USC requires all incoming freshmen to enroll in a General Education Seminar during their first year at the University. These courses are limited to 19 incoming undergraduates and earn credit in one of the six Core Literacies of the General Education Program. General Education Seminars are identified with the GESM prefix and a number indicating which category requirement each class fulfills.



  • Like all courses in the Arts category of the General Education program, GESM 110g and 111g aim to provide holistic engagement with the essential body of knowledge in each discipline, which may differ among classes offered by the Schools of Architecture, Cinematic Arts, Dance, Dramatic Arts, Fine Arts, Music, and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. To maintain a similar degree of rigor, all sections of GESM 110g and 111g will meet the following standards:

    1. Each course will contain at least four of the five Learning Objectives ascribed to the Arts category, which are: Analysis, Making, Connectivity Context and Engagement.
    2. Research and study will focus on primary sources, and their cultural context.
    3. Each course will have a reading requirement appropriate to a four unit course and to the type of material being discussed: for example, about 150-200 pages of fiction per week, or one Shakespeare play, or 100-120 pages of contextual material, taking into account other viewing or creative assignments that take place out of class time.
    4. In addition to the course examinations, there must be at least three graded assignments, two of which must involve critical/analytical writing.
    5. Examinations are not to be considered an assignment. All examinations will be in an essay format, and a written examination must also be required if a creative project is a final course requirement. Creative projects must be accompanied by some form of critical commentary or analysis.

  • Like all course in the Humanistic Inquiry category, GESM 120g and 121g address central and important questions about the human condition, creative achievements of the mind, or influential and long lasting actions or events in human history.  Courses can be taught from a particular disciplinary perspective, such as literature, history, philosophy or linguistics.  However, all courses must be addressed to a non-specialized audience, and course materials should not presuppose prior familiarity with the discipline in question.

    • Courses must engage with topics discussed at reasonable depth and rigor. Similarly, courses are encouraged to cover a wide range of topics within their subject matter, but there is no requirement to avoid a single-author focus, as long as the single author in question has had a foundational impact on the relevant field.
    • Courses in this category should encourage students to develop tools for independent critical thinking, while maintaining high standards of analytical and scholarly rigor.
    • Courses in this category should utilize primary sources of scholarship in the relevant discipline, employing significant textual resources that students would need to understand and critically analyze. The use of secondary literature should be minimal.
    • In addition, courses in this category must meet the following requirements:
    • All courses must include at least one significant written assignment during the term and a final written examination. Courses are strongly encouraged to have a midterm exam as well.
    • All courses must require a reasonable amount of reading material from week to week, depending on the difficulty of the relevant texts.
  • Like all courses in the Social Analysis category, all sections of GESM 130g and 131g provide students with a rigorous intellectual experience with high academic expectations and demanding standards of performance in relationship to grading and course content.

    Some courses will take an explicitly problem-driven approach, exploring a specific social issue, rather than having a single disciplinary focus. However, all courses must be designed to meet the category’s learning objectives. After completing this requirement students will be able to:

    • Apply methods of social analysis from at least one social science discipline to the study of human behavior and experience in economic, political, cultural and/or social settings;
    • Understand the nature of empirical evidence and assess the usefulness of qualitative and/or quantitative evidence in explaining specific social phenomena; and
    •  Demonstrate an understanding of the interplay between human action and organizations, institutions, and/or social and cultural settings.
    • In addition, GESM 130g and 131g requires:
      • A total of 12 hours of work weekly by all students.
      • A minimum of 12-15 pages in written assignments over the course of the semester, exclusive of examinations.
      • A final examination. A midterm examination is strongly recommended. All examinations are expected to be in essay format as opposed to true/false or multiple choice formats.
      • Roughly 100 pages of reading per week, although the number of pages may vary with the difficulty of the reading content.
    • All courses must require that students complete at least one analytical paper or report using social science tools and skills.
    • Courses are required to take a social analytic approach, roughly reflecting the idea of social science as the study of society through the examination of how people behave and influence the world.
    • Courses will come primarily, but not solely, from Dornsife departments and USC professional schools employing social science expertise; drawing on disciplines such as anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology.
  • All courses in Life Sciences train students in understanding the basic concepts and theories of science and scientific methods, with emphasis on the impact of science and technology on society, health, and the environment. Students should acquire substantive knowledge in science and technology, understand how scientists investigate scientific questions, and be able to articulate basic principles that explain natural phenomena.

