FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: STUDENTS

This is a section of Frequently Asked Questions that have been collected over the years from students. Everyone (students, advisors, faculty and instructional staff) is encouraged to add to this list. Please send questions to webmaster@ls.wisc.edu.

After a section addressing “General Questions” about the requirements, this list is divided according to the requirements they address:  Communication, Quantitative Reasoning, Ethnic Studies, and Breadth.  Readers need to scroll down to the sections to see the questions addressed.  Then, click on a question to see the answer provided.

General Questions

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CAN I TAKE MY GENERAL EDUCATION COURSE(S) PASS/FAIL?

WHO NEEDS TO FULFILL THE GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS?

HOW DO I FIND MY "MATRICULATION DATE"?

If you have attended another post-secondary institution before coming to UW-Madison, you should have received an evaluation of transfer credits. One of the following two situations will apply:

  • If you entered UW-Madison between May 20, 1996 and Summer 1999, your first college matriculation date is posted on your credit evaluation. If that date is prior to May 20, 1996 you must complete the University of Wisconsin – Madison General Education Requirements. (Your evaluation will also tell you whether you will be awarded transfer credits that fulfill all or part of the requirements.)
  • If you entered UW-Madison in Summer, 1999 or later, your matriculation date may not be listed on your credit evaluation report. Instead, you will see an “exemption action” for General Education if your first college matriculation date was before the implementation of the requirements.

Any questions about your matriculation date should be directed to the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, which is responsible for the credit evaluation.

I ALREADY HAVE AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE; DO I NEED TO FULFILL THE GEN ED REQUIREMENTS?

WHERE DO I GO TO TAKE THE MATH OR ENGLISH PLACEMENT TEST?

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE MATH OR ENGLISH PLACEMENT TEST?

HOW CAN I BEST COMBINE GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS AND STUDY ABROAD OR BEST PLAN TO COMPLETE THE REQUIREMENTS ON CAMPUS IF I ALSO WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN A STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM?

Also, you are encouraged to speak with an academic advisor in IAP to determine if your particular study abroad program will be able to meet all of your academic needs. You can schedule an appointment by calling (608) 265-6329; check their website (http://www.studyabroad.wisc.edu/resourcecenter/index.html) for available hours.

CAN I SATISFY MY COMMUNICATION, QUANTITATIVE REASONING, OR OTHER GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS IN SUMMER WHEN I GO HOME? HOW WILL I KNOW IF THE CREDITS TRANSFER?

BUT I ALREADY TOOK A COURSE AT ANOTHER COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY - HOW CAN I GET IT REVIEWED TO SEE IF IT MEETS GEN ED REQUIREMENTS?

ARE ANY GENERAL EDUCATION COURSES OFFERED IN SUMMER SESSION?

HOW DO I FIND OUT WHICH CLASSES FULFILL THE GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS?

HOW CAN I PETITION FOR A COURSE THAT IS NOT DESIGNATED FOR GENERAL EDUCATION TO COUNT FOR ONE OF THE GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS?

You are encouraged to first consult your primary academic advisor about whether a course seems a reasonable substitute.  In many cases, there is a good reason why a course is not already designated as, or did not transfer as, meeting a General Education Requirement.

If after consulting your adviser you wish to pursue a substitution, contact the General Education Requirement faculty liaisons for that requirement.  Bring a syllabus to your meeting and as much detail about the course as you can.  You can find liaison names and contact information here:

If approved, the liaison will submit an exception request to your Dean’s Office for processing.  The change will be reflected on your degree audit (DARS), not on your academic transcript.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I STILL HAVE REQUIREMENTS TO FULFILL?

Talk with your advisor.

Students can request a Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS) report to learn about the progress they are making toward their degree.  DARS audits the list of courses an individual student has taken and, by comparing that list to the University, School/College and major requirements, generates a detailed summary of requirements that are and are not yet completed.  Students’ advisors can generate “what if” scenarios to consider a variety of majors students might pursue.

