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Making the Most of Your General Education Classes

Many college students wince when they think of their general education classes. Once you get beyond the basics of the required math, English, speech, and critical thinking offerings, then you have to plow through a bunch of boring stuff that has no applicability to real life until you can dig into the classes in your major. Right?

No. The idea that general education (GE) classes have to be dry and pointless is a mistaken one. In fact, at many colleges and universities, there is a quite of variety of subjects to fulfill each section of the general education requirements. Of course, the more courses your institution offers overall, the more likely you are to find a course that it is a good fit for you. There will be times where your choices are several classes that don’t thrill you, but at least then you can do some informed research into which one is most likely to work best for you.

Let’s look at the general education pattern for California State University, San Bernardino, a university of roughly 18,000 students in southern California. The broad GE categories are basic skills, natural science, humanities, social and behavioral science, and lifelong understanding. The titles will be different but the concepts are similar among most colleges and universities.

Basic skills are just that – math, English, speech, and critical thinking. There is not a large choice of classes for this category. These are meant to be the baseline skills that every college student must possess in order to proceed successfully with the rest of his or her education. It is a wise plan to take care of basic skills classes first.

Natural science contains areas like biology, astronomy, chemistry, geography, geology, physics, and higher math. At CSUSB [out], there are even specialized classes in genetics, sexually transmitted diseases, and earthquakes.

The area of humanities covers art, music, theatre, literature, and foreign languages. It also delves into the relationship of art, music, theatre, and literature with specific cultures.

Social and behavioral science spans fields such as history, world cultures, anthropology, human evolution, race and ethnicity, psychology, and sociology. There is a rich array of classes about what makes people tick in this section.

Lifelong understanding has to do with physical, psychological, and social wellness and encompasses classes about making positive life choices as well as a variety of physical education classes.

Colleges and universities provide a comprehensive list of GE classes in their paper catalogs or or online. It is also common for references to the GE pattern to appear in class schedules so you can see which requirement you will be fulfilling if you take a particular class.

Too often students will just pick a GE course simply based on whether it fits the rest of their schedule. It is also common for students to choose a GE course based on the name of the class in the schedule without reading the description of what the class is about in the catalog or bulletin. This can be a recipe for disaster. However, if you put some thought into it and plan ahead, you can find choices to satisfy your general education requirements that will satisfy you, too. Checking in with your academic advisor can be especially helpful, as he/she may have information on which classes will be offered in future semesters.

Taking GE classes that interest you or at least don’t have you stupefied with boredom increases the likelihood of getting good grades as well as learning about subjects that make you a more fully educated person.