Why Thinking Matters?

Thinking Matters courses are meant to develop your ability to ask questions and articulate problems in ways that are as unique as each of you.

The Thinking Matters program builds on a nearly 90-year tradition of undergraduate liberal education at Stanford, which began in 1919 with the pioneering “Problems of Citizenship” course.  Thinking Matters courses are meant to help freshman students develop a sense for what constitutes a genuine question or problem and how to address it in a creative and disciplined manner.  Through an emphasis on critical analysis, close reading, analytic writing, and effective communication, a liberal education enables students to make connections across many fields of study that will inform their future intellectual work and life after Stanford. 

In the news: Read more about America in One Room, a national project using methods students learn in THINK 51: The Spirit of Democracy.

A Course for First-Year Students

Thinking Matters students in a storage area

For more than 90 years Stanford has delivered courses specifically intended for--and required of--first year students that are suited to their distinctive character and needs. Thinking Matters courses foreground significant and enduring questions and approach them from multiple perspectives. In high school, students may have spent a great deal of time providing answers to questions with a ‘right answer’ like those on the SAT exams. In Thinking Matters, the main goal is to help students develop the ability to ask rigorous and genuine questions that can lead to scientific experimentation or literary interpretation or social policy analysis. Thinking Matters will also help students discover, in a lively lecture and seminar format, collaborative ways to approach solving problems and understanding issues.

Incoming first-year students will find themselves asking questions that you may never have thought to ask or in ways that you had never asked them before. The forms of inquiry and objects of study in Thinking Matters are diverse, from interpreting epic poetry to studying the politics of archaeological heritage to recognizing patterns and codes, but they are all concerned with the “how” as much as the “what” of knowledge.

How is Thinking Matters Structured?

  1. Lectures, ranging from 40 to 90 students, are taught by Stanford faculty from a range of humanities, art, science, and social science fields as well as  the Schools of Law, Earth Sciences, and Medicine.  Students are given the opportunity to engage with professors, ask questions and be exposed to new subjects and new forms of inquiry. 

  2. Small discussion sections are led by post-doctoral fellows who have been chosen in a highly competitive national search.  Students learn to think through a problem collectively, and debate ideas with other highly-motivated Stanford students. 

  3. Tutorials with fellows offer personalized attention to students individually and in small groups.  This allows students to receive in-depth feedback on their assignments and projects as well as develop the habits of mind that lead to independent and original thinking.