There are two ways to access the DARS report:

  1. Through the Student Center on the MyUW website

DARS is not available to students in School of Pharmacy programs or in some School of Education programs. Students in these programs should speak with their advisors.

And, as always, talk with your advisor. 

WHAT DO STUDENTS SAY ABOUT GENERAL EDUCATION?

(For more information about initiatives like Pathways, please visit the Pathways to Excellence Project homepage.)

Communications Questions

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WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMM A AND COMM B?

WHO MUST FULFILL THE GENERAL EDUCATION COMMUNICATION A AND B REQUIREMENTS?

Many students in any entering freshman class are exempt from the Communication A requirement based on placement test scores. Many students also receive AP credits or transfer credits that fulfill the requirement. Transfer students who have not yet completed courses that satisfy this requirement are required to do so. Although Comm A courses are freshman level courses, sophomores, juniors, and seniors who need to complete the requirement are allowed to register for a Comm A course.

There is no exemption from the Comm B requirement. Students must complete a Comm B course on this campus or receive transfer credits that fulfill the requirement.

I'VE TAKEN A COURSE OR COURSES AT ANOTHER UNIVERSITY THAT SEEM TO ME TO FULFILL THE COMM A REQUIREMENT. WHAT DO I DO TO HAVE THIS CONSIDERED?

I TOOK A COURSE AT ANOTHER UNIVERSITY THAT SEEMS TO EQUATE TO A COMM B COURSE HERE; WILL I GET CREDIT FOR COMM B?

In the case of Comm B, most often, the answer is “that depends.” In cases where it’s clear that instruction in communication is part of the course (as in the case of courses offered in English, Journalism, Life Sciences Communication, or Communication Arts), it is likely that you will receive Comm B credit. In cases where instruction in communication is not directly connected to the field of study (for example, in the cases of courses in Zoology or Geography), you may not receive Comm B credit.

Why is this? The UW-Madison faculty believe that the strength of our Comm B requirement is that it asks students to learn how to communicate both in writing and orally in the context of a subject they’re studying. The results of our efforts to assess student learning in Comm B courses suggest that this strategy works well, and that students who take Comm B at UW-Madison seem to perform better when they face communication tasks in subsequent courses.

Courses at other institutions that appear to be the equivalent of Comm B courses on the UW-Madison campus may not teach you these tools essential for success in college and for your life after college. So, even if you do receive credit for a Comm B course taken elsewhere, if the course didn’t really emphasize written or oral communication, you may wish to take a Comm B course on campus, just to be sure you have these skills.

CAN I RECEIVE DEGREE CREDIT FOR MORE THAN ONE COMM A COURSE?

A recent change in policy (effective Fall 2018) allows students to take more than one Comm A course if they wish to do so.

WHY DO COMM A COURSES DIFFER?

What does this mean for you? Students have some some flexibility to choose courses that work well with their prior experience. For example, if you need to take Comm A, and if you believe you already have a lot of experience with written communication, you might consider taking a course that emphasizes oral communication (e.g., Com Arts 100). Or, if you already have experience with oral communication, consider taking a course that emphasizes written communication (e.g., English 100, Life Science Communication 100).

I DIDN'T HAVE TO TAKE A COMM A COURSE, BUT I'M WORRIED THAT I MISSED SOMETHING MY OTHER WRITING COURSE DIDN'T TEACH. DID I?

WHAT ARE WRITING INTENSIVE COURSES AND HOW DO THEY FIT IN?

WHO MUST SATISFY ENGLISH COMPETENCY WITHIN THE MAJOR?

I ALREADY TOOK A COMM B COURSE; AM I EXEMPT FROM COMM A?

I'VE ALREADY TAKEN A COUPLE OF COMM B COURSES; CAN'T THAT COUNT AS COMM A?

WHY TAKE COMM A? A STUDENT'S PERSPECTIVE.

