Liberal Studies and You

  • Liberal Studies provides the broad vision and understanding that enable individuals to enjoy full, rich lives and to play constructive roles in their communities.

    A University Education: Breadth and Depth

    A university education has two equally important parts: breadth and depth. You will be asked to investigate new areas of interest that will expand your mind. You will also select one subject that you want to study in depth, and this will be designated as your “major.” Study in depth is a challenging, exciting part of your college work because it means choosing something you really like and learning to do it very well.

    But no matter how proficient you become in your major, if this is the only thing you know, you cannot claim to be well educated. Think what the world would be like if chemists knew only chemistry, musicians knew only music, accountants knew only accounting, and political scientists knew only politics. We wouldn’t even be able to talk to each other.

    True education helps us live together in community rather than separating us. It opens our minds to new, exciting possibilities as well as focusing them on a single specialty. Educated people have a breadth of vision and understanding which enables them to enjoy full, rich lives.

    Balance between breadth and depth is the most important characteristic of a university education. This is why, in addition to a specialized major, every university curriculum has a component which promotes breadth. Here at IUP, we call this “Liberal Studies,” to emphasize that the best education is a freeing, liberating experience which allows us to escape prejudice and narrow interest and broadens our intellectual horizons.

    Liberal Studies and You

    A truly educated person has breadth of vision and understanding as well as depth in a major field of interest.

    The richest university environment and best curriculum in the world will not help you unless you are ready to learn. This means that you have to go to class and participate when you get there. You have to commit the hours of study and preparation that are necessary between classes.

    Most of all, you have to be willing to stretch your mind and try to capture the excitement of new things. This is your half of the partnership, and no one else can fulfill it for you. Ultimately, it has to be Liberal Studies and you.

    Goals for Liberal Studies

    The Liberal Studies Program is designed to equip you to live and function in an increasingly complex world

    There are three basic academic goals for the Liberal Studies part of your education, and you should make them your own. Your education will be more focused and rewarding if you have clear goals in mind.

    Goal 1. Acquire the intellectual skills and ways of thinking that will help you learn and use knowledge effectively.

    • Critical thinking—having the ability to ask good questions, to reason logically and abstractly, to analyze something critically, to synthesize parts into wholes, and to make decisions
    • Literacy—being able to write, read, speak, and listen effectively
    • Understanding numerical data—being able to use and evaluate arguments based upon numbers
    • Historical consciousness—comprehending how the past influences the present
    • Scientific inquiry—understanding the methods which scientists use to investigate our world
    • Values—recognizing ethical concerns and being able to apply ethical perceptions responsibly
    • Aesthetic sensitivity—being able to appreciate and experience the fine arts

    Goal 2. Acquire as much knowledge and understanding of the world around you as you possibly can. Of course, you can’t expect to learn everything at once, and you will want to continue learning as long as you live. But you will probably never again have such an unencumbered opportunity to learn about the world around you, and it would be a shame to let this slip away half used.

    If you want to be a well-educated person, you must know something about the culture in which we live, its origins, and its development from antiquity to the present. Our culture is incredibly diverse, and a full understanding would include a grasp of the major trends in society, religion, philosophy, the arts, literature, politics and law, economics, and science and technology, as well as a knowledge of chronology and geography and a comprehension of the roles of women and men and of racial and ethnic subcultures.

    It is equally important that you become familiar with at least one culture that is different from your own. Our own culture, after all, has benefited by its interaction with others, and we live in a progressively smaller world in which contacts between cultures promise to become more frequent. You also will understand our own culture better after you’ve made an effort to understand another.

    Goal 3. Acquire an understanding of your physical as well as your intellectual nature. You will want to live a healthy life, and this means you need to understand and begin to practice ways to promote wellness.

    The Liberal Studies Program: Course Categories

    Most of the really important questions in life force us to think in a broad, interdisciplinary way.

    Liberal Studies at IUP involves a minimum of 43 credits of study (the number of credits may rise slightly, depending on your major and/or the choices you make). The program is arranged in categories, and you must complete studies in each. Although in some categories a course is specified for all students, in most instances there is a list of approved courses from which you can select. Sometimes, depending on your major, certain choices are required or recommended by colleges or departments. Your adviser will provide a convenient checklist which will make it easy to record your progress.

    Learning Skills

    Writing and using numbers are important foundations for education, and Liberal Studies requires work in each.

    You must complete two composition courses: Composition I, which you should take during your first year, and Composition II, which you should not take until you are at least a sophomore.

    You are also required to complete at least one mathematics course (some majors require more); your adviser will help you select one that is appropriate.


    Three courses in the humanities will help you to understand the heritage of Western civilization in all its richness and diversity. This is your opportunity to meet some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers and to place your own time in historical perspective. You will have a chance to think deeply about enduring, fundamental issues—like justice or equality or love—which men and women have continually struggled to understand better. You must have one course in each of three areas: literature, philosophy or religious studies, and history.

    Fine Arts

    The languages of art, architecture, music, drama, and dance are wonderful ways for us to express our feelings and perceptions. Study in the fine arts helps you think about beauty and how it is expressed, make your own aesthetic judgments, and enjoy the choices you make.

    You may select a course that focuses on music, theater, art, or dance. Because the course will introduce you to and help you appreciate many of the cultural events you will be attending on campus, it should be taken during your first year.

    Natural Science

    We live in a world in which scientific and technological questions—about atomic energy, computers, genetics, the environment, or mineral resources—play increasingly important roles. If you do not know something about science, you will be no more than a helpless observer in many of the critical discussions that affect your life.

    You will be asked to complete two courses in the natural sciences, at least one of which must be a laboratory course.

