According to this answer, students at university in the medieval period were generally paying their own way and were independently rich or were selected by the crown or the church, the latter making up the majority of students.

What academic expectations were there of these students? Did these expectations vary between the different types of students?

  • Rather than bouncing your acceptances early in a question's life, you could consider waiting loner to accept. Remember that questions attract more activity while no answer has yet been accepted. There are a few members who advocate waiting as long as six months before accepting, though I consider that extreme myself. And the nature of the question and early answers is worth factoring in as well. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 11:46
  • @PieterGeerkens So how long would you reccomend waiting?
    – Benjamin
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 13:48
  • It's totally your call; I just wanted to suggest a less hurried rapid pace to acceptance. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 13:59
  • @PieterGeerkens Okay.
    – Benjamin
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 14:40

2 Answers 2


Entrance varied dramatically by time and place, with students enrolling at Oxford or Paris around the age of 14 to study the liberal arts, and at Bologna around the age of 30 to study law.

Historically the curriculum of a liberal arts degree was first the study of the trivium of grammar, rhetoric and logic, followed by the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. During the Renaissance the curriculum expanded to include the Aristotelian sciences of physics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy.

All studies were in Latin, though Greek might have been used for the study of Euclid's geometry, and later for the study of the Aristotelian sciences. Note that the initial trivium, taught in Latin, was actually the study of Latin grammar; of Latin rhetoric, and of Latin logic. and thus was the study of first the written language, the spoken language, and then of constructing written and spoken argument in the language.

So far from requiring a solid knowledge of Latin prior to entrance, the first few years of a student's studies were devoted to its mastery: written; spoken; and as a means of analytical thought. Of course to be recognized as a candidate for sponsorship at one of these institutions a young boy would likely be demonstrating aptitude in the language.

For the southern universities modeled on Bologna, studying for an advanced degrees in law, medicine or theology would have as prerequisite prior knowledge of the liberal arts.

Note that the founding of Oxford( teaching 1096, recognized 1167) and Cambridge (1209) precedes the founding of Eton College (1441) by hundreds of years. The concept of a grammar school, where one might begin the study of the first of the liberal arts at a younger age and prior to entering university, post dates the concept of university by centuries.

  • I would characterize Bologna as what we would now call a "graduate" school. That is, one would enter one of the other universities in the mid to late teens, then enter Bologna in the late 20s, after having completed an "undergraduate" education (or its equivalent).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 11:34
  • @TomAu: Be careful not to force modern terms and characterizations upon a very pre-modern time, of 5 to 10 centuries ago. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 11:37
  • 3
    Minor historical note: I've seen it claimed that since early grammar studies were in Latin, about Latin, a lot of Latin grammar rules got misapplied to English (a largely unrelated language) when people first started studying English grammar. Supposedly the (illusionary) prohibition against "split infinitives" came from there.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 19:18
  • 2
    @T.E.D. To quote a master of the English tongue: "That is nonsense of the first order, up with which I will not put!" ;-) Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 20:01

A person would have to successfully complete what we would now call a "grammar school." Mostly, a person had to be able to read and write, but in several languages. Latin, which was the "universal" language, plus their native language, and many also studied Greek. After the Renaissance, French, Italian, and Spanish. Except for people who were English or German, one of these was probably their native language. They're fairly closely related between themselves, as well as to Latin, making things easier.

Boys coming up through "church" schools also had a thorough grounding in what we would call "religion." Boys pursuing secular studies in "state" schools had more training in history. This may not have been taught as a "separate" course, but part of Latin and Greek texts. (To the extent that they were educated, girls were "home schooled.")

There was very little math and science until the Renaissance and later. Algebra barely existed during the Middle Ages, and Calculus had not been invented. Nor had most of what we know in biology, chemistry, or physics (other than navigation). The main "math" at the time was geometry, which dated back to Euclid, and was often taught as part of some Greek texts, rather than "separately."

  • Geometry was actually one of the core liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic; arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The entire body of Euclid was, I believe, taught as the curriculum for geometry (farside.ph.utexas.edu/Books/Euclid/Elements.pdf) and included some theormes we might regard as algebraic in the books 7 through 10. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 11:51
  • @PieterGeerkens: I said that geometry was "the main math" taught. Do you mean to say that geometry was taught as "liberal arts" rather than "math" because it was connected to Euclid?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 13:43
  • From (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norberto_Bocchi): The four 'scientific' artes – music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy (or astrology) – were known from the time of Boethius onwards as the Quadrivium. After the 9th century, the remaining three arts of the 'humanities' – grammar, logic, and rhetoric – were classed as well as the Trivium. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 14:01

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