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What Does Open Curriculum Mean?

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    Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you want to know “what does open curriculum mean?” An open curriculum allows students greater flexibility in regard to course selection. Rather than have strict course requirements, especially in terms of general education, open curriculum colleges encourage students to design a course schedule tailored to their specific interests. This empowers students to take greater initiative and feel more responsible for their unique education path. 

    It’s worth noting that open curriculum colleges still have general education requirements and courses for declared majors; these requirements will be less rigid, however, and will vary from school to school. That being said, regardless of specifics, there is considerable room for students to select courses based on passion and curiosity at open curriculum schools. 

    With guidance from academic advisors, students can pursue their goals and interests in a unique and highly personalized way. This is particularly beneficial for students interested in interdisciplinary work. Overall, the open curriculum model gives students the freedom to study what excites them while gaining a well-rounded education. This allows for a more personalized college experience, focused on intellectual discovery and personal growth.

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    What is the difference between an open curriculum and a core curriculum?

    open curriculum Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive in a bit further. What’s a core curriculum? And how is it different from an open curriculum?

    A core curriculum refers to a set of college courses that all students are required to complete, regardless of their major. Typical core curriculum requirements include classes in writing, math, sciences, humanities, arts, history, social sciences, and diversity studies. For example, a Literature major may be required to take introductory courses in biology, economics, and world religions — regardless of their individual interests.

    Colleges with core curriculums believe that taking a variety of subjects fosters critical thinking skills while providing students with a strong educational foundation. Conversely, open curriculum schools believe that students should have more agency and flexibility in regards to their schedules. Neither model is right or wrong. It all comes down to preference and educational philosophy.

    Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive in a bit further. What’s a core curriculum? And how is it different from an open curriculum?

    A core curriculum refers to a set of college courses that all students are required to complete, regardless of their major. Typical core curriculum requirements include classes in writing, math, sciences, humanities, arts, history, social sciences, and diversity studies. For example, a Literature major may be required to take introductory courses in biology, economics, and world religions — regardless of their individual interests.

    Colleges with core curriculums believe that taking a variety of subjects fosters critical thinking skills while providing students with a strong educational foundation. Conversely, open curriculum schools believe that students should have more agency and flexibility in regards to their schedules. Neither model is right or wrong. It all comes down to preference and educational philosophy.

    open curriculum

    Pros of open curriculum schools

    At this point, you may have an inkling about what educational model you prefer: colleges with core curriculums or colleges with open curriculums. That being said, we should probably explore some more specifics before you make up your mind completely. 

    Let’s start with some of the pros of open curriculum schools:

    • Students can design a personalized course of study.
    • Students have greater agency and flexibility when selecting courses.
    • An open curriculum fosters independence and creativity.
    • Students are more likely to take courses they enjoy.
    • Students can pursue a double major or a minor more easily.
    • Greater flexibility may mean a student can study abroad, pursue an internship, or maybe even graduate early.
    • Transferring to an open curriculum school may mean that more of your credits transfer.

    • Open curriculums require greater mentorship from professors and advisors.
    • Open curriculums may be more accommodating of individual learning styles.

    Open curriculum colleges can be a great fit for students who have a clear understanding of their educational and career goals. Check out the following articles on college majors so that you can reflect on your own goals: What Is a College Major and How to Choose One and Does Your Major Affect Your College Acceptance?.  

    Cons of open curriculum schools

    While there are lots of advantages when it comes to open curriculums, there are disadvantages as well. Consider some of the cons of open curriculum schools listed below: 

    • Students may feel overwhelmed with how many options are available to them.
    • Students may struggle with the lack of structure and may feel like they need more direction.
    • Students might miss out on a subject that they could be really passionate about.
    • Students may avoid taking challenging courses, opting to stay inside their comfort zone instead.
    • Students may avoid taking classes that challenge their biases and foster critical thinking skills; as a result, they may not receive a well-rounded education.

    Students who decide to transfer to a school with a core curriculum model may have difficulty transferring credits.

