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A Common Experience for All Undergraduates


  1. Spark Seminar
  2. Written Communication
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Language
  5. Crossroads
  6. Writing in the Discipline
  7. Culminating Experience
  8. Approaches to Knowledge
  9. Intellectual Experience Badges

UC Merced’s General Education program engages students with the values, practices, and contributions of a research university to provide a framework for integrative learning in the context of the culturally and economically diverse Central Valley. In tandem with the major and the co-curriculum, General Education supports students in achieving the Hallmarks of the Baccalaureate Degree at UC Merced. It nurtures the spirit of inquiry, building students’ knowledge of disciplines, cultures, and perspectives. General Education (GE) fosters collaboration, communication, and ethical action. It empowers students to share their learning and skills to address the local and global challenges of an interconnected, changing world.

The GE program is designed to extend over four years for all UC Merced undergraduates, regardless of major, and there is some point of student contact with GE in every year:

  • Year One: Students will take a Spark seminar, which explores the nature of inquiry through multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives and experiences.
  • Year Two: As part of their “jumpstart” meeting with their academic advisor, students will propose a plan for meeting their educational goals, including coursework in GE, their major, minor, as well as co-curricular experiences. This encourages students to take ownership of their own intellectual growth.
  • Year Three: Students will take an upper division “Crossroads” course that brings the perspectives of two disciplines to bear on a particular topic. The Crossroads course allows students to see how two different disciplines approach a shared issue or problem, from evidence to evaluation.
  • Year Four: Students have a culminating integrative experience in their major. The culminating experience in the major provides an opportunity to integrate students’ studies in GE and in the major. The culminating experience may include, but is not limited to, a capstone class, a senior seminar, a service learning project, a portfolio, or a thesis.

The common courses in the first and third years provide a foundation for integrative work across the curriculum and for more focused study in the major. These shared courses are supplemented by courses that introduce students to major Approaches to Knowledge, and a range of Intellectual Experience Badges that allow students to engage with a range of topics and analytical methods.

Lower Division Common Course Requirements

I. Spark Seminar 

The Spark Seminar introduces first-year students to life at a research university. They ask students to focus on the nature of inquiry by exploring a particular topic over the course of the semester, engaging with campus and local resources, generating research questions, and presenting original ideas in writing and other forms of communication. Topics will be broad enough to be viewed from multiple perspectives, but focused enough to engage with the issues of the topic in some depth. Topics will be related to an area of research and/or interest to the instructor allowing students to engage with a faculty member who is sharing his or her expertise and passions. Spark seminars may be taken concurrently with either WRI 001 or WRI 010. Spark seminars may not be used to count toward any other course requirements (e.g., GE, minor, major, concentration). PLO1, PLO2, PLO3

  • SPRK 001: Spark Seminar

II. Written Communication

Designed to help students develop college-level skills in effective use of language, analysis and argumentation, organization, and strategies for creation, revision and editing. PLO3

  • WRI 010: Written Communication

III. Quantitative Reasoning

For some students, mathematics and statistics will be an essential tool for mastering a field in depth. Others will build ability to understand how quantitative methods are applied in society to support arguments and solve problems. PLO2

  • ECON 010: Statistical Inference
  • MATH 011: Calculus I
  • MATH 021: Calculus I for Physical Sciences and Engineering
  • PHIL 005: Introduction to Logic
  • POLI 010: Understanding Political Controversies
  • PSY 010: Analysis of Psychological Data
  • SOC 010: Statistics of Sociology

IV. Language

The study of language exposes students to different ways of structuring thought. Students can complete the language requirement one of four ways. PLO3, PLO4

  1. Coursework: Complete one of the following courses.
    • BIOE 021: Computing for Bioengineers
    • CHN 002: Elementary Chinese II
    • CSE 020: Introduction to Computing I
    • CSE 021: Introduction to Computing II
    • CSE 022: Introduction to Programming
    • FRE 002: Elementary French II
    • JPN 002: Elementary Japanese II
    • ME 021: Engineering Computing
    • SPAN 002: Elementary Spanish II
    • SPAN 010: Spanish for Heritage Speakers I
    • SPAN 011: Spanish for Heritage Speakers II
    • Select UC Education Abroad Program Options: Completing a specific language and culture program or course through UC Education Abroad Program.
  2. Campus based test: Passing the campus-administered Foreign Language test demonstrating proficiency equivalent of one year of college foreign language
  3. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exams: Earning appropriate score on an AP/IB Exam.
    • Score of 3, 4 or 5 on one of the following College Board AP exams: Chinese Language and Culture, French Language and Culture, German Language and Culture, Italian Language and Culture, Japanese Language and Culture, and Spanish Language and Culture; or
    • Score of 5, 6 or 7 on one of the Higher Level IB exam in a foreign language or literature; or
    • Score of 3, 4 or 5 on the College Board AP Exam in Computer Science A.
  4. High School Coursework: Completing the third year of one language in high school with a course GPA of at least C.

