Liberal Studies Program: Preparing Citizens for the 21st Century

The Mission of the Liberal Studies Program is to prepare students to live responsible, productive, and creative lives as citizens of a dramatically changing world. To accomplish this mission, Northern Arizona University provides a Liberal Studies Program that challenges students to gain a deeper understanding of the natural environment and the world’s peoples, to explore the traditions and legacies that have created the dynamics and tensions that shape the world, to examine their potential contributions to society, and thus to better determine their own places in that world.


The Principles to Guide the Development of Student Learning Outcomes are:


Core Liberal Studies

Thirty-five credit units of liberal studies are required of all students seeking their first baccalaureate degree from Northern Arizona University. These liberal studies requirements consist of both Foundation Requirements and Distribution courses. Courses must be selected from the approved list of liberal studies courses.


Please be aware: You cannot use courses with the course prefix of your major to meet liberal studies distribution requirements. However, you may use courses with the course prefix of your minor or second major.


You may use a course or courses required for your degree to meet both major and liberal studies requirements as long as the academic prefix of the course(s) to be used is different from the prefix of your major.


Note: If you are in NAU’s Honors Program, the courses in that program substitute for the liberal studies requirements described here; see the Honors section in this catalog for specific information.

Foundation Requirements

You must take 7 units of foundation courses consisting of:


Essential Skills

We are committed to helping students gain the skills, knowledge, and abilities they will need to move into careers and take leadership roles in our society.


Distribution Blocks

You must take approved courses in each of the following four distribution blocks (28 units):



Aesthetic and Humanistic Inquiry (AHI)—Courses in this block involve students in the study of the human condition through philosophical inquiry and analysis of the various forms of creative expression. These courses help students develop an understanding of the relationship between context and human creative expression, major conceptual frameworks utilized to make sense of the creative arts, and how human experience and values are expressed through creative endeavors. Students will also develop their capacities for analysis and ethical reasoning along with an understanding of the multiple facets of the human condition.


Cultural Understanding (CU)—Courses in this block enhance students' understanding of different cultures of the world through the study of language, literature, religion, and artistic creations or other disciplines. These courses provide students with an experience of diverse cultures [different from their own], and an analytic framework that facilitates awareness of how cultures vary and shape human experience. Students will become more familiar with cultures of the world and develop an appreciation for the unique features and perspectives of varied cultural traditions.


Science (SAS)—Courses in this block will increase student's knowledge about the natural world and involve students in application of knowledge derived from scientific inquiry to address human needs through technological advancements. Understanding of a variety of physical and biological phenomena is developed through the application of the scientific method. Students will learn to employ the logic and techniques of scientific inquiry and thereby develop an understanding of the basis and limits of contemporary scientific knowledge. These courses will also familiarize students with important theories, concepts, and taxonomies that are central to the various science disciplines. Courses in this block also address the impact of technology on the human condition and the natural world.


Social and Political Worlds (SPW)—These are courses that engage students in the study of the patterns that characterize the history of human communities, the relationships between the psychological, social, cultural and political components of human communities, and the dynamics of human behavior in varied contexts. Students will learn how different empirical and theoretical strategies are employed to study human behavior and social, political, and cultural systems. These courses enhance student understanding of the dynamic relationships between human communities and their ecological context, the systemic components and dynamics of contemporary human societies, relationships between human societies and the global community, and the major dimensions of variation in contemporary human experience.

First-Year Seminar Program

The First Year Seminar Program brings the best faculty teacher-scholars on campus together with highly motivated first-year students to explore rich and engaging topics based upon faculty research/scholarship/ interests and current issues. Through this experience, undergraduate research is pursued from the beginning of students’ careers, communities are established among Seminar students, strong mentoring relationships are formed with Seminar faculty, and increased numbers of students are retained from the first year into the second year.


The aspiration of the Program is that the Seminar becomes a signature experience for first-year students at Northern Arizona University.

Goals for All First-Year Seminars

This course will:


Junior-Level Writing and Senior Capstone

Embedded within the academic majors are two university requirements designed to meet the aims and goals of the liberal studies program. They are a junior-level writing course and a senior capstone experience. These courses are designed to build upon learning and skills developed through Liberal Studies and the major.                                                                                                                                                                                        

Summary of Liberal Studies Requirements

Foundation Requirements (7 units)



Distribution Requirements (28 units)



Optional First-Year Seminar (3 units)


Link to list of Liberal Studies courses: Liberal Studies Course List