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Northwestern University

Substitutions for Distribution Requirements

NOTE: Students who start taking classes at Northwestern after Spring 2023 should refer to Substitutions for Foundational Disciplines. The information below pertains to students who started at Northwestern Spring 2023 or earlier.

Sometimes students want to use courses not on the approved list to fulfill distribution requirements. Please note that certain types of courses may not be used as distribution substitutions, including first-year seminars, senior thesis seminars, independent study courses, and professional linkage seminars. Applied arts courses where the focus is on doing an art (e.g., writing fiction or playing a musical instrument) are excluded from counting toward Area VI-Literature and Fine Arts. Foreign language courses in which the focus is primarily on language skills (speaking, writing, or grammar, for example) should also not be proposed for distribution requirement substitutions.

Read below for descriptions of the types of possible substitutions, using Northwestern courses, that may be requested using the Petition for Substitution for a Distribution Requirement.


  1. Download the petition and fill out the form.
  2. Save the pdf named as: "<Your Last Name>_<Your Student ID>_Distro Substitution"
  3. Submit the completed petition and supporting documentation (see the petition for requirements) to:

See other parts of the Weinberg College webpage for information about transfer credit from study abroad.

courses approved for standard distribution credit after they were completed

Exceptions may be made for students who took a course that was subsequently approved for distribution credit by the Curricular Review Committee.

Combined sections

Sometimes a course not formally approved for distribution requirement credit is co-listed with an approved distribution course (that is, the two courses are taught as a "combined section"). Or, two co-listed courses may be formally approved for different distribution requirement areas. You will only automatically receive the distribution credit associated with your course of enrollment, but you can request to receive the distribution credit associated with the co-listed course.

Substitutions involving pairs of courses 

Sometimes a student has taken two or more Northwestern courses that appear to fit the description of a distribution requirement area, but these courses are not included on the approved distribution course list for that area. The student can request approval to substitute a pair of relevant one-unit Northwestern courses for a single unit of the requirement. For example, a student who has taken several 300-level religious studies courses, but has completed only one approved Ethics and Values course, may request permission to count two relevant religious studies courses, considered together, as completing the remaining requirement.

Substitutions due to extreme schedule constraints

Courses are placed on the approved distribution course list only after being proposed for inclusion by the offering department or program and then scrutinized and approved by the College's Curricular Review Committee. Thus, the situations in which permission can be given to count a single non-approved course are extremely limited. These sometimes involve showing that unusual circumstances prevent you from fulfilling the requirement with a regularly approved course. Any claim that you cannot fulfill the distribution requirements in the usual way must be accompanied by evidence that other required courses will fill all future spaces in your schedule.


Interschool Exceptions

For guidance on what courses are eligible exceptions for students who have completed an inter-school transfer or are in a dual-degree program please refer to the listed standard exceptions.

NOTE: Students who start taking classes at Northwestern after Spring 2023 should refer to Substitutions for Foundational Disciplines and Overlays. The information above pertains to students who started at Northwestern Spring 2023 or earlier.

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