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    What Is General Education (Gen Ed)?

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Posted: November 27th, 2023
    What Is General Education (Gen Ed)?

    If you’ve looked at your own college transcript, friends, or even siblings, you’ve likely seen something listed on it that says general education. In fact, you likely saw a lot of spots that said that, but what does that actually mean? And why do you need to take so many of those classes? Let’s discuss it together! 

    General education definition

    General education credits, also known as “Gen eds”, are a requirement that you will find when you begin to receive your undergraduate degree. A gen ed is just what it sounds like, it’s a generalized course of study in a certain subject, think classes like:

    • English I and II
    • Basic college math courses 
    • History
    • Science (including social sciences)
    • Arts and humanities

    These are all some subject areas of general education classes that you might take throughout the course of your degree.

    The purpose of gen eds

    The gen ed classes you take in college won’t be all that different from the courses you took in high school. In high school, you likely had a certain number of classes you had to take in basic subjects such as math, English, history, science, and maybe even foreign language. Well, college is no different. No matter what subject you are majoring in, your school will want to make sure that you have a strong and balanced foundation in all areas of academics. 

    It may feel like they’re just keeping you from major specific courses as many gen eds need to be completed before you enter higher level major specific classes. However, general education classes are expanding your foundation and exposing you to subjects that you may have never otherwise been exposed to!

    Gen ed classes

    Let’s take a look at more specific classes that you may come across at your college. Unfortunately, each college will have their own general education classes and requirements, which means there is no universal list of courses you’ll have to take. However, the range of courses you can take is what makes gen eds so great! Below are just a few examples of some classes that were recently offered that thanks to gen eds, you may have the chance to take! 

    Conflict resolution in a divided world

    Conflict Resolution in a Divided World is a class offered at Harvard. The goal of this course is to help prepare students in a practical way for something that they will face in all areas of their life!

    Introduction to Scandinavian Folklore

    Yes, you read the title of this class correctly. Introduction to Scandinavian Folklore is a course offered by UCLA. In this course you can expect to learn about all things fairy tales, but also explore a deeper side that asks why people tell the stories that they tell.

    Mafia Movies 

    Just like the previous class, this course is exactly what it sounds like, watching mafia movies. In this Ohio State University class you’ll get a chance to learn about all things mafia! Alongside watching movies you’ll get to learn about the real history behind the Italian and Italian American mafias!

    There are literally hundreds of other courses available that are just as interesting and surprising as the ones listed above. Our point is that these classes don’t need to feel like they are just wasting your time. Take your time to look for classes that really interest you. We promise you will find some! 

    When do you take gen eds

    Most of your gen eds will be taken during your freshman and sophomore year of college. However, if you find that you still have a few leftovers during junior and senior year, that’s completely fine as well. Some of your last semesters in undergraduate can get quite heavy with major specific courses. When you have the option, adding in a gen ed that is about another topic can be a nice way to break up your mix of classes. 

    Shouldn’t you just take easy gen eds?

    If you’re at all familiar with gen eds, then you may have had people give you advice in the past that you should just take the easiest ones you can. While it’s true that taking hard, high level gen ed classes isn’t always the best option, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself or take your time finding classes that really interest you. Each semester you can assess what sort of classes you need to take for your major. If you have a particularly heavy or light semester in terms of credit hours and degree of difficulty in classes, you can use that to measure the amount of time you’d be able to put into gen eds.  

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • General education courses are classes that every college will require students to take throughout the course of their undergraduate degree
    • The purpose of general education classes is to provide you a strong foundation and expose you to classes outside of your major
    • General education classes are a part of your college journey that you can use to broaden your horizons and expand your portfolio 
    • Take risks and explore some subjects that are out of your comfort zone, you never know what classes may lead you to something great

    Frequently asked questions about general education 

    What if my college doesn’t have general education courses?

    When you look at what is required of you to complete your degree, you may find that nowhere does anything say that you have to take gen eds. However, this may simply be because your school calls general education classes something else. Some colleges may call their gen ed classes bricks, pillars, core classes, or a number of other things. If you are confused about this, ask your guidance counselor or someone at the school to help you. 

    Do gen eds matter in college?

    Yes, gen eds will be an important part of your degree. Every college requires you to complete some form of general education credits even if they are not necessarily called that at your college.

    Does Yale have gen eds?

    While Yale does not technically have gen eds, they do require something very similar called distributional requirements. These distributional requirements consist of students taking two classes in each of the following areas: quantitative reasoning, writing, science, social science, and the  humanities/arts. They also require students to take at least one foreign language course.

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