General Education Requirements

The university-wide General Education Requirements are designed to convey the essential core of an undergraduate education by providing breadth across the humanities and arts, social studies, and natural sciences; competence in communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills necessary for success in college and beyond; and investigation of the issues raised by living in a culturally diverse society. This core is intended to provide students with intellectual and practical skills, basic knowledge of human cultures and the physical world, strategies for understanding these topics, and tools intended to contribute to their sense of personal and social responsibility. General Education complements the work students do in their majors and degrees, and by doing this, helps students learn what they need to know not just for making a living, but also for making a life.

To complete the General Education Requirements, students choose from many courses in communicationethnic studiesquantitative reasoning, and breadth of study across disciplines in the natural sciences, humanities, literature, and arts, and social and behavioral sciences.  Courses meeting these requirements have been reviewed and approved to determine that basic criteria for GER courses are met, and that the courses support learning relative to GER learning outcomes.


The Communication requirement helps to ensure that all graduates of UW–Madison acquire essential communication and research-gathering skills necessary for success in university course work and beyond. Communication–A (Comm–A) and Communication–B (Comm–B) courses train students to gather and assess information from a variety of sources and to present different kinds of information, insight, and analysis to diverse audiences. While Comm–A courses focus exclusively on essential communication skills, Comm–B courses provide content instruction in a specific discipline and teach research, writing, and speaking skills in conjunction with the course content.

Communication General Learning Outcomes:  Students develop skills that enable them to be effective speakers and writers in and out of the classroom.

In courses satisfying the Communication requirement, students will:

  • Make effective use of information retrieved, organized, and synthesized from appropriate sources.
  • Present ideas and information clearly and logically to achieve a specific purpose.
  • Make effective use of communicative forms appropriate to a specific discipline, and adapted to the intended audience.
  • Use appropriate style and conventions associated with particular communicative forms, genres, or disciplines.

The two types of courses that support these broad goals do so in different ways, with different, but related, learning outcomes.

Communication-A Learning Outcomes: Students will advance basic skills in:

  • The four modes of literacy: writing, speaking, reading and listening, with special emphasis on writing;
  • Critical thinking; and
  • Information-seeking skills and strategies.

Communication-B Learning Outcomes: In the disciplinary or interdisciplinary context of courses taught in a wide range of departments and programs, students develop advanced skills in:

  • Critical reading, logical thinking, and the use of evidence;
  • The use of appropriate style and disciplinary conventions in writing and speaking; and
  • The productive use of core library resources specific to the discipline.


The Ethnic Studies requirement is intended to increase understanding of the culture and contributions of persistently marginalized racial or ethnic groups in the United States, and to equip students to respond constructively to issues connected with our pluralistic society and global community. Because this increased understanding is expected to have a positive effect on campus climate, students are expected to complete this requirement within the first 60 credits of undergraduate study.

Learning Outcomes: In the context of courses taught in a wide range of departments and programs, students draw connections between historical and present day circumstances, and consider perceptions and cultural assumptions when examining questions and making decisions.

In courses satisfying the Ethnic Studies requirement, students will:

  • Articulate some of the effects the past has had on present day circumstances, perceptions of, and disparities in, race in the U.S. ;
  • Recognize and question cultural assumptions, rules, biases, and knowledge claims as they relate to race and ethnicity; and
  • Examine questions and make decisions with consideration for the cultural perspectives and worldviews of others.


Quantitative Reasoning is the process of forming conclusions, judgments or inferences from quantitative information. At UW‐Madison, Quantitative Reasoning is divided into two categories, Quantitative Reasoning Part A and Part B, and these courses support attainment of learning in Quantitative Reasoning in different ways. QR‐A courses provide students with broad quantitative skills students can expect to apply in other contexts. In QR‐B courses, students are required to think critically and apply quantitative skills to interpret data, draw conclusions, and solve problems within a disciplinary or interdisciplinary context.

QR-A Learning Outcomes: Using quantitative information and the tools of college‐level mathematics, computer science, statistics or formal logic, students will develop skills to:

  • Solve problems;
  • Draw conclusions;
  • Develop models and/or interpret data and/or devise algorithms.

