Academic Overview

A liberal arts education involves expanding your breadth of knowledge. Your course choices will reflect your interests and background, but do not be afraid to try courses in areas that are totally new to you. The curriculum offers a diverse array of subjects, many of which aren’t available in most high schools. Your first two years, in particular, should be times when you experiment, try new fields, and expose yourself to a wide range of disciplines.

You will be assigned a First-year Academic Advisor in late July. They are eager to help you during registration and are available to answer any questions you have, continuing on throughout the summer. You will meet with them when you arrive on campus in the fall to review your schedule. You will be able to change courses into the first week of classes, but pre-registration is your best chance at getting into the courses that interest you, so take this opportunity seriously. Be thorough in your exploration of the course catalog as you choose your first year courses.

The Departments and Program Descriptions link will help you get started choosing classes in whichever department interests you. There you will also find links to department and program web sites. Feel free to contact the department and program faculty as well as your first-year advisor any time you have questions over the summer or once you arrive.

Prepare for first-year academic advising, learn about choosing first-year courses, and explore the breadth of academic offerings at Williams College.


Department and Program Descriptions

    • Keep in mind -- pre-registration is a request for the classes you would like to take.  Your course schedule may change over the summer as over-enrolled courses and upper-class student selections merge into final rosters. You will have the opportunity to review and change your course schedules during the registration period in August, and you will be able to talk with your advisor about course substitutions. Understand that pre-registration is a request for the classes you would like to take, but you may not be enrolled in all the courses you pre-register for. The Registrar’s office will let you know if you need to choose a different course.
    • Consider classes outside of your comfort zone. A liberal arts education is about stretching your knowledge and experiencing new things. Williams has many resources to help all students, so feel free to experiment with your class schedule.
    • Read course descriptions carefully. You should make sure that you fulfill the prerequisites of a course before you sign up.
    • Try to pick courses with varied forms of course evaluations. For example, avoid having too many final papers, which could increase your course load toward the end of the semester.
    • Try to mix up the size of your courses.  If you are taking some large lecture classes, consider taking some small seminars as well.
    • Plan with your spring semester in mind. Many classes offered during the fall semester are not offered in the spring semester, and vice versa. Make sure you are taking prerequisite courses required for a class you want to take in the spring. 
    • Limits on first-year concentrations. To encourage you to explore the breadth of the Williams liberal arts experience, first-year students may take no more than one course with the same prefix and no more than two courses in the same department in a semester. For example, you cannot take two English courses in the same semester since all English courses have the prefix ENGL. You could, however, take both Art History (ARTH) and Studio Art (ARTS) in the same semester because they have different course prefixes.
    • Pass-Fail option. During the 2021-2022 academic year, incoming first-year students will be able to take any or all of their fall semester courses on a Pass/Fail basis, as long as these courses are eligible for Pass/Fail. These students will have until January 3, 2022 to declare which eligible courses they are taking Pass/Fail. These courses will not count against the three courses that students may opt to designate as Pass/Fail beyond their first semester and may be used to fulfill distribution requirements (divisional; Writing Skills; Difference, Power, and Equity; and Quantitative/Formal Reasoning).
    • Preparation for the Health Professions. There is no pre-med or pre-health major at Williams. However, if you are considering medical school after Williams, you will need to complete the courses required by professional schools. The Health Professions Office within the Office of Career Counseling serves all students with an interest in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, public health and any allied health field.
    • It is not too early to think about Study Away
    • Also, not too early to think about Experiential Education Opportunities

    That is it for now. Again, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to your advisor at any time.

    Writing is a vitally important skill for students in all areas of study, and will be crucial in many aspects of life after college. We want all Williams students to develop their writing skills during their years here. Most 100 level Writing Skills courses and some 200 level courses are geared towards preparing first-years to write at a college level. Students of all writing backgrounds are encouraged to take these classes. If you feel like you could benefit from extra attention with your writing, we encourage you to talk to your first-year advisor so that they can direct you to the appropriate courses.

    While at Williams, peer tutors at the Writing Workshop are available to work with students at all stages of the writing process.

  • Williams offers many courses for students who want to learn a new language, or continue their language studies. Foreign-language study enriches many majors and concentrations, and encourages an international outlook. In addition, many study-abroad and graduate programs require foreign language study at the college level. Students with foreign-language proficiency make themselves more competitive candidates for jobs in business, foreign-affairs, and many other areas. 

  • There are a number of placement exams that first-year students take to help determine what courses they may enroll in. Only one of these exams—the Williams Quantitative and Reasoning Assessment—is required of all first-year students.  Other placement exams are conditional on a student's high school background.  Some placement tests might be required and should be taken by any students wishing to enroll in courses for which a particular exam is required.

    Quantitative Skills

    Before arriving on campus, incoming students need to complete our Williams Quantitative and Reasoning Assessment.  Your results, along with other indicators, will help us advise you on your paths to complete the Quantitative and Formal Reasoning course requirement as well as explore your desired major and career.

    Students who have concerns about their quantitative skills are invited to speak with a quantitative skills counselor during First Days. We will go over your personal history in mathematics, discuss the science and math requirements at Williams, let you know what resources and programs are available on campus, and set up a course of study to address your specific needs.

    Other Placement Exams

    Placement in mathematics courses will be based on the online Math/Stat Placement Form. Please complete this form online even if you are not enrolling in mathematics or statistics courses for fall semester. All other placement exam information will be updated throughout the summer.