A guide to what college rankings don't tell you.

Rating Criteria

What Will They Learn?® rates each institution on how many of seven core subjects are required in the core curriculum or general education program. The subjects are: Composition, Literature, (intermediate-level) Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. The grade is based on a detailed examination of the latest publicly-available online course catalogs at the time of review.

If a subject is merely one of several options (as is often the case with “distribution requirements”), or if a subject is optional for students in either the B.A. or B.S. program, the college or university does not receive credit. The intent is always to determine what institutions require of their students, not what they merely offer or suggest. What Will They Learn?® also does not grant credit for a subject if the institution uses SAT or ACT scores to exempt students from coursework, since an examination of high school-level skills should not be used to fulfill collegiate requirements.

Preparing Students for Career and Citizenship

A Council of Scholars set appropriate standards and criteria for What Will They Learn?® They defined competency in each of the seven subjects as follows:



An introductory college writing class that emphasizes some or all of the following topics: mechanics, style, grammar, usage, argument, rhetoric, research, expository writing, understanding of tone and audience, editing, revision, rewriting, and an understanding of academic writing conventions. University-administered exams or portfolios are acceptable only when they are used to determine exceptional pre-college preparation for students.

Remedial courses may not be used to satisfy a Composition requirement. Writing-intensive courses, “writing across the curriculum” seminars, and writing for a discipline are not acceptable unless there is an indication of clear provisions for multiple writing assignments, instructor feedback, revision and resubmission of student writing, and explicit language concerning the mechanics of formal writing. Creative writing, social media writing, and oral communication courses do not count.

Students can satisfy this requirement with AP, IB, or CLEP test scores but not SAT or ACT scores.



A comprehensive literature survey or a selection of courses of which a clear majority are surveys and the remainder are literary in nature, although single-author or theme-based in structure. Freshman seminars, humanities sequences, or other specialized courses that include a substantial literature survey component count.

Film, creative writing, children’s literature, and comic book/graphic novel courses do not receive credit.


Foreign Language

Competency at the intermediate level, defined as at least three semesters of college-level study in any foreign language. Credit is also awarded to schools that require two semesters each of college-level study in two different ancient languages.

This requirement must apply to all liberal arts degrees, without distinction between B.A. and B.S. degrees, or individual majors within these degrees. Cultural courses do not receive credit.


U.S. Government or History

A survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and/or topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions. Rigorous state- or university-administered exams are accepted for credit.

Courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region do not count for the requirement. Courses about American culture do not count for credit either.



A course covering basic economic principles, preferably an introductory micro- or macroeconomics course taught by faculty from the economics or business department.

Business administration/management and personal finance courses do not count for this requirement.



A college-level course in mathematics. Specific topics may vary, but must involve study beyond the level of intermediate algebra and cover topics beyond those typical of a college-preparatory high school curriculum. Courses in formal or symbolic logic, computer science with significant programming, and linguistics involving formal analysis count.

Remedial courses may not be used as substitutes. Courses on personal finance and mathematics for elementary education (unless restricted to education majors) do not satisfy this requirement.

Students can satisfy this requirement with AP, IB, or CLEP test scores but not SAT or ACT scores.


Natural Science

A course in astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, physical geography, physics, or environmental science, preferably with a laboratory component. Psychology courses count if they are focused on the biological, chemical, or neuroscientific aspects of the field.

Overly narrow courses, courses with weak scientific content, and courses taught by faculty outside of the science departments do not count. Courses that focus on policy, cultural portrayal, or the history of science do not receive credit either.

Students can satisfy this requirement with AP, IB, or CLEP test scores but not SAT or ACT scores.


If a requirement exists from which students choose between otherwise qualifying courses within two What Will They Learn?® subject areas (e.g., math or science, history or economics, etc.), one-half credit is given for each subject.

With these criteria in mind, we assign grades based on how many of the seven subjects students are required to complete.

The grading system is as follows:

A 6–7 core subjects required

B 4–5 core subjects required

C 3 core subjects required

D 2 core subjects required

F 0–1 core subjects required