This is because I’d never written a formal research paper before taking Comm A. ESL 118 taught me how to write academic articles. I learned how to make a concrete argument through reasoning and proof. I learned how to summarize scholarly articles that I read, and learned how to pull essential information out of them. I was introduced to the APA citation style for the first time, and learned how to avoid accidental plagiarism in writing. In short, I learned the fundamentals of writing in Comm A.

Successfully completing Comm A meant a lot to me. As a student seeking a degree in journalism, it gave me much confidence in writing. Not only that, it provided me the actual skill set to become a journalism major. By taking Comm A, I perfected the use of academic sources and the APA style when writing research papers. This led me to succeed in other writing-intensive courses I’ve taken (including Comm B), and I was often recognized by professors for making strong, precise arguments in research papers.

Quantitative Reasoning Questions

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I'M RETURNING TO SCHOOL AFTER A LONG TIME AWAY AND I'LL NEED TO COMPLETE THE QUANTITATIVE REASONING REQUIREMENT. HOW CAN I PREPARE TO REENTER SCHOOL AND TAKE A MATH COURSE?

MUST I COMPLETE A MATH COURSE TO SATISFY THE QR A REQUIREMENT?

MUST I COMPLETE A MATH COURSE TO SATISFY THE QR B REQUIREMENT?

MUST I COMPLETE A MATH COURSE TO SATISFY THE QR B REQUIREMENT?

Yes; QR-B builds on skills learned in QR-A, and helps students apply those skills in the context of a discipline.

CAN I RECEIVE TRANSFER CREDIT THAT SATISFIES MY QR REQUIREMENTS?

  1. A student may be given transfer credit (or AP credit, or credit based on a departmental exam) for a course that equates to a QR-A course to satisfy QR-A. In the case of Math 141, this would mean a non-remedial QR course at another institution. This does NOT mean that transfer credit for a QR-B course implies that a student has satisfied QR-A, except as described in (b) below.
  2. A student who is given transfer credit (or AP credit or credit based on a departmental exam) for a MATH course that equates to a UW-Madison QR B Math course is presumed to have also satisfied the QR-A requirement. Completing or receiving transfer credit for any other QR-B course does NOT mean that the student has completed or been exempted from the QR-A requirement.
  3. If a student transfers from within the UW System, then she or he has (presumably) taken the UWS placement exam. This can be used to determine QR-A exemption by evaluating whether the scores are high enough to place into MATH 114 or beyond.
  4. If neither (a), (b) nor (c) holds, transfer students should take the placement exam and their QR-placement will be determined on the basis of their placement scores (or they can forgo the placement exam and take the QR-A course). We recommend that transfer students who have not already taken the UWS placement exam and who have not transferred a Math course that exempts them from QR-A take the placement exam.

IF I COMPLETE OR RECEIVE TRANSFER CREDIT FOR A QR B COURSE, AM I AUTOMATICALLY EXEMPT FROM QR A?

Ethnic Studies Questions

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WHY DO WE HAVE THIS REQUIREMENT?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is committed to fostering an understanding and appreciation of diversity, in the belief that doing so will:

  • Better prepare students for life and careers in an increasingly multicultural U.S. environment,
  • Add breadth and depth to the University curriculum, and
  • Improve the campus climate.

One of the University’s overarching goals is to infuse the curriculum in all disciplines with diversity, including those where traditionally it has been absent. The Ethnic Studies Requirement (ESR) is one of several key elements in reaching this goal. This is a requirement that all students take a 3-credit course that considers ethnic/racial minorities that have been marginalized or discriminated against in the U.S. Because issues of ethnic diversity and religion are often intertwined and cannot easily be separated, courses that focus only on religion may, where appropriate, fulfill the ESR.

All courses that the implementation committee approves as satisfying the requirement must provide evidence that the course material illuminates the circumstances, conditions, and experiences of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.