    Social Science

    We do not live in isolation; we interact with other people, and we belong to groups which interact with other groups. The social sciences provide ways of understanding human social institutions and processes. They grapple with issues like economic policy, foreign affairs, crime, family relationships, and the significance of gender, race, and class.

    You will complete three social science courses, with no two chosen from the same discipline. Offerings are available in anthropology, criminology, economics, geography, journalism, political science, psychology, and sociology.

    Global and Multicultural Awareness

    Advances in travel and communications are changing our lives; it is no longer unusual for students to go halfway around the world to study or for our economic relationships to be calculated in global terms. Knowing only what is close at hand and familiar is no longer enough.

    To help you develop attitudes and understandings necessary to live in a world in which contact between cultures is increasingly important, at least one of the courses you take at IUP must deal with a non-western culture. This can be one of your Liberal Studies courses, but it can also be a major course or a free elective. If you do not have such a course elsewhere in your curriculum, you will need to save one of your Liberal Studies electives for this purpose.

    Dimensions of Wellness

    Because responsible adaptations in behavior can help promote and maintain good health, you should know and begin to practice the components of a healthy lifestyle.

    You must take three credits of course work that addresses topics like nutrition, fitness, substance abuse, or stress management. Completing one year of ROTC/Military Science is an alternate way of fulfilling this requirement.

    Liberal Studies Electives

    Not all students are the same, nor should they be. You come to college with different backgrounds and individual interests. Liberal Studies electives give you a chance to explore some of the things which have always fascinated you but which you might not have another opportunity to study.

    Depending on your program of study, you may be required to select from one to three courses from an extensive list of offerings. Because your goal is still breadth, you may not count any course labeled with your major prefix as one of your Liberal Studies electives (for instance, a History major cannot use an HIST course). Nor may you choose more than one course with the same prefix, except in the case of intermediate-level foreign language study where you may use a prefix twice. [At least one of your three courses must be numbered 200 or higher.]

    Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Courses

    Writing is really a concentrated form of thinking.

    Being able to express yourself in writing may be the most important skill which you can have. It will be essential for career advancement after you graduate, and it will improve your learning—and hence your grades—while you are in college. One of the best ways to understand something is to write about it, because writing is really a concentrated form of thinking.

    You should expect to be doing some writing in nearly every course you take. But writing is so important that we want to be sure you select some courses that are designed especially to help you develop and practice your writing. Like any other skill, this one will grow stronger the more you use it. The two English composition courses provide a good foundation.

    In addition to these, you must include among your other courses at least two that are designated as “writing-intensive.” These are courses that put an emphasis on writing and use it to help you learn the subject. One of the two must be in your major

    Questions and Answers about Liberal Studies

    What are Liberal Studies courses like?

    Before a course can be listed as fulfilling a Liberal Studies requirement, it must be recommended by the Liberal Studies Committee. This group of twelve faculty members, administrators, and students has an established set of criteria which it uses to evaluate proposals. Naturally, the course must fit the category in which it is to be listed. But the Liberal Studies Committee looks for other things as well. It checks to see that you will be reading some books that make you think. It makes certain that the best of recent scholarship, especially that relating to issues of race, ethnicity, and gender, is included appropriately.

    Above all, the committee looks for courses which will challenge you. The mere learning of new information is not enough. The committee looks for courses that make you think, that show you relationships between what you are learning and current issues, and that enable you to make responsible ethical choices. It also looks for courses which encourage you to continue reading and learning even after you leave college, because learning is a lifelong commitment.

    When I have choices, how will I know which course to take?

    You will be assigned an academic adviser, and it is important that you take advantage of the experience and information which this person has, but some common-sense advice also applies. When you make choices, the most important thing ought to be the courses themselves and the opportunities they provide. Don’t let your schedule be decided by the hour you want to eat lunch or by what your friends are doing. While it may sometimes be wise to build on what you already know, don’t always stick with the familiar.

    This is your chance to explore and to learn new things. If there’s something you have always been curious about, you may never have a better chance to try it. Don’t think that everything you choose has to fit in with your major or with your future career: remember, you’re not going to work twenty-four hours a day. Develop some of your other interests, too. It is a fact that you will go further on the job if you’re an interesting person to be around. It’s easy to get tired of one-sided people.

    Should I take my Liberal Studies in any particular order?

    Learning is a lifelong commitment.

    Again, your adviser can be very helpful. Ordinarily, you will take some of your Liberal Studies courses each year; you should think of Liberal Studies and your major as parallel parts of your education. This doesn’t mean that each semester you will be doing half of each. The pattern can vary considerably depending on the major you choose, but most students spend more time at the beginning on Liberal Studies and more time later on their majors.

    Some courses—like the first Composition course, the core History course, and the Fine Arts course—are planned with first-year students in mind. The interdisciplinary synthesis course is specifically designed to be taken during one of your final three semesters. Your adviser will help you arrange a sequence which meets your needs.

    Who can answer my questions?

    Your adviser is always the first person to go to for advice. If this person doesn’t know the answer, he or she will know where to find it.

    Life Outside the Classroom

    Intellectual and cultural events expose you to new ideas and experiences.

    Virtually every night of the week, IUP hosts visiting speakers and performers, and these provide invaluable opportunities for you to enhance your education. There are national political leaders, professors from other universities and other nations, novelists, poets, scientists, and journalists. You can add to that dozens of films, theater performances, music and dance recitals, and art exhibits each semester.

    Because there is always more than any one person could possibly attend, you will have to make choices. Keep your eye open for posters and other announcements; your professors will often recommend events, too. Try setting a goal for yourself. Perhaps it could be to attend at least one event a week, or so many a semester. Or, perhaps you could subscribe to a theater series one semester and a music recital series the next. The important thing is to open yourself to as many new ideas and experiences as possible.