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Why are General Education Courses Required in College?

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Pursuing a college education is a very personal journey, and any students are itching to dive into curriculum-specific courses. However, many of them are surprised they are required to take a series of general education courses as part of their degree program. Their academic counselors recommend starting their college path by taking gen ed classes. They’d expect to find something different when they arrived at college.

What are ‘Gen Ed’ Classes?

General education classes, often referred to as core curriculum classes, are categories of courses required for all degree programs on top of the degree-specific classes. The same gen ed classes students are expected to take will vary depending on the degree path chosen, but the individual required courses come from a broad set of classes. For instance, science majors are usually required to take a few literature classes, and art majors must take some math.

Students wonder why these general education courses are required. They also often need help seeing the value of taking these credits. But there is a lot of value. Here’s why.

Exposure to Diverse Learning

Many students think they don’t “need” general education classes to further their education because they feel the courses are useless. They already took them in high school; the classes don’t pertain to their career goals. It’s easy to see where this misconception comes from.

After all, how many people directly use algebra, western civilization, or psychology in their daily post-educational routines? The thing about general education classes is they provide a broad foundation of education that offers a spectrum of various knowledge areas.

Additionally, a relatively good number of students enter college gung-ho on a major only to learn a semester or two (or even three!) down the road. They are traveling the wrong road. Over these semesters, they sometimes become disillusioned with their choice for one reason or another. They may have discovered they found the material boring or the major isn’t exactly what they envisioned it would be. Then they select a new major and, as a result, have to start over.

Focusing on gen ed courses helps students learn and explore the various disciplines. Not only did I make the aforementioned mistake myself and learn it the hard way, but my years spent in an admissions and registrar position also showed me just how frustrating this is for students.

Taking various general education courses provides exposure to different disciplines, and often we are sparked by something we’ve learned. These core courses show us what our potentials are by allowing and encouraging us to experience a wide breadth of knowledge.

Develop Stronger Critical Thinking Skills

Some courses, which on the outside appear mundane and boring, are usually developing critical thinking skills underneath the surface. It’s not always necessarily what you are learning (although that is important, too!), but how you are learning it. In problem-solving, there is a lot of value to be said for the process taken to reach the solution. This is valuable in itself.

Serve as Building Blocks

Other classes are the building blocks to the foundational knowledge base of other courses. While I was in community college, there was one semester my first choice was canceled due to lack of enrollment. It was just before the semester’s start, and the only class left with room in it was an Adolescent Psychology course. I was a business/technology major, and taking this psych course seemed fruitless and a waste of time. It was frustrating, but I needed to maintain a certain level of credits to keep my financial aid, so I registered for the class.

Fast forward a few years as I’m completing my bachelor program and taking a technology ethics course; I found many of the theoretical “blocks” I’d received in that psych class helped me succeed in a technology class! Who would have thought? Plus, it did turn out to be exciting material.

Acquire Knowledge

All disciplines ultimately connect to become a finished puzzle. The pieces may not connect during the process, but it all makes sense.

General education courses are a great way to acquire broader knowledge and perception of the world and its components. This exposure and awareness of the world surrounding us are valuable,  and comprehensive courses promote shared values in our interactions with others.

Taking general education classes opens us up to cultural traditions and history and promotes a deeper understanding of the world; this is particularly important in a world that has gone global in society, politics, and business.

The bottom line is that general education courses are valuable because the various disciplines interrelate and apply to one another. Obtaining a broad foundation encompassing humanities, histories, sciences, mathematics, language, and other pertinent areas only enhance and increase our learning as we progress to higher levels of understanding. All these courses are smaller pieces of the overall puzzle. Those “boring” general education classes are more inclusive and relevant than we think.

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