One of the perks of leaving high school behind and entering the college curriculum is that you get to pick what you want to study.
But if you’re a college freshman, you won’t necessarily get to study what you want right away, having to take the dreaded general education requirements before you get to the “good” stuff.
So what exactly are General Education requirements?
While every school is different, general education requirements typically consist of English composition, science, mathematics, history, social sciences, and arts. The idea behind general education is for students to gain a wealth of knowledge, participating in studies outside of their major or concentration. So if you’re an English major, you’ll be required to have some classes in science and humanities, basically courses outside of your realm; it works vice versa for science or humanities majors.
These requirements may sound somewhat painful, but Gen Eds don’t have to be the bane of your existence. You can make the most out of them with these tips.
1. Break out the student handbook/course catalog and figure out exactly what you need to take. And if it’s hard to find these requirements on your school’s website, go directly to the source: a professor or academic adviser. They can help you figure out what you need to take. You want to make sure you don’t have any surprises over the course of your four years in school, so if you outline from the beginning what exactly you need to take, your class selection process will be much easier and less stressful.
2. Identify classes that sound interesting to you. Sure, as a prospective art history major, a required science class might sound less than idyllic to you, but maybe there’s a science class for art majors. Always investigate more than one class, as schools often offer general education classes geared toward specific majors. Don’t just pick the first class you see that’s available. Make a list of classes that you’re interested in, and narrow them down from there, having backups if the class you want fills up.
3. Learn what you don’t want. There’s a line at the end of the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona where the narrator says, “Cristina continued searching. . .certain only of what she didn’t want.” View your general education classes as a way to help you figure out what you want out of a career someday by being able to identify what you don’t want. If you’re absolutely struggling in your intergovernmental relations class, unable to process all of the functions that make the government function smoothly (or not-so-smoothly), then maybe work in politics is not something you should go into; on the other hand, if you enjoy some form of the class, whether it’s the process of drawing up mock grants or thinking of ways to help the impoverished, identify these aspects and make note of them, as they will help you figure out your strengths in addition to your weaknesses.
4. Whether you are decided or undecided, Gen Eds are just an excellent way to play the field. While most students view them as unnecessary evils, if you’re undecided, they are a godsend, as you get to take a bunch of different classes in different concentrations. Even if you are decided, you can view them in the same way, a chance to try on different hats and different roles before you settle down into your profession. Think of it this way: If you’re a marketing major, it’s probably the only time you’ll ever get to play with a Bunsen burner again.
5. Gen Eds can be a way to find a complementary minor. Sometimes the hardest part about figuring out what to study in college isn’t identifying your major but your minor. It’s also sometimes hard to find a minor that enhances the value of your major. If you’re set on a major or profession, take some Gen Ed classes that might pair well with your future career path. A major in biology with a minor in basket weaving just looks weird. Finding a major and minor that work well together can amplify your resume experience and may even be the deciding factor in a job interview someday.