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What Is General Education?

August 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Have you just graduated from high school but do not know where you want to take your career? Many adults today went through school, entered the workforce, but are now seeking a career change. If you fall in this bucket, it is okay. It is normal!

Today, around 50% of students enter college with an undecided major, while 75% change their major during school. It is not a must that you commit to one career path right away. Instead, you can consider a general studies major. General education studies is a degree program designed for students who value a college education but need more time to explore and discover the right career path. The program allows students to fulfill general education requirements, study relevant courses, develop multipurpose skill sets, and prepare for a wide career option network.

Most universities and colleges offer general education courses. But, what are these courses? What can you gain from them? Why are they required? If you are on the fence if a general education program is right for you, read on. Below we delve into:

  1. Disciplines and subjects included in general education
  2. How general education credits work
  3. Benefits of general education requirements
  4. How to choose general education classes

Disciplines and Subjects Included in General Education

Before we dive into the disciplines and subjects involved in general education, it is important to understand what general education is. General education is the first part of a degree before you get into the area of study courses. A general education program is a required curriculum that makes up the foundation of a bachelor’s degree. It provides a broad breadth of learning skills and opportunities that can apply to daily life. General education courses teach vital university-level skills and introduce fundamental humanities, arts, natural sciences, and social sciences.

What are General Education Courses?

Earning a college or university degree tells the world that you are a well-educated person and with a broad academic knowledge range. General education courses help you achieve that status. If you are contemplating going to school, you have probably heard of something like core classes or gen ed. 

General education courses are classes in particular categories that meet specific criteria. They are required classes taken by students enrolled in the traditional four-year degree programs at accredited institutions. The courses build and strengthen vital employability skills. That is within the basis of an exploration of topics with broader personal or societal importance.

There is a great deal of flexibility in General Education courses to enable students to learn more skills through personal interests. These courses also help students to acquire the skills vital to learning after high school. They critical thinking skills and strengthen oral and written communication skills while assisting in problem-solving abilities. 

What is a General Studies Degree?

Do you have an absolute answer to the age-old, regularly asked question, “What do you want to do with your life?” Or what if you start down on a career path and want to shift directions after a few years based on new professional interests? College is a great investment of money and time, and you want to get the best out of it. So, a general studies degree might make the most sense.

general studies degree is an undergraduate program offered by many universities and colleges, particularly in the Western world. The general education program allows students to design an exclusive degree plan that meets their academic institution’s requirements. The degree holds the same value as the other degrees in sciences or liberal arts education. Generally, it is regarded as an interdisciplinary degree. 

What Subjects are Included in General Education?

While college and university standards vary dramatically, there are common subjects you will find in your general education requirements. The degree you choose can also affect your gen ed requirements. Students have to complete a particular number of credit hours in each of these subjects to achieve general education requirements. The subjects included in general education include:

  • English Language and Literature
    The ability to compose coherent sentences is often overlooked. However, it is one of the vital foundation aspects of cultural communication. The majority of colleges require an English course to ensure that all students receive an educational base that teaches them to write, analyze written words to form educated opinions, and appreciate world literature.
  • Math
    Whether working in a business, running an organization, or managing a property, adult life goes more smoothly with basic mathematics skills. Universities and colleges help students improve their math skills through Geometry, Algebra, Quantitative Analysis, Calculus, Trigonometry, and Statistics.
  • Natural Science
    Science is more than the domain of geeks. Because it is the study of the natural world, natural science gives students a framework for creatively and safely with the matter surrounding us. Colleges require three to eight credits of natural science in subjects including Biology, Environmental Science, Physics, Astronomy, Geology, Chemistry, Physics, Oceanography, and Anatomy and Physiology.
  • Social Sciences
    Social sciences give insights into who humans are and how we interact with one another. This area is the study of human groups, and social sciences include Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, Geography, Government, and Economics. From these subjects, students can interact and forge meaningful relationships in society.
  • Humanities
    Culture is a significant part of civilization. Therefore, every educated person will need insights into how individuals express themselves in culture. Classes that satisfy humanities requirements include Art, Speech, History, Religion, Communication, Philosophy, Ethics, Literature, and Languages.
  • Foreign Language
    Proficiency in foreign languages helps students to gain awareness of various world cultures. It also helps to expand their global view as well as learning new linguistic skills. At many universities, students can choose from a wide range of languages to pursue. These can include Japanese, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and French.
  • Diversity
    Diversity is a subject for newcomers to general education. It teaches students to value cultures and beliefs. Depending on the university or college, diversity includes Cultural Diversity, Religion, Social Responsibility, and World Religions.

