Today, VMI Cadets are finalizing their course registration for the upcoming semester. Compared to cadets from the 19th century, today’s cadets have a greater number of academic majors to choose from, greater variety in course offerings, and added flexibility in choosing when to take certain classes.
Like students attending other colleges and universities in the 19th century, cadets at VMI followed a strict four-year curriculum. The outline of the curriculum that appears below was printed in the 1845 VMI Catalog.
The curriculum established at VMI’s founding in 1839 remained in effect with relatively little change for 47 years. In 1886, the rigid four-year curriculum began a gradual 52-year transition to a one-year curriculum followed by three years of specialized instruction in a cadet’s major field of study. Also starting in 1886 was the selection of a major course of study during a cadet’s first class year. Cadet demand for additional specialized instruction led to the selection of a major being moved to the second class year in 1890, and finally to the third class year in 1938.
The practice of allowing cadets to select their major course of study at VMI could have occurred much earlier because the Board of Visitors approved the elective system in 1859. Unfortunately, the Civil War and its aftermath substantially delayed its full implementation.
Civil engineering and chemistry were the only two majors offered to cadets in 1886. A third major in mathematics and physics was added in 1890, but it was replaced by electrical engineering in 1898. VMI added a fourth major course of study in 1914 when a liberal arts option was introduced. The interest among cadets in taking classes to prepare them for medical school led to the creation of a pre-medical course of study in 1932.
The number of majors that VMI offers has increased to 14, along with a considerable number of minors and concentrations. Current cadets have many choices when deciding which courses to take to complete their majors. They are also no longer required to take courses in a prescribed order, but can arrange their classes according to their preferences.
To view a selection of historical and current VMI Catalogs, please visit the VMI Archives Digital Collections.