Pros and Cons of the Open Curriculum

Some students feel stifled by the academic requirements in high school. The students are often required to take courses in math, science, history, literature, and a foreign language each year. This often leaves little time to engage their curiosities and passions. As a result, many of these students will seek out colleges that have open curricula. Institutions that employ open curricula do not place restrictions of the courses students can take. They do not have to fulfill general education, core, or distribution requirements in order to graduate. Though many majors and departments have their own requirements, the college or university as a whole does not.

To many students, the idea of being able to completely direct their own learning is exciting and liberating, but to others it’s frightening. To help you examine if an open curriculum is right for you, take a look at some of the pros and cons below:


  • Freedom to take any classes that interest you As discussed above, the environment of colleges with open curricula often stands in sharp contrast with the environment of high school. The ability to take risks, try any course, and dive into any passion head-first is both exciting and liberating.
  • Minimal prerequisites Many colleges with open curricula have minimal prerequisites. This opens doors for students to take exciting courses immediately when they arrive on campus. Students aren’t stuck with 2 or 3 semesters of mostly introductory classes. This flexibility allows students to be intellectually stimulated for all of their time in college.
  • Supports independence Open curriculum colleges trust their students to take charge of their own learning. This responsibility can empower students to become their own advocates and learn about themselves. They are forced to understand what they want and not what someone else requires.


  • Great responsibility As the cliche goes, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” This responsibility can be overwhelming to many students. They don’t know where to begin when they arrive on campus in the fall. Students who aren’t sure they can handle burden may wish to seek a college whose academics are a bit more structured.
  • Requires a high level of organization Students who have difficulty organizing themselves may struggle to succeed at a college with an open curriculum. They must invest a significant amount of time and energy planning when they will take the courses they wish to take. Students who do not spend enough time planning will likely struggle to fulfill both their major requirements and their intellectual needs.
  • The potential to avoid challenge Some students seek out open curricula to avoid what they’re afraid of. A math-phobe might choose Brown University to avoid needing to ever take a math course in college. Such thinking is detrimental to true college learning. The purpose of the open curriculum is to give students the opportunity to try new things and challenge themselves. Students who don’t follow this philosophy will be undermining the purpose of college itself.
  • Narrow knowledge Liberal arts schools are founded under the principle that students should receive an education in a wide range of subjects to support intellectual growth rather an education grounded in vocational preparation. Students who are truly passionate about one subject or another may want to take courses only in that given subject. These students run the risk of graduating from an open curriculum college with very narrow skill sets. They may not have the ability to attack a complex mathematical equation, analyze a piece of literature, or understand how to navigate a diverse world like their broadly educated peers.

An open curriculum is an option each student should consider for himself when beginning the college search. While it is a wonderful option for some students, it is certainly not the best for others. If you think an open curriculum might be right for you, take a look at the lists below of colleges that employ this program. The schools range from some of the most selective colleges in the United States to those that enroll virtually all students who apply. They are big and small, public and private, rural and urban.

Fully Open

Minimal Requirements

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