engage in informed discussion of its textual past, historical development, and contemporary forms.
  • Gain exposure to at least one other religious tradition beyond their specialization, appreciate its doctrinal and historical complexity and utilize a comparative approach that deepens their understanding of both it and the tradition of specialization.  
  • Acquire sophistication in the historiographical, methodological, and theoretical challenges of studying particular religious traditions, and the category of “religion” in general.
  • Familiarize themselves with the various disciplinary approaches utilized in the study of religion (for example, philological, historical, literary, philosophical, and anthropological). Students will learn how to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of different disciplinary lenses and methods, to recognize and critique them in secondary scholarship, and to employ them in their own research work.
  • Analyze religion’s embeddedness in cultural, economic, political, and social life, and interpret the complex ways religious ideas and institutions both shape and are inflected by other social realities.
  • Carry out sustained research. Honors thesis students do this in year-long thesis projects, but other students often initiate original research work in independent study courses, and all majors develop advanced research skills and engage in original investigation in upper-level seminar courses.  
  • Cultivate a cosmopolitanism that comes with serious engagement with the commitments and practices of other individuals and cultures, and from critically examining one’s own presuppositions and interpretive lenses.


To achieve these stated goals, we require a level of competency, demonstrated by these abilities:

  • to write Russian clearly about a variety of non-technical topics with significant precision and detail and a fundamental grasp of the general rules of morphology and syntax;
  • to speak comprehensibly about a variety of non-technical topics on everyday life and culture, making their ideas known through a mastery of basic vocabulary (about 3000) words) and intonation;
  • to comprehend ordinary, non-specialized conversation of a native speaker at a moderate or moderately rapid pace;
  • to read original Russian literacy and social science (though not technical) prose, with the occasional use of a dictionary;
  • to achieve competence through readings in English in the broad areas and periods of 19th and 20th century Russian literature and culture, with some knowledge of modern Russian history and/or politics.


Students majoring in Russian must formally define a concentration within the major no later than the pre-registration period in the spring of the junior year. By the end of the add/drop period in the fall of the senior year, they will provide a 4 or 5 page draft essay which describes the primary focus of their studies as a Russian major. Throughout this process of defining a topic of concentration, majors will have the help of their advisors. A final draft of the essay, due at the end of the add/drop period of second semester of the senior year will be evaluated by a committee of departmental readers in a conference with the students. This, in addition to a one-hour translation exam taken in the fall of the senior year, will satisfy the comprehensive examination in Russian. Click to see a sample concentration essay.

Sexuality, Women’s & Gender Studies

Upon graduation, a major in the Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies department :

  • should have mastered an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to the creation, meaning, function, and perpetuation of gender in human societies, both past and present.

In order to achieve these goals, students should be able to analyze women and gender in the context of:

  • forming an argument and using evidence to back that argument up in both written and oral form;
  • analyzing texts from a variety of disciplines and cultures;
  • producing a coherent narrative and critically evaluating the narratives of others;
  • understanding the historical development of social and political issues;
  • appreciating the interrelationship of activism and intellectual inquiry.


Upon graduation, a major in Spanish should have:

• A high degree of oral (listening and speaking), reading, and written fluency in the language.

• A focused grasp of the various Spanish-speaking cultures in three main geographical areas:   Spain, Latin America & the Caribbean, and Latinos in the U.S., as well as the interaction among these cultures.

• Superior writing, research and critical skills.

Theater & Dance

Our department is not a conservatory-style program that narrowly trains students in single skill areas.  Rather, in our course and production work, we seek more broadly:

  • to give our students concrete experiences in developing the unique creativity needed in the act of performance;
  • to introduce our students to the physical, emotional and intellectual demands of making performances;
  • to provide our students with the opportunities and means to explore collaborations needed for performance-making; and
  • to help our students understand the need across many cultures to express one's self through performance.