How General Education Credits Work

So, you have enrolled in college or university, and you are excited about your bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. Then, you find out that you will have to pursue a bunch of random subjects before you even start studying migrating behaviors of narwhals or coral reefs! What is that about? 

Welcome to the world of general education. When preparing for college, it is important to understand that most colleges have a lot of flexibility in determining how many general education credits go into their field. But what are general education credits?

What are General Education Credits?

General education programs teach diverse skills that every student should master to lead a productive life. These courses help them become knowledgeable citizens and learn how to communicate their ideas as significant members of society regardless of their field of study. Most colleges require students to take many classes that satisfy the general education requirements. The course topics require students to complete a certain number of credits.

Credits can also be referred to as semester hour or semester credit. They are units of academic work. One credit is defined to require specific hours in a class every week for one semester or equivalent.

How Class Count toward Your Major and General Education

At first glance, a class in general education may have nothing to do with your degree type, especially when you are hoping to jump into your dream profession and learn its ins and outs right away. For instance, if you are majoring in health administration, social sciences classes might seem irrelevant. However, these classes are essential to provide the background information and basic skills you can use in your specialty. Look at these courses as an opportunity to hone your academic prowess.

Every class is tailored to help you in your career journey. Therefore you should keep a positive attitude and appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills. A class counts toward your major and general education. First, many students uncover a hidden passion for a field of study after taking a required class. After enjoying the class, you might find yourself majoring or minoring in a subject you never thought of before. Second, the required courses students take ensure a basic set of tools. College wants you to graduate with strong critical thinking, writing, and communication skills. Also, with a basic understanding of society and culture.

Let us look at how each class will benefit you:

  • Math
    Everyday life requires mathematical knowledge. Whether it is balancing a checkbook or calculating a tip, math is inescapable. Your career options might be more expensive if you are math competent.
  • Arts and Humanities
    Arts and humanities courses foster creativity, self-expression, aesthetic values, and imagination. Students in all fields can enjoy learning about artists, composers, and great works whose contributions reflect cultural traditions while enriching civilization. The courses will help you understand the benefits of preserving art for future generations. Courses in English can help you develop written and verbal communication skills essential in every career. These communication skills can also help in smoothing out conflict in interpersonal relationships.
  • Culture
    Some classes might also focus on cross-cultural communication, racial differences, and global awareness. This course is important to help students become diverse. Multicultural education will help deepen your appreciation for cultural perspectives. Also, it will help you identify ways to approach ideas and problems from a different angle.
  • Science
    Activities such as performing scientific experiments, evaluating scientific findings, and concluding will strengthen your reasoning skills. Biology and health classes will motivate you to live a healthy life. Communicating with your healthcare provider will also be easier when you understand physiology and anatomy. Ecological classes will help you understand phenomena such as deforestation and global warming, making you more aware of environmental issues. 

How Do Gen Ed Requirements Change with a BA and a BS?

Every student enrolling in a college is required to take general education courses. Although the general education courses provide the foundation of learning, often, the classes supplement students’ major or program. The requirements often depend on whether you are pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree or a Bachelor of Arts degree.

