The Core Classes

The common lot of UChicago students

By Peter Ianakiev

C hances are if you’re here at the University of Chicago, you know a thing or two about this “Core” that everyone keeps talking about.

Rigorous and varied, the University’s Core Curriculum is (intended to be, at least) an introduction to a variety of academic disciplines before students settle into their chosen concentrations. The Core currently consists of sequences in humanities (“Hum,” as in David, the Scottish thinker, or Desmond, the Lost character), civilization studies (“Civ,” soft C and pronounced to rhyme with “shiv”), and social sciences (“Sosc,” pronounced like “social” minus the i-a-l), as well as some math, biology, and physical science requirements, which can be completed in a variety of ways, depending on one’s interest in those fields and desired difficulty.

Hum and Sosc courses are generally discussion-based affairs in which students try to make sense of a variety of texts. Historically and typically, these texts tend to be classics of Western thought, like The Republic, Das Kapital, and Leviathan—but options exist for otherwise-inclined students. For example, students in the Hum course Media Aesthetics get to work with The Matrix and Citizen Kane, while those in the Sosc sequence Social Science Inquiry look at famous academic studies and learn about statistics and research methods.

Civ courses work more like traditional history classes, but options here are also varied. Courses run from the incredibly broad and diffuse (Western Civilization) to the more specific (Ancient Mediterranean World), and options also exist for students interested in the history of music (Music in Western Civilization) or science (Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization). There are a number of Civ sequences that can be completed in just one quarter abroad. Nearly everyone who takes Civ abroad loves it; experiences on campus are far more mixed.

Besides these sequences, there exists a one- or two-course Art/Music/Drama requirement. A friendly warning: getting into art, music, and drama courses is nearly impossible when you're a third- or fourth-year, so take them now.

Undergrads are expected to complete requirements in mathematics, physical science, and biology. There are a variety of ways to complete the math requirement, including three separate, year-long calculus sequences of varying difficulties.

In the same way, you can complete your biology and physical science requirements by simply taking biology and physics, or by taking special courses designed for non-science majors. A popular example of one of the latter route is David Archer’s Global Warming course, which attracts 200 or more students whenever offered.

Perhaps the most important thing to be said about the Core is that no one should procrastinate when it comes to fulfilling the requirements. Many professors in the humanities and social science assume some familiarity with readings from Hum and Sosc courses, and frankly there are few things more annoying than being the lone fourth-year in a Sosc class full of first-years.

Not every Core class you take will be great and worthwhile, but all provide you with the opportunity to think about new topics and ideas. Even if you’re the most die-hard math major who scoffs at students dabbling in philosophy and literature, who knows? Maybe Philosophical Perspectives in the Humanities is exactly what you need.