Architectural Studies

Students who complete the major in Architectural Studies will be able to: 

  • write and speak fluently and articulately in English, and employ a variety of rhetorical approaches and research methodologies in the analysis of a given text (building, drawing, image, design, theoretical or historical writing) of or about the built environment;
  • examine a significant portion of architectural experience and define and discuss those theoretical, historical, cultural and compositional elements that have given it its unity and distinctiveness;
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge about aspects of architecture and the built environment;
  • know how to make an argument and support it effectively with evidence;
  • think critically about the relationship between materials of architectural production and the history, politics, performance and spatial context of their production;
  • study architecture and the built environment in an independent and interdisciplinary manner;
  • pursue research with current research tools;
  • focus their coursework and interests within the major on a particular field or a specific research question;
  • prepare, develop, and complete an extended research project in the form of the senior thesis.

Biochemistry & Biophysics

By graduation a Biochemistry & Biophysics (BCBP) major should be able to:

  • Apply a breadth of knowledge from across the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics to define and solve problems at the interface of the life and physical sciences.
  • Generate biochemical/biophysical hypotheses; design and execute experiments to test hypotheses; analyze and interpret data to draw meaningful conclusions from experimental results.
  • Effectively communicate biochemical/biophysical concepts and research results orally and in written form to either general or specialized audiences.
  • Conduct and present classroom and independent work responsibly and within the highest scientific standards of honesty, accuracy, and objectivity.
  • Navigate the scientific literature effectively to retrieve specific information and to inform broader research questions; critically assess the experimental design, results, and conclusions of articles published in the primary literature.

European Studies

Students who complete the major in European Studies will be able to:

  • express themselves fluently and correctly in at least one language spoken in Europe, both orally and in writing; and preferably also have some fluency in a second language spoken in Europe;
  • write and speak fluently and articulately in English, and employ a variety of rhetorical approaches and research methodologies in the analysis of a given text of cultural production;
  • examine a significant portion of the European experience and seek to define those elements that have given European culture its unity and distinctiveness;
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge about aspects of European culture;
  • know how to make an argument, orally and in writing, and support it effectively with evidence;
  • think critically about the relationship between materials of cultural production (literature, performance, visual and media arts, music) and the history, politics, and context of their production;
  • study European culture in an independent and interdisciplinary manner;
  • pursue research with current research tools;
  • focus their coursework and interests within the major on a particular field or a specific research question;
  • prepare, develop, and complete an extended research project in the form of the senior thesis.

 Film & Media Studies

Through the course of their study, Film and Media Studies majors should meet the following learning goals:

  • Develop clear and cogent writing skills, with the ability to practice a variety of rhetorical approaches.
  • Develop technical skills and artistic vision as makers of moving-image media.
  • Attain a breadth of media study in terms of form (narrative, experimental, documentary), format (cinematic, televisual, electronic, digital), and national and historical arenas.
  • Acquire sophistication in the historiographical, methodological, and theoretical challenges of moving-image media study. Students should be able to determine the formal significance of a film or television text, for instance, as well as its cultural, historical, and theoretical significance. Study in the major should also enable students to understand issues of representation and identity in terms of what we see on screen (image), who makes moving-image media (production), and who sees it (reception).
  • Gain an understanding of the ways in which an integrated approach to film and media, through a critical understanding and a creative practice, can offer us both depth and breadth towards understanding the world in which we live.


Students completing the Neuroscience major at Amherst should be able to:

  • Understand basic concepts in the traditional science disciplines that are relevant to neuroscience: biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics and computer science, and physics.
  • Apply this understanding to practical problems in the field of neuroscience.
  • Integrate knowledge from different science disciplines and different levels of organization ranging from molecules to behavior.
  • Set up and carry out modern laboratory techniques used in behavioral and cellular/molecular neuroscience areas.
  • Plan feasible experiments using principles of experimental design, including developing testable hypotheses and valid use of statistics.
  • Critically evaluate scientific literature, including assessing the importance of the problems addressed, the appropriateness of the methodology used, and the legitimacy of the data analysis.
  • Effectively communicate ideas orally.
  • Write clearly, concisely, and gracefully.