    GE Seminars in the Life Sciences should facilitate the students’ ability to:

    • Use and understand scientific methods to analyze ideas and obtain and interpret data, with particular reference to quantitative methods.

    • Appreciate the differences between scientific laws, theories, hypotheses, and speculation.

    • Think critically about historical and contemporary issues in science and technology, and how they impact society.

    • Clearly communicate scientific findings to culturally diverse audiences.

    GE Seminars in Life Sciences explore aspects of biological and/or environmental science with both descriptive and quantitative approaches. These classes develop a broad context of research approaches to our understanding of living systems, and may involve field, hands-on, and laboratory-based problem solving, but separate laboratory sections are not required.

  • The physical sciences deal with analysis of natural phenomena through quantitative description and synthesis. Students learn to solve scientific problems and to understand the processes by which scientific knowledge is obtained, evaluated and placed in the context of societal relevance.

    GE Seminars in Physical Sciences train students to understand the basic concepts and theories of science and the scientific method, with a major emphasis on the impact science has on society and the environment. Students learn about the process and methods underlying scientific inquiry and how to obtain accurate experimental results; they are trained in formulating empirically- testable hypotheses and develop a basis for understanding the distinction between unsupported assertions versus conclusions based on sound scientific reasoning. As a result, all students should acquire substantive knowledge in science and technology, understand the processes by which scientists investigate and answer scientific questions, and be able to articulate the basic principles used to explain natural phenomena.

    All GE Seminars in Physical Sciences facilitate the students’ ability to:

    • Use and understand the scientific method to analyze ideas and obtain knowledge, with particular reference to quantitative methods.

    • Appreciate the difference between scientific laws, theories, hypotheses, and speculation.

    • Think critically about historical and contemporary issues in science and technology, and how they have and do impact society.

    • Draw conclusions from empirical scientific data and communicate logically and clearly

      experimental results and observations to others.

    • Place scientific results, strategies and initiatives in the context of useful societal outcomes

    A section of laboratory or field experience is required in which students collect, analyze, interpret and present their data.

  • All General Education Seminars that meet the Quantitative Reasoning requirement respect the following guidelines:

    All courses in this category analyze, formulate, or employ a mode of thought amenable to symbolic or diagrammatic representation. The objects of inquiry may arise from natural or social phenomena, or from creative or artificial processes that can be modeled formally or analyzed empirically. All courses should be crafted to meet the following conditions:

    1. Through exercises, problem sets, projects, presentations, and tests, students must demonstrate proficiency in the three fundamental learning objectives enumerated above:
      a. critical thinking
      b. logical integrity, and
      c. application to appropriate phenomena or processes.
    2. An emphasis should be placed on the use of reasoning beyond a straightforward description of processes or events.
    3. Where appropriate, opportunities should be afforded students to apply these methods to problems relevant to their own field.
    4. The types and balance of student work found in a given course is expected to vary greatly depending upon the discipline and approach, but the volume of work should be equivalent to a mathematics course with weekly problem sets and periodic tests. The emphasis should be placed on regular, evaluated assignments.


    Additionally, a course in this category should fall within at least one of three overlapping areas, and should satisfy the enumerated objectives particular to its type:


    Formal Reasoning

    Courses in this area should aim to teach students to understand the structure of a logical system and to distinguish between the axioms upon which this system is founded and their implications. A course in this area should help students to gain familiarity with deductive reasoning, to understand the relationship between objects of analysis within the system, as well as to apply this knowledge to analyzing and formulating other problems in this and other areas. Examples of this area include symbolic and other forms of logic. Many areas of mathematics are also primarily concerned with this area.


    Abstract Representation

    Courses in this area should teach students how to create and use symbolic or diagrammatic representations of natural, social, or artificial processes, systems, or phenomena. Students learn to understand the components and structure of a formal model of a process, system, or phenomenon; to gain experience with constructing formal models of complex processes, systems, or phenomena; and to use formal models to evaluate conditional, predictive, or factual claims about processes, systems, or phenomena. Examples of this area include certain branches of linguistics and systems analysis, and may also include semiotics, and certain aspects of music theory.


    Empirical Analysis

    Courses in this area should teach students to understand and manipulate quantitative and/or statistical data in order to gain insight into or model a natural or social phenomenon. They should also train students to make useful and rational inferences based on these data and to evaluate their significance. Some of the key objects of learning for courses in this area should include probability, uncertainties, correlations and causation. A course in this area should also help students develop these skills to formulate rational models to understand problems and processes in this and similar areas. Examples of this area include a broad array of statistics courses in a variety of disciplines.

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