Sarah Lawrence College's Commitment:
Six Critical Abilities for 21st Century Success

Sarah Lawrence College is committed to graduating students who are critical thinkers, with the ability to acquire new skills and adapt to a fast-changing landscape—and who can put their learning to work in the world immediately when they graduate, as well as 50 years from now, achieving a satisfying and meaningful life in whatever field and at whatever financial reward they choose.

To deliver on our commitment, we have identified six critical abilities required for our students’ personal and professional success, specifically the ability to:

  1. Think analytically
  2. Express ideas effectively through written communication
  3. Exchange ideas effectively through oral communication
  4. Bring innovation to their work
  5. Envisage and work independently on a project
  6. Accept and act on criticism

This list of abilities, which will grow and evolve, was developed through an intensive internal process on campus, but includes many attributes cited by business and nonprofit leaders.

Sarah Lawrence is Uniquely Designed to Deliver on this Promise

That's because our students take direct responsibility for themselves and their learning from the very beginning:

  • Our open curriculum teaches students to design their own course of study and map out the direction of their four years (under faculty guidance and supervision, of course)
  • Because every student conceives and executes an independent project based on their own interests in every class, students gain strong habits for working independently and for revising work and responding to critique. These projects further promote risk-taking, innovation, and cross-disciplinary thinking as students develop their own ideas within a structured framework.
  • And because even first-year students study predominately in small seminars, they learn early and quickly to present and defend their ideas, respond to challenge, and learn from the contributions of others.

Holding Ourselves Accountable

We believe in holding ourselves accountable for delivering on what we promise. So recently, we introduced a new web-based assessment platform, designed to measure student performance against these critical abilities. This tool, coupled with the in-depth narrative evaluations of coursework that have always been at the heart of our approach, provides us—along with grades—with a comprehensive, personalized evaluation for every student in every course for every semester. Faculty members are able to look not only at a student’s performance, but also the factors and reasons behind a student’s performance.

So in addition to demonstrating mastery over specific content, our students emerge with the confidence that they have the abilities to tackle the world and make it their own.

Diagram of critical abilities listed later in this document


More About Written Evaluations and Grades

Sarah Lawrence's new assessment platform works in conjunction with our existing practice of having faculty members provide students with in-depth narrative evaluations of coursework. Through these written evaluations, our students:

  • Learn how their work has evolved over the past term
  • Receive suggestions about what they should read or think about in preparation for moving their work forward
  • Gain better understanding of their most significant accomplishments in each course

While our emphasis is never on grades, letter grades are assigned for all completed classes, and are recorded on each student's transcript.


In the News

For more on Sarah Lawrence College's methods of assessing student learning and the six critical abilities, you may be interested in these recent news articles:

Six Critical Abilites

Here are the details of what comprises each critical ability.

Ability to think analytically

  • Identifying relevant issues, debates, and open questions
  • Being able to understand multiple perspectives and synthesize arguments
  • Being able to assess the soundness of the argument
  • Being able to apply problem-solving methodologies to real world situations

Ability to express ideas effectively through written communication

  • Expressing ideas in writing with clarity and concision
  • Writing well-structured essays that come to logical conclusions
  • The ability to develop meaning

Ability to exchange ideas effectively through oral communication

  • Giving effective oral presentations in front of an audience
  • Being able to argue a point
  • Collaborating effectively with peers on group projects
  • Listening well and responding appropriately in the seminar

Ability to bring innovation to their work

  • Imagining alternatives to existing approaches and solutions
  • Finding interdisciplinary connections or gaps in research
  • Becoming comfortable with experimentation, exploration, risk-taking and invention with their work
  • Arriving at original conclusions or arguments

Ability to envisage and work independently on a project

  • Designing and structuring a project
  • Finding resources and carrying out research
  • Ensuring proper time management to see it through

Ability to accept and act on criticism

  • Hearing constructive criticism with an open mind
  • Making revisions in response to suggestions
  • Building on lessons learned