Upper Division Common Course Requirements

I. Crossroads Course

Like the Spark Seminar, the Crossroads course will focus on a specific topic but from an interdisciplinary perspective. It emphasizes different, yet complementary, disciplinary approaches, methods, and assumptions, and provides students with an opportunity for research and analysis. PLO1, PLO2, PLO3, PLO4

A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

II. Writing in the Discipline

This upper division requirement can be satisfied either with a designated writing course or a writing-intensive course in the major. The focus is on how to write for a particular field. A one-credit lab course attached to another course may also satisfy this requirement if the primary focus of the lab is writing. PLO3

A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

III. Culminating Experience

Intended to be completed as part of the major, the Culminating Experience requirement may be fulfilled through a traditional capstone course, senior or advanced seminar, service-learning course, portfolio, or other methods program faculty choose to integrate learning in the program. PLO1, PLO2, PLO3, PLO4, PLO5

A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

Approaches to Knowledge

Courses in this area introduce students to the different ways disciplines (and broad branches of knowledge) ask questions and think about the world. All courses will include a project that can be uploaded to an ePortfolio. The Approaches to Knowledge requirement is divided into two areas: Area A and Area B. Students are required to take three courses in each area, for a total of six courses. These courses are intended to also count towards major requirements. PLO1, PLO2

I. AREA A: Natural and Engineering Science. Students must take three courses in the area of Natural and Engineering Science. At least one course must be from Natural Sciences and one course must be from Engineering Sciences.

Natural Science: A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

Engineering Science:  A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

II. AREA B: Social Science, Arts and Humanities. Students must take three courses in the area of Social Science, Arts and Humanities. At least one course must be from Social Science and one course must be from Arts and Humanities.

Social Science:  A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

Arts and Humanities:  A complete list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here

Intellectual Experience Badges

To emphasize the ways GE is part of the entire curriculum, at least three of the courses used to fulfill Intellectual Experience Badges must be upper division*.These required Badges can be achieved in courses, including required Approaches to Knowledge courses, Crossroads courses, courses in the major and elective courses. Courses and co-curricular activities can be used to satisfy more than one Intellectual Experiences Badges. The required Intellectual Experiences Badges are:

* NOTE: The three upper divison badge requirement and the Quantitative and Numerical Analysis badge have been waived for the Academic Year 2021-2022.

  1. Scientific Method: Learn how the scientific method leads to new knowledge about the natural world by correcting and integrating previous knowledge using empirical evidence. PLO1, PLO2
  2. Literary and Textual Analysis: Learn how language creates meaning and ambiguity. PLO1, PLO2, PLO3
  3. Media and Visual Analysis: Explore how media and images create, shape, and express meaning. PLO1, PLO2, PLO3
  4. Quantitative and Numerical Analysis: Evaluate data and develop quantitative reasoning skills. PLO2, PLO3
  5. Societies and Cultures of the Past: Explore the interactions between multiple dimensions of past societies. PLO4
  6. Diversity and Identity: Consider how multiple kinds of difference—ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual—impact individuals and societies in the past and present. PLO4, PLO5
  7. Global Awareness: Learn about environments, cultures, and issues in nations and regions outside the US. PLO4, PLO5
  8. Sustainability: Explore the ways in which humans affect and are affected by the natural world. PLO4, PLO5
  9. Ethics: Investigate the ethical implications of research, policy, or behavior. PLO1, PLO5

Note: In the past, it was possible to earn badges with co-curricular activities. This option will no longer be available beginning fall of 2021.

*The information below only pertains to students admitted as freshmen after Fall 2018 and students admitted as transfer students beginning Fall 2020. Students who entered UC Merced prior to these terms should contact their academic advising unit for reciprocity information.

Students who complete all lower-division General Education requirements prior to transferring to another UC campus are eligible to receive a Letter of Reciprocity from the Division of Undergraduate Education. Students who have not completed all General Education requirements at the time of transfer must complete the General Education requirements subject to the regulations of the campus to which they transfer (Academic Senate Regulation 502).

If you have questions about your eligibility for a Letter of Reciprocity, please contact your academic advisor.

To request an official Letter of Reciprocity, please complete the web-form. You will be required to update a PDF of your UC Merced MyDegreePath. Letters will be mailed within two weeks of a complete submission, to the address provided.


Last updated: 3.18.21