  • BS Degree
    A Bachelor of Science degree is more focused on a particular scientific or technical subject. It requires more credits linked to the major. Students often spend minimum time pursuing liberal arts but focus on building expertise in the field’s practical and technical aspects.
  • BA Degree
    Compared to a Bachelor of Science, a bachelor of arts requires fewer credits that link to a particular major. Instead, students are encouraged to earn more credits in a wide range of liberal arts subjects, English, humanities, foreign languages, and social sciences.

Besides the differences, general education offers great flexibility to both BA and BS students. Whether you are transferring to universities or contemplating earning a degree that reflects your range of skills, general education can reshape your outlook on learning. It also teaches you some soft skills while introducing you to a wide variety of disciplines. As a requirement for every degree type, general education can foster greater accessibility as well as a clear and relevant academic pathway for students to attain their ideal degree credential.

Benefits of General Education Requirements

If you have started your college search, you have probably come across general education requirements. All accredited universities and colleges have general education credits, and if you want to earn a degree, you have to complete these required courses. But why do they exist? Why do most general requirements cover topics unrelated to your ideal major? Read on to understand why it is important.

How can General Education Courses Help Undecided Students?

Irrespective of the argument against general education courses, they are a lot more than students think. These programs are collections of credits required by every major for a degree. The classes are added on top of your major to broaden knowledge beyond what is required in your field. General education requirements can help undecided students grow academically and professionally. Students who major in general studies can explore professional, personal, and academic careers of interest within a flexible framework supporting transfer.

How Can Gen Ed Courses Help You Become a More Well-Rounded Student?

Here are ways gen ed courses can help you to become a well-rounded student.

  • Reshape Your Outlook on Learning
    General education courses provide a wide range of learning opportunities and skills that apply to daily life. The general education curriculum provides a foundation that fosters successful behaviors that lead to long-term learning. You will be adequately prepared to thrive in your career. That is by having the necessary education requirements and, most importantly, applied, practical, and relevant curriculum that focuses on the development of core skills.
  • Learn Soft Skills Desired by Various Employers
    To impress your potential employers and prove yourself as a team member, it is vital to learn interpersonal skills. These include conflict resolution, excellent communication, and empathy. General education courses encourage an aptitude of soft skills needed by students to be successful in their ideal professions. It also enables them to become immediate contributors to the rapidly changing global workforce.
  • Well-Versed in a Wide Range of Disciplines
    Interdisciplinary general education courses provide students with a range of perspectives from which they view the world. This way, they can address various real-world problems. The ability to communicate effectively with different audiences, assess information for accuracy, and display literacy in advanced technology also makes you an impressive candidate to employers. Also, it can add insights into your chances of moving up the ladder at your current job.
  • Help with Your Career
    Part of college comparison often includes determining how well it can prepare you to begin your career or begin a new one. However, it would be best to consider courses beyond your chosen field. General education courses can be valuable to your career. That is because there is no job, regardless of how specialized, that is not a part of a bigger society. 

How Can General Education Help You in Your Major?

One of the significant values of general studies is that they are focused on developing in the student the skills necessary for success in the higher-level courses required within their field of study. These are the ‘Major’ courses of their degree. The skills often required to succeed in core courses are developed within the general requirements of the degree.

Before a student can think of thriving in their major, they must have developed skills, such as writing and problem-solving, required of upper-level courses. Well, think of general education courses at the crawling stage of your academic development. It makes sense to complete these courses before you are introduced to the new environment and college or university education demands. While taking these general requirements, you will develop the confidence and skills necessary to walk with your major courses.

More specifically, English should be one of the very first general education courses that you complete. After all, you will require writing skills learned in English courses. Remember, you have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

How To Choose General Education Classes

When creating a freshman year university schedule, general education classes are an important part of the curriculum. If you are not quite sure of your career path, these classes will introduce you to subjects you did not know about. Not to mention they are the tools that make you a well-rounded student.