    List of 30 open curriculum colleges

    So, what colleges have an open curriculum? Check out these 30 open curriculum universities and colleges. If you’re interested in the open curriculum at Brown, check out our article: How To Get Into Brown University: Complete Guide. For more information about the remaining colleges, click on the websites listed in the table below. 

    Responsive College Table with Visible Scrollbar
    College Location Undergraduate Population Overall Acceptance Rate Tuition and Fees
    Amherst CollegeAmherst, MA1,8987%$67,280
    Brown UniversityProvidence, RI7,6395%$68,230
    CUNYNew York City, NY11,92962%$7,340 (in-state)
    California College of the ArtsSan Francisco, CA1,24978%$57,946
    Colorado CollegeColorado Springs, CO2,24114%$65,028
    The Evergreen State CollegeOlympia, WA1,87196%$8,965 (in-state)
    Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA1,75911%$64,862
    Hamilton CollegeClinton, NY2,07512%$65,740
    Hampshire CollegeAmherst, MA50869%$56,990
    Hanover CollegeHanover, IN95174%$41,441
    Indiana University BloomingtonBloomington, IN35,66082%$11,790 (in-state)
    James Madison UniversityHarrisonburg, VA20,34678%$13,576 (in-state)
    Lesley UniversityCambridge, MA1,75787%$31,364
    NYU Gallatin School of Individualized StudyNew York City, NY1,60030%$54,516
    Oberlin College and ConservatoryOberlin, OH2,98635%$64,646
    Sarah Lawrence CollegeBronxville, NY1,46250%$63,678
    Smith CollegeNorthampton, MA2,52323%$61,568
    St. Olaf CollegeNorthfield, MN3,04656%$56,970
    Swarthmore CollegeSwarthmore, PA1,6257%$62,412
    University of MinnesotaMinneapolis, MN39,24875%$16,488 (in-state)
    University of California, BerkeleyBerkeley, CA32,83111%$15,891 (in-state)
    University of California, San DiegoLa Jolla, CA33,09624%$16,056 (in-state)
    University of MarylandCollege Park, MD30,35344%$11,505 (in-state)
    University of MichiganAnn Arbor, MI32,69518%$17,786 (in-state)
    University of RochesterRochester, NY6,76739%$64,384
    University of WashingtonSeattle, WA36,87248%$12,643 (in-state)
    Vassar CollegePoughkeepsie, NY2,45919%$67,805
    Wake Forest UniversityWinston-Salem, NC5,44721%$64,758
    Warren Wilson CollegeAsheville, NC72384%$40,290
    Wesleyan UniversityMiddletown, CT3,06914%$67,016

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    There are lots of advantages to attending an open curriculum school. Students are given more agency, creativity, and greater overall flexibility. This flexibility may allow students to pursue a double major, college minor, internship, or study abroad experience. That being said, all of these possibilities are still possible at core curriculum colleges; they just might be a bit more difficult. Open curriculum schools may be a great fit for students who value independence and thrive in self-directed settings. Students who benefit from having more structure and guidance may prefer attending a school with a core curriculum, as opposed to an open curriculum. 

    For more information on how to find a school that’s the best fit for your individual needs, check out our article, College Search Process: Finding the Right University or College For You. You may also be interested in reviewing our College Planning Checklist For Seniors.

    open curriculum

    open curriculum There are lots of advantages to attending an open curriculum school. Students are given more agency, creativity, and greater overall flexibility. This flexibility may allow students to pursue a double major, college minor, internship, or study abroad experience. That being said, all of these possibilities are still possible at core curriculum colleges; they just might be a bit more difficult. Open curriculum schools may be a great fit for students who value independence and thrive in self-directed settings. Students who benefit from having more structure and guidance may prefer attending a school with a core curriculum, as opposed to an open curriculum. 

    For more information on how to find a school that’s the best fit for your individual needs, check out our article, College Search Process: Finding the Right University or College For You. You may also be interested in reviewing our College Planning Checklist For Seniors.

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