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Colby-Sawyer Academics

The Colby-Sawyer academic experience blends the liberal arts and sciences with professional experience to prepare students for careers and graduate studies. Students work closely with the faculty and staff who become their mentors, and emerge as active learners and confident scholars, artists, writers, scientists, critical thinkers and community leaders.

Colby-Sawyer students take an active role in designing their own education from their very first semester, starting by choosing a theme-based, interdisciplinary First-Year Symposium. The symposium, which is the foundation of the college's Liberal Education Program, allows a group of first-year students to explore the topic with a faculty member before heading in their chosen academic directions. At the same time, students develop the writing, reading and thinking skills necessary for success in college and beyond.

Our Liberal Education Program allows students to discover and develop their talents across academic disciplines, and to record their progress and accomplishments in electronic portfolios. They expand their academic horizons and serve their communities by doing required work in these areas:

Academic Proficiencies

Proficiency in writing and quantitative literacy is vital for students performing college-level work, and will remain so long after graduation.


The writing proficiency initiates students into the rigors and rewards of academic writing. Through assignments which include the academic argument, the research paper, and the personal essay, the required Writing course builds solid foundations in areas critical to written work at the college level and beyond.

Quantitative Literacy

The quantitative literacy proficiency is fulfilled by a variety of mathematics courses and teaches students the necessary skills to understand and use quantitative information in their personal and professional lives. The ability to display quantitative information is also an effective communication skill. Skills acquired in the quantitative literacy proficiency course in mathematics are reinforced through our program to enhance quantitative literacy across the curriculum.

First-Year Symposium

At Colby-Sawyer, students develop the ability to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines. Liberally educated individuals are those who demonstrate strong thinking skills, empowered learning, and intellectual curiosity. Our liberal education curriculum provides students with the model for successful college-level work and supports the foundation for learning in the major area of study.

Students choose a First-Year Symposium in their first semester based on interest in the theme. The First-Year Symposium introduces students to the demands and pleasures of rigorous intellectual endeavors and helps them develop good habits of the mind necessary for college-level work; and develops students' abilities to work collaboratively in a community of learners, and helps them appreciate the interconnectedness of knowledge from disciplines across the breadth of human experience.

Exploration Areas

All Colby-Sawyer students explore subjects across the curriculum to broaden their knowledge in areas outside their major. Some exploration courses may also fulfill requirements in the major. Students choose one course from each of the following areas.

Fine and Performing Arts

Study of the arts helps students understand how artists create works in a studio environment or on stage. Select from options in Art, Media Studies, Dance, Music, Theatre, and Creative Writing.


The humanities explore the nature and meaning of human existence. Select from options in English, Humanities, Philosophy, Religion and Women's Studies.


Literature courses focus on a body of imaginative texts and challenge students to reflect on their own lives through encounters with literary themes. Select from options in English.


The study of science offers students an introduction to the use of the scientific method to formulate and test hypotheses in a broad, interdisciplinary context. Select from laboratory course options in Biology, Environmental Studies, Chemistry, and Physics.

Social Sciences

The study of the social sciences helps students explore the relationship between personal and social worlds and develop responsibility for themselves as well as the broader society in which they live. Select from options in Business Administration, Economics, Education, Political Studies, Psychology, and Sociology.


History courses help students understand the development of political, economic and social institutions and the evolution of contemporary social issues. Select from options in American Studies, Art History, and History.

Learning Portfolios

The college years go by faster than any first-year student would imagine, and the Learning Portfolio is an opportunity to exhibit personal and professional growth, as well as to record how the student meets Colby-Sawyer's learning outcomes. Student portfolios include reflections on a range of experiences across the major, the Liberal Education Program, and the college.

The Learning Portfolio also provides the college with one way to assess the effectiveness of our academic programs.

Across the College

Colby-Sawyer's approach to education recognizes that engaged learning takes place in and outside the classroom and that it is a lifelong adventure. Facets of the educational process – the courses, the learning portfolio, advising, and co-curricular activities – combine to achieve the learning outcomes which reflect the college's mission and values.


Students are introduced to the college experience in the Orientation program. In addition to social events and co-curricular programming, the orientation program introduces students to the academic environment of higher education in general and of Colby-Sawyer in particular.

Residential Life

Programming in the residence halls focuses on helping students become more independent. Students have opportunities to explore various aspects of campus and community activities, and to make connections with students, faculty and staff.

Leadership Development

We encourage students to develop leadership skills through clubs and organizations, internships and other career development experiences, in the residence halls and classrooms, in athletics and recreation, and in other co-curricular activities.

Experiential Learning

We encourage students to participate in study away, alternative spring breaks, internships, clubs, community council, and community service to foster the application of learning and the development of social responsibility.

Career Planning

Students are encouraged to take advantage of a variety of career exploration activities, including skill assessment, making career choices, resume building, job search tools, interview skills, networking and professional etiquette. Seniors are helped to transition from our college community to the communities of work and/or advanced study.