(excerpted from Fac Doc 1736, approved by the Faculty Senate on 9/23/03)

Perspectives on the requirement include such statements as these:

  • One advisor notes: “This requirement gives every student the opportunity to learn more about groups who are generally not discussed in much detail or depth in many of our mainstream courses in traditional disciplines. As a result, this requirement can help all of us better understand our neighbors (within the US) who may be different from ourselves; this can bring us all closer to being a real, united community instead of a community divided.”
  • A member of the faculty describes the requirement as one means of equipping students with the necessary skills to understand and respect others; such skills are fundamental to their ability to communicate with and relate to people who come from different cultures. Simply put, this requirement enables our students to function in a global society.

DO I NEED THREE CREDITS OF ETHNIC STUDIES? OR JUST ONE ETHNIC STUDIES COURSE?

  • Students who matriculated (entered) the university before Fall 2005 need 3 credits of coursework in Ethnic Studies designated courses.
  • Students who matriculate in Fall 2005 need to take one 3-credit course designated as Ethnic Studies.

I TOOK A COURSE THAT I THINK SHOULD SATISFY THE REQUIREMENT. CAN I GET CREDIT FOR IT?

Every regularly offered course that carries the Ethnic Studies (or “e”) designation has been carefully reviewed by a faculty committee to ensure that it conforms with the criteria for Ethnic Studies Courses. Only courses that meet these criteria are eligible to carry the “e”designation.

Many courses that meet these criteria carry the designation; however, many courses that seem to meet the criteria do not carry the “e” designation. There are many reasons for omitting the designation from a course:

  • If a course requires prerequisite courses that carry the “e”designation, it would be redundant to have all of the courses carry the “e” designation.
  • If a course is an upper-level course in a major that focuses on issues related to ethnic studies, the department may withold the “e” designation to ensure that only students who are already very familiar with the issues and concepts often raised in Ethnic Studies courses enroll.
  • If the course is a topics course, it is unlikely to carry the “e” designation. “Topics courses” often do not carry any type of breadth or general education designations, because topics vary from semester to semester, and so course designations may not always apply.
  • Often, different instructors will teach regularly-offered courses, and will adapt the specific content (readings, lecture topics) to their own areas of expertise. Since the content varies in such courses, they are not eligible to carry the “e” designation.
  • The Ethnic Studies Review Committee has recommended that students complete the requirement early in their careers at UW-Madison, so upper level courses usually do not carry the “e” designation.

Finally, it is the responsibility of departments and their faculty to ask the Ethnic Studies Subcommittee to review a course to carry the Ethnic Studies designation – and the faculty may not have asked for that review. If you have reviewed the criteria for courses carrying the Ethnic Studies designation and believe that a particular course should be reviewed, ask the instructor if the department has considered seeking the “e” designation for the course. If the instructor and department are interested in having the course reviewed, they can contact Assistant Dean Klein (elaine.klein@wisc.edu) about how to proceed.

If you took the course at another university:

The Office of Admissions and Recruitment reviews courses students transfer from other universities to UW-Madison, and is responsible for determining how those courses equate with courses offered here. If you have reviewed the criteria for Ethnic Studies and believe that you have taken a three-credit transfer course that conforms to the criteria, you should contact the Office of Admissions and Recruitment and ask if the transfer admissions counselor will reevaluate the course; the counselor may, at his or her discretion, contact Assistant Dean Klein for further review. Be prepared to provide a detailed syllabus for the course in question; the syllabus should include weekly lecture topics, a list of course readings (articles, textbooks, websites, etc.), and a description of the graded work expected of students (exams, papers, discussion).

If you took a course abroad:

Experiences studying abroad do not, by themselves, constitute “ethnic study experiences” that are eligible for academic credit. In some cases, for-credit courses taken while studying abroad in UW-Madison-sponsored study-abroad programs may meet the criteria for satisfying the Ethnic Studies Requirement. Students who believe they have participated in qualifying programs and have taken a course that may meet the requirement should contact the Office of International Academic Programs to have their international transcripts evaluated. Be prepared to provide a detailed syllabus for the course in question; the syllabus should include weekly lecture topics, a list of course readings (articles, textbooks, websites, etc.), and a description of the graded work expected of students (exams, papers, discussion), which will help the IAP counselor and Ethnic Studies Subcommittee evaluate your student’s request.