11 Open Curriculum Schools: Colleges Without Core Requirements
- What Is an Open Curriculum?
- 11 Colleges and Universities With an Open Curriculum
- What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Open Curriculum Schools?
A common factor that students consider when deciding whether they should apply to a specific college is the flexibility of a school’s curriculum. Some schools offer what is called an open curriculum—an opportunity for students to direct their own studies without fulfilling any specific core requirements.
Some students view open curriculum programs as an avenue for exploration that they can utilize to identify potential career paths. Other students simply want to take classes that interest them and see an open curriculum as a way to ensure that they stay engaged. Oftentimes, students who are certain of their career goals worry about “wasting time” with requirements that do not directly contribute to their area of study.
If you’re hoping to have an active role in shaping your educational experience, you might consider attending a college with an open curriculum. Read on to learn more about the open curriculum structure and to discover eleven schools that offer promising open curriculum programs.
What Is an Open Curriculum?
An open curriculum has few, if any, distribution requirements (also known as core requirements or general education requirements). Students in open curriculum programs typically have the option to design their own distribution course load, programs of study, majors, and/or concentrations.
This doesn’t necessarily mean full freedom, as students are often required to take a writing course and fulfill specified major requirements, but an open curriculum program is typically more flexible than a program with core requirements.
A common misconception is that students in open curriculum programs don’t choose majors or concentrations. This is generally not true—open curriculum programs simply give students more freedom in selecting the courses that contribute to their distribution requirements and/or their major requirements.
It’s important to note that some open curriculum colleges and universities have students write a proposal or thesis about their work, particularly if they design their own majors or programs. This is because, in many cases, a board of advisors must approve the included courses to ensure that students are receiving a quality and comprehensive education.
Open curriculum programs can be beneficial to self-motivated students. If students are undecided about their majors, these programs can give them the freedom to explore different possibilities. On the other hand, if students are secure in their majors, these programs can give them the opportunity to focus on their interests.
That said, an open curriculum program may not be the best option for students who lack motivation or who aren’t self-starters, as they won’t be able to take full advantage of an open curriculum’s freedom and flexibility.
Curious about which schools offer an open curriculum? Read on to find out more.
11 Colleges and Universities With an Open Curriculum
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
Acceptance rate: 9%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1560/31-35
Undergrad enrollment: 1,800
Amherst College has no core curriculum. Students must complete one first-year seminar and requirements for their majors. Additionally, as students select their courses, they are able to choose from courses housed at Amherst or at any other school in the Five College Consortium, which includes many other colleges on this list.
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Acceptance rate: 6%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1500-1570/34-36
Undergrad enrollment: 7,100
Famous for its open curriculum, Brown University has only one curriculum requirement—a single writing course. Beyond that, students are the architects of their own education. That said, Brown acknowledges that most undergraduates sample courses in a diverse range of topics housed in the university’s various colleges before focusing on an academic concentration.
Location: Grinnell, Iowa
Acceptance rate: 11%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1510/30-34
Undergrad enrollment: 1,700
At Grinnell, students design their own curriculum rather than choosing a prescribed major. The only requirement is that students must take one first-year tutorial, choosing from among 35 possible topics—which have previously included themes such as “Kendrick Lamar,” “Coping with Climate Change,” and “Exploring the Magical World of Calvin and Hobbes.”
Location: Clinton, New York
Acceptance rate: 14%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1440-1520/33-34
Undergrad enrollment: 2,000
Hamilton is known for its “Proseminars,” small classes that maximize interaction between students and instructors while promoting writing and critical-thinking skills. Students must pass at least three writing courses and complete their concentration requirements.
Students’ coursework must also include a diversity element. Individual departments approach this requirement in different ways consistent with their disciplines, but the overarching idea is that it encourages students to think critically about the experiences of social groups around the world.
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
Acceptance rate: 75%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: N/A
Undergrad enrollment: 400
Hampshire College allows students to build their own concentrations with the ultimate goal of developing students into self-starters and changemakers. Students at Hampshire College choose courses from five interdisciplinary schools—the School of Cognitive Science, the School of Critical Social Inquiry, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies, the School of Interdisciplinary Arts, and the School of Natural Science. Students at Hampshire also have access to the Five College Consortium mentioned above.
Location: New York, New York
Acceptance rate (at Gallatin specifically): 30%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1350-1530/31-35
Undergrad enrollment (at Gallatin specifically): 1,500
A small school within New York University, Gallatin allows its students to design their own programs of study. Alongside advisors, first-year Gallatin students create an Intellectual Autobiography and Plan for Concentration (IAPC), which guides their unique NYU experience. Gallatin students generally take a wide range of courses, touching on most of NYU’s acclaimed schools. Experiential learning is also a key part of a student’s IAPC.
Location: Northampton, Massachusetts
Acceptance rate: 30%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1500/31-34
Undergrad enrollment: 2,500
Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college, has no distribution requirements. Students design their curriculum under the guidance of an advisor and must simply meet the requirements of their major. Smith College is part of the Five College Consortium, which means students experience no shortage of courses and experiences to choose from.
Location: Rochester, New York
Acceptance rate: 41%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1540/31-34
Undergrad enrollment: 6,500
While the University of Rochester has some requirements, it has a more open curriculum than many other colleges. Students must complete one required writing course, all of the courses for their chosen major (which will fall under the humanities, the social sciences, or the natural sciences and engineering), and one cluster (a set of three related courses) in each of the divisions that does not house their declared major.
Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Acceptance rate: 20%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1440-1510/32-34
Undergrad enrollment: 2,500
Vassar has some requirements, but the curriculum is more open than those at most schools. There are nine multidisciplinary programs and six interdepartmental programs. Students may choose a concentration in a department, direct their own learning in an independent program, or pursue a multidisciplinary and interdepartmental program. Students must complete a first-year writing seminar as well as their major requirements.
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Acceptance rate: 25%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1380-1480/30-33
Undergrad enrollment: 5,400
Wake Forest offers an open curriculum option to a small number of high-achieving students. While the general university population does go through a standard core requirements program, students have the opportunity to apply for the open curriculum option. Once accepted, open curriculum students design their own course of study with an advisor. These plans are then approved by a committee.
Location: Middletown, Connecticut
Acceptance rate: 19%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1560/34-35
Undergrad enrollment: 3,300
Wesleyan has no core requirements. Students choose courses under the guidance of advisors and create “customized itineraries” in three spheres—the humanities and the arts (HA), the social and behavioral sciences (SBS), and the natural sciences and mathematics (NSM). That said, there are some checkpoints along the way. For example, students must complete at least two courses in each of these spheres by the end of their sophomore year.
What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Open Curriculum Schools?
As you probably noticed, many of the schools that offer open curriculum programs are highly selective. That said, your personal chances of acceptance at these schools may be higher or lower than the general acceptance rate.
To find out your personal chances of acceptance at each of these colleges and universities—along with any other colleges and universities you may be interested in—use CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. We take your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars into account to estimate your odds of acceptance at hundreds of different colleges across the country. The engine will also give you tips for improving your profile!