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Northwestern University

Rules and Policies for Distribution Requirements

Distribution requirements can be filled in any of the following ways. Jump to various guidelines for these options:

In some situations, an exception may be made or special rules may apply.

Approved Northwestern courses

The distribution areas are defined by intellectual criteria, and many departments offer courses in more than one area. For example, the Anthropology department offers courses that count toward Social and Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences, Formal Studies, Historical Studies, and Ethics and Values.

Grades in distribution courses

Courses taken at other colleges and universities

Courses taken at other colleges and universities cannot generally be used to fulfill distribution requirements. This includes college-level courses you may have taken before you entered Northwestern as a first-year student. (See the guidelines for transfer credits for entering freshmen.)

However, there are two types of exceptions to this rule, and you can discuss these with your College Adviser.

Study abroad

If you study abroad with College approval, you may be able to count a limited number of your study abroad courses toward your distribution requirements. Students can receive a maximum of one unit of distribution credit for each study abroad term, up to a maximum of two units. The two units must be in different distribution requirement areas.

Read about applying study abroad credits toward these requirements.

Some Northwestern-run study abroad programs offer courses with Northwestern course numbers. See if such courses count toward distribution requirements by reviewing the lists of Northwestern courses approved for distribution requirement credit. 

Transfer students

If you transferred to Northwestern from another college or university, some of your transferred courses may count toward distribution requirements. Read rules and policies for transfer credit.

AP/IB credit

A maximum of two of the 12 courses you count toward your distribution requirements can be credits you earned through AP or higher-level IB testing. Each of these must be in a different distribution requirement area. Your adviser will also be able to help you think about how your AP credits can shape your academic plan. CAESAR does not automatically slot AP credits in for distros. You can do this yourself through the main menu options on CAESAR. Review qualifying AP and IB scores for your entering class.

School of Professional Studies (SPS) courses

Some courses approved for distribution requirement credit are also taught through Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies (SPS). Any course on the list of approved distribution requirement courses counts toward these requirements in the same way, whether you take it through SPS or in another Northwestern school. 

SPS courses not on an approved list are subject to the usual rules for substitutions for distribution requirements.

Review additional rules and policies related to taking SPS courses.

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