QR-B Learning Outcomes:  In the disciplinary or interdisciplinary context of a QR‐B course, students will:

  • Manipulate quantitative information to create models, and/or devise solutions to problems using multi‐step arguments, based on and supported by quantitative information;
  • Evaluate models and arguments using quantitative information; and
  • Express and interpret in context models, solutions, and/or arguments using verbal, numerical, graphical, algorithmic, computational or symbolic techniques.


This requirement encourages students to adopt a broad intellectual perspective, to examine the world through investigative, critical, and creative strategies practiced in the natural (computational, biological, and physical) sciences, social and behavioral sciences, as well as in the arts and humanities.

Learning Outcomes: Students acquire critical and creative thinking skills as well as enhance their problem-solving skills through a breadth of study across the humanities and arts, social studies, computational, biological sciences and physical sciences.

In courses satisfying the Breadth requirement, students will:

  • Articulate examples of significant contributions to human understanding achieved through various “ways of knowing” found in the arts and humanities; social and behavioral sciences; and computational, biological, and physical sciences.
  • Recognize and articulate the ways in which different disciplines approach questions that call upon different tools of inquiry, understanding, and creative enterprise.
  • Identify ways in which multiple tools of inquiry and understanding can be used to achieve greater insight into resolving “big” questions (e.g., climate change, poverty, global health etc.), evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of those approaches, and understanding which complementary approaches will help achieve meaningful change.
  • Evaluate different modes of inquiry across the humanities and arts; social studies; computational, biological, and physical sciences, and identify strengths and weaknesses of those approaches across disciplines when approaching a question.

Thinking of Coming to Madison?

Since transfer students also have to fulfill the General Education Requirements, you should review the requirements (both the basic requirements and any additional requirements imposed by the schools or colleges they are entering).

Students who are considering applying to UW-Madison are encouraged to visit the Office of Admissions and Recruitment’s website. Also, students may contact the Transfer Transition Program for pre-transfer advising services. Students transferring from University of Wisconsin System or Wisconsin Technical College System institutions may refer to the Transfer Information System to see how specific courses transfer to UW-Madison.

If you have questions about the General Education Requirements, please feel free to review the materials on this site to learn more.  You may also want to contact the School or College to which you are applying.

Information for Students Who Have Already Transferred to UW-Madison

Students who have already transferred to UW-Madison are probably already aware that each transfer course is evaluated on an individual basis. To inform yourself about your status, you should be aware of the following documentation:

  • Evaluation of Transfer Credits. For a few students who transfer to UW-Madison, something called the “matriculation date,” or, the date the student first entered college, matters. This date determines whether students are subject to the General Education requirements. Students who matriculated before the implementation of the General Education requirements are exempt, and they will see an exemption action on their credit evaluation.
  • Once transfer courses have been evaluated and equated to UW-Madison courses, in general, if the transfer course is found to be equivalent to a UW-Madison course, it will count in the same way as its UW-Madison equivalent. Thanks to this strategy, students and advisors can use the “Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS) to determine which General Education Requirements have been met, and which requirements still need to be completed.
  • In rare cases, students may ask that transfer courses be re-evaluated. Students and advisors seeking this should remember that courses meeting the University General Education requirements have been carefully curated: there are often specific learning outcomes and content guidelines established for these courses, and faculty committees review course syllabi and oversee assessment procedures to be sure those learning outcomes and criteria are met. This helps to ensure that the learning outcomes for UW-Madison’s General Education program are being honored, particularly in areas where the program has a unique approach. For this reason, we have found that it is highly unusual for transfer courses to satisfy the Communication B requirement unless the course specifically includes a substantial focus on writing instruction in the context of a discipline; it is also rare for transfer courses to support all of the learning goals and content requirements of the Ethnic Studies Requirement.

Each year, students who have satisfied their Communication A requirement with transfer courses (or AP credit) are strongly encouraged to complete the UW-Madison Libraries Sift & Winnow: Libraries@UW tutorial and use student self-enroll directions. This interactive tutorial helps orient students to the campus library systems and it also helps support students information literacy and critical thinking skills, including learning about our “information ecosystem,” scholarly communication, information-seeking strategies, refining search strategies, evaluating search results, and getting help from research librarians. Since many UW-Madison courses depend upon excellent research via our libraries, databases, learning tools, and expert staff, it’s important that students know how to use these learning centers!