Degree Components

Think of your degree as having three components of course work:

  • General Education—These courses provide the skills you’ll need for a lifetime of learning: they help you to raise questions, find answers, evaluate attitudes and beliefs, and adapt to change.
  • Your Major—These in-depth courses will expose you to your academic field.
  • Electives—Use these courses to round out your degree program. They are not specified, so you get to choose what you want to take.

General Education Program

Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and those completing an elementary education major or secondary education certification must complete the CLAS General Education Program. (Students in the Tippie College of Business and the Colleges of Engineering, Nursing, and Pharmacy have different general education requirements. Ask your advisor for specific details.) Consult the Student Academic Handbook online or the Iowa Student Information Services (ISIS) at for a list of approved courses in each of the general education areas.

Completion of the General Education Program includes:

  • Rhetoric—4 s.h.
  • World Languages—fourth-level competency
  • Historical Perspectives—3 s.h. minimum
  • Interpretation of Literature—3 s.h.
  • Natural Sciences—7 s.h. minimum, with at least one lab
  • Quantitative or Formal Reasoning—3 s.h. minimum
  • Social Sciences—1 course; 3 s.h. minimum
  • International and Global Issues, 1 course, minimum of 3 s.h.
  • Literary, Visual, and Performing Arts, 1 course, minimum of 3 s.h.
  • Values, Society, and Diversity, 1 course, minimum of 3 s.h.


Your general education courses introduce you to the wide range of studies available in the liberal arts and sciences. Your major lets you focus on a particular area of study in depth. In many majors (e.g., political science, philosophy, and dance), all or most of the required courses come from a single department, but it also is common for a major to include specified course work from several departments (e.g., students in international studies take courses from many departments). If you want to study a field in which a major is not offered, you can work with an interdepartmental studies advisor to develop an individualized major plan.

Double Majors

If you wish to concentrate deeply in two academic areas, you may pursue a double major. To do this, you’ll complete all requirements for two majors that are available in the same degree program, and you’ll receive a single degree with the two majors. Double majors must be completed within a single college of the University.

Double Degrees (CLAS only)

If you decide to complete the requirements for two degree programs (e.g., a BA in dance and a BS in chemistry), you’ll need to satisfy the requirements for both degrees. You’ll be awarded two different bachelor’s degrees.


These are courses you choose to take to round out your degree program. The elective portion of your degree provides opportunities to explore and study something completely different from your major.

Some students use their elective hours to add a minor or certificate to their degree to complete the requirements for a second major.

Electives also can greatly expand the available career paths for what otherwise may be a very specific discipline. For example, business courses can create new career choices for students in the humanities. Writing courses can do the same for those studying the natural sciences.


Minors are optional. As you complete your major, you may choose to include a minor as part of your bachelor’s degree program. You can earn a minor in any area that is distinct from the discipline of your major and which does not duplicate it. 

Certificate Programs

Students who seek thorough preparation in interdisciplinary areas may wish to complete certificate programs in addition to a major. Certificates require at least 18–36 s.h. of prescribed courses.

Iowa offers undergraduate certificates in aging studies; American Indian and native studies; American sign language and deaf studies; critical cultural competence; disability studies; entrepreneurial management; fundraising and philanthropy communication; global health studies; human rights; international business; Latin American studies; leadership studies; medieval studies; museum studies; nonprofit management; performing arts entrepreneurship; public health; risk management and insurance; sustainability; technological entrepreneurship; and writing.

Semester Hours

RankS.H. Earned

A semester hour (s.h.) is a unit of measurement. Each course is worth a certain number of semester hours of credit. This number may correspond roughly to the number of hours spent in class each week.

The semester hours you earn in each course are added to determine your class standing (first-year, sophomore, junior, senior). Bachelors degrees at Iowa range in requirements from 120 s.h. (the Tippie College of Business and most majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) to more than 128 (Engineering and Nursing are 128; the College of Pharmacy is a six-year program; and BM degrees from the School of Music in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences vary).

To do well in your classes, you will need to study—more than you did in high school. Faculty members recommend that you allocate at least two hours of study outside of class for every semester hour of credit. So, if you enroll in a 3 s.h. class, expect to spend six hours each week outside of class reading, studying, and working on class assignments for that course. The model of two study hours out of class for each semester hour of credit means that when you enroll in 15 s.h., you also are making a 30-hour study commitment—a 45-hour work week toward your degree.

Over the course of a week, even a 45-hour commitment can allow for a part-time job, a social life, and other activities. But good time-management skills are very important. This is a subject you’ll want to discuss with your academic advisor.

Many entering students worry about getting behind in the total number of semester hours needed to achieve sophomore standing. Planning with your academic advisor is very important so that you can make a successful transition from high school to college. The transition is measured not just by total semester hours earned but also by your grades and your growing grasp of the University system.

If you don’t make it to sophomore standing by the end of your first two semesters, it’s not necessarily a sign that something is wrong, but you may need to take summer school or heavier course loads later on if you wish to graduate in four years.

Degree Audit

Each student has an individual degree audit on Iowa Student Information Services (ISIS), the online student information system, at The degree audit helps you and your advisor monitor your progress toward graduation by comparing course work you have completed with the course work required for your degree.