Factors to Consider When Choosing General Education Courses

You need to consider some basic things to ensure you are choosing the right general education courses. These include:

  • Does the Course Pique Your Interest?
    Rather than choosing the generic every-freshman-chooses-this-English-class option, search for a course that suits your interests. If it is a unique gen-ed course, there are high chances that the class is small. That gives room for more discussion, which generates ideas and cultivates critical thinking. By being more engaged with the course matter, you can develop passion or interest in the subject. It can lead you to choose a particular major because you pursued this course.
  • Can I use the Course as a Learning Opportunity?
    There is indeed a purpose why college students need to pursue general education courses. One reason is that becoming a well-rounded student by exploring different fields of study. Most of these topics include Natural Science, Social Science, Math, English, and Arts. The general education course you are pursuing must allow you to learn more. Each of the courses should give you a unique set of transferable skills that can help you choose the career path. You should be positioned to use the courses to boost your writing skills, oral communication, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills. You should see the general education courses as an invaluable opportunity to add value to your education.
  • Will there be Interactions with Classmates?
    The beauty of general education classes is that they can be a melting point for different college students. Once you get into your major course, you will spend most of your days in class with students similar to you. Therefore, you should choose a general education course that gives you an excellent opportunity to interact with students who have different academic interests. This way, you can challenge your beliefs and broaden your horizon, which are key learning pieces in college.

How Do You Know Which General Education Courses Will Benefit You the Most?

Choosing generals is kind of a fun part of college. Regardless of being interesting courses, you need to be careful to choose general education courses that will benefit you the most. If you have already chosen a field of study, make sure to assess and see if there are requirements that overlap with your general courses. Then, fill in the gaps with courses that suit you.

What if I have not chosen a major? If you have not chosen a field of study, it will make sense to choose general education classes that cover subjects you are interested in going into. However, you can also take various courses so that you can experience the wide range of majors available to you.

Do not let your dislike for a class you took in high school bias your decision. Maybe literature was the most boring subject to you, but maybe it was because of the teacher. Do not let this attitude impact how you view literature in general education. Think of it as a fresh start and a great opportunity to obtain knowledge. After all, is that not what you are after as a college student?

How Can You Work in General Education Courses that Suit Your Interests?

Similar to other accelerated degrees, when working towards general studies degrees, you can choose a field based on your career goals. Even if you do not have a precise idea in mind, your interests can guide your program so you can make the most out of your education. Some of the exciting ways you can work with a general education degree include working as a:

  • Software consultant
  • Copywriter
  • General manager
  • Brand manager
  • Technical writer
  • Public relations director
  • Risk management specialist
  • Nonprofit program manager
  • Executive assistant

In Summary

Most probably, you have come across the saying, “A child should crawl before they walk.” Have you ever given thoughts on why? Because of the stages of cognitive development and the need to develop balance and confidence in movement. How does this apply to your undergraduate degree? Actually, in all aspects. Most bachelor’s degrees require successful completion of general education courses. These are courses including Arts, History, English, Natural Science, and more.

An often ignored concept in higher learning is that earning a degree is intended to educate a student. However, for you to consider yourself an educated person, you should learn about a wider spectrum of topics beyond the knowledge necessary for competency in your field of study. For the privilege of being considered educated, pursuing general education courses will help you achieve the status.

It is often easy to adopt the attitude and ask, ‘why must I take a math class yet am taking a major in English?’ It is a question most students ask. Try to think of how Math skills might help in your future classes. You will acquire critical thinking skills that will help solve problems. You can carry over such skills into your professional coursework. Likewise, writing skills will benefit your career.

In other words, learning a broad skill set will keep you well-rounded regardless of the field you major in. Your managers and colleagues will expect you to tackle various tasks while conducting yourself professionally. General education courses will help you achieve a sense of balance. Also, they will discipline you for the rigors of more challenging coursework. So, the next time you think you are wasting your time pursuing general education courses, think about what you can gain from them. They are a great chance to hone your academic prowess.

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BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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