What Will They Learn?

A well-designed general education curriculum equips students for conversations of perennial human concern and provides a foundation in essential aspects of the political, economic, and scientific systems of our nation and the world. What Will They Learn?® is the only resource that evaluates what college students are learning in classrooms nationwide.

Since 1995, What Will They Learn?® has been the only college rating system to evaluate the general education programs of over 1,100 U.S. colleges and universities, public and private, with a stated liberal arts mission. We now review colleges and universities on a continuous cycle, publishing these results at regular intervals on

Given that general education makes up one-fourth to one-third of a student’s academic program at most universities, choosing a school with the right core is every bit as important as choosing the right major. What Will They Learn?® is designed to meet two goals:

  • Encourage institutions to strengthen their core curricular requirements so that students graduate better prepared for the workforce, ready to participate in their communities as informed citizens, and acquainted with America’s cultural and intellectual inheritance.
  • Educate those who have a stake in higher education, from families and students to educators, trustees, and legislators, about the impor­tance of strong core curricular requirements.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? study and website do fill a gap so that parents and students can make better choices. As a consequence, colleges and universities may be forced to examine their own responsibility in molding an educated, well-informed citizenry.

—Kathleen Parker, Washington Post Interactive Website

What Will They Learn?® grades institutions on an “A+” through “F” scale based on whether they require all undergraduate students to complete courses in Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science that meet carefully defined criteria. On, users can search 1,100 institutions by state, What Will They Learn?® grade, tuition, and more.

We receive hundreds of inquiries about What Will They Learn?® from higher education leaders working on general education reforms on their own campuses, policymakers seeking to strengthen higher education in their states, and high school educators wondering how best to advise juniors and seniors on college choice. We also hear from concerned parents interested in learning more about curricular quality, campus climate, and whether particular colleges are careful stewards of tuition dollars. 

Our Methods

At the project’s inception, ACTA identified seven subjects essential to providing students with the knowledge and skills they need for the challenges of career and community in the 21st century: Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. What Will They Learn?® grades institutions on an “A+” through “F” scale based on how many of these core subjects they require all undergraduate students to study, giving the public a clear measure at a glance of each school’s commitment to its liberal arts mission. 

ACTA regularly convenes panels of distinguished teacher scholars to help us establish specific criteria for collegiate-level coursework in the seven core areas we evaluate. Every year, the Academic Affairs team reviews the published course catalogues of over 1,100 U.S. colleges and universities, a process that takes us more than 3,000 hours. 

Our Standards

What Will They Learn?® awards credit in a core subject if the course is a true requirement, not an option, and addresses the topic at a collegiate level. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) examination results at an appropriately high level may stand as fulfillment of core requirements, but institutions do not receive What Will They Learn?® credit in a core subject area if they accept high school level examination scores, such as ACT or SAT results, in lieu of collegiate-level coursework.  

Please visit for more information about our grading scale and assessment criteria.


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Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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