FDRs: For the prevention of midlife crises

While some find them boring, FDRs allow students to make informed choices


A classroom in the CGL, where many language classes are offered. Photo by Elena Lee, ’25.

Leela Addepalli

Washington and Lee University’s Foundation and Distribution Requirements are the tagalongs of an elite liberal arts education, and in my opinion, the best part. But not everyone values the FDRs, which is why they go through continuous revaluation and changes. 

In 2007, Washington and Lee saw a shift from its General Education requirements to the present format of Foundation and Distribution Requirements. The General Education Development Committee (GEDC), co-chaired by Andrea Lepage, professor of art history, and Katherine L. Shester, associate professor of economics, is currently proposing four different models as alternatives to the FDR system and these proposals will be voted on by faculty and administration of the university.  

The Foundation Requirements include writing (FW), world language (FL), mathematics and computer science (FM) and physical education (FP). The Distribution Requirements are divided into two categories, Arts and Humanities and Sciences and Social Sciences. Additionally, there is an Experiential Learning Requirement (EXP), which demands either four credits worth of classes at the university entailing experiential work, or 12 credits earned through a study abroad program (overseen by the Center for International Education, or CIE).  

Before we go further, there are certain items of interest worth noting. Native speakers of a foreign language can waive their FL requirement and could contact Dick Kuettner, Adjunct Professor of Romance Languages, to do so. Also, there is a provision for credits from away, i.e. from classes you might have taken at another university or advanced classes in the AP/IB programs that you can use to waive certain FDR components. All of this information and more can be found in the university’s academic catalog.  

While I know it sucks having to take classes you’re forced into and don’t necessarily want to take (the dreaded math requirement haunts us all), I want to argue that the FDRs are actually the most important component of our academic journeys at Washington and Lee. There are three primary reasons for this.  

First, we all come from different educational backgrounds. Within the U.S. itself, you have private schools and public schools, and since public schools depend on the district, each school has different class sizes, teachers, and quality of education. When you add international students (like yours truly) to the mix, you have an incoming batch of freshmen with an amalgamation of knowledge banks. The FDRs then become a beautiful method to get everyone to a more equal standing. Not to subscribe to stereotypes, but when the lovable jock is forced into an art history class or when the D&D playing nerd is forced into boot camp, everyone is out of their comfort zone. Everyone is being pushed to broaden their minds and reconsider their perspectives, and that is how you create a generation of well-rounded citizens.  

Secondly, when you are forced into classrooms you might not have chosen for yourself, you meet people outside of your bubble. I personally am trying to befriend as many pre-med students as possible in my CBSC class, because I want to mooch off of them when they’re rich and I have to get my knee replaced. Some of the conversations I am having in my classes that are completely unrelated to my majors are those that I will cherish my entire life.  

Thirdly, and yes, I know you’ve heard this before, but FDRs require you to experience breadth as well as depth of knowledge. I came into the university sure that I was going to major in politics and economics on a pre-law track, on my way to becoming the Prime Minister of India by 2050.  However, while fulfilling my science requirements, I have come to realize that I care more about the brain and its chemistry than I care about free markets. I am being forced into an awakening that’s making me rethink my choices, but hey, if this means I avoid a mid-life crisis thirty years down the road, bitter and regretful, I’ll take it. The best part about the FDRs is how broad they are. Each department at Washington and Lee offers so many unique classes and seminars. There truly seems to be something for everyone.  

I came to the U.S. for a liberal arts education, because had I stayed in India, I would have had to decide my career path in 10th grade, and I have yet to meet a 15-year-old student mature enough to make that decision. For me, the FDRs give me the liberty to play around with different subject fields and still graduate in four years, ready for real life.  

I challenge you to take a class just because you find it interesting, without considering whether it’s practical or not. I promise you, something that seems absolutely bizarre right now will come in use years down the line, even if just as an ice breaker. Who knows? You might end up finding your life’s passion.