Course Formats:
From seminars and conferences to the Component System

At Sarah Lawrence, you’re not sitting in some huge lecture hall—often typical at other schools—but face to face around a table with no more than 14 other students and a professor. Everyone has done the reading or worked out the problem set since the previous class session. A conversation begins around an idea or a particularly interesting question, and gradually everyone is involved. As the discussion builds and gains direction, you find your focus growing deeper. As you share your insights and listen to those of your professor and classmates, points become clarified. The conversation touches on individual projects, and topics for further exploration reveal themselves. Often there is laughter, often excitement—and usually, by the end of class, new understanding.

This is a Sarah Lawrence seminar.

Most seminars are yearlong, although you may leave a seminar at the end of the first semester and join another for the second semester, if space is available. Seminars are offered in disciplines throughout the curriculum and have carefully designed plans of study.

The Component System

Click to view sample components and course loadsThe seminar/conference format is used for more than 90% of courses at SLC. Students who choose to pursue courses in the performing arts (dance, music, and theatre) gain broad exposure to these disciplines. In each course, students (working with their don and an appropriate faculty member from that discipline) design a program of study by selecting components that together integrate theory and practice. The sum of these components constitutes a “third”—literally a third of each student’s course load for that semester or year. Below is a closer look at  how the component system works for each arts discipline.


A typical music course includes work in at least four components, one of which is the central area of study (instrumental performance, composition, or voice) around which the rest of the program is planned. The other components include a theory and/or history course, a performance ensemble (chorus and/or orchestra, chamber music, etc.), and concert attendance. More advanced components focus on specific periods of music history, particular music forms, and more specialized musical theory and applications.


In consultation with faculty, dance students develop programs that integrate creative, technical, and analytic dance practices. Students are required to participate in at least one physical practice class five days a week, choosing from contemporary dance styles, classical ballet, West African dance, Yoga, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, and other kinetic forms offered on a year-to-year basis. Dance students are required to study improvisation and/ or composition each semester and are encouraged to study dance history as they enter the program. Functional anatomy based on the work of Irene Dowd is recommended as students continue their dance studies. Additionally, students may make a selection from such components as music for dancers, Labonation, lighting design and stagecraft, teaching conference, and performance projects as offered. Individual programs combine personal choice and logical progression within the dance curriculum.


Beginning students enroll in Gateway to Theatre, a two course sequence introducing them to the history of theatre and to a wide range of technical theatre skills. All students work with the theatre faculty to construct an individualized program called a Theatre Third, which consists of several components selected from such areas of study as acting, directing, design, playwriting, and courses in developing original interdisciplinary material—based on the student's level and focus.

Visual Arts

The visual arts faculty offers study in painting, sculpture, photography, filmmaking, printmaking, drawing, digital imagery, and visual fundamentals. Visual arts courses are taught in the seminar/ conference format. However, students may supplement their seminar and conference work with work in a variety of workshops to expand their skills, to widen their experience, and to form stronger bonds across disciplines. Workshop topics typically offered include Figure Drawing, Color Theory, Photoshop, Woodworking, and Experimental Printmaking. Some visual arts courses will require a workshop. Film/new media students are required to attend the craft labs. As a general matter, any student using equipment in Heimbold must take a technical workshop before using such equipment.

More than 90% of SLC classes are seminars and each one consists of a maximum of 15 students—usually 10 or 11—seated around a table. Seminars meet twice each week and the discussions sparked by readings and vital questions involve students and faculty alike.

Look Deeper

The seminar/conference system and the component system make up much of the Sarah Lawrence educational process. But, in true SLC fashion, there are lots of other options to be explored. Learn more about other course formats»