Ah, the dreaded “gen ed” courses. Is there anything more frustrating than being required to take (and pay for) college courses that don’t fit into your major?
In case you don’t know, general education classes (“gen ed”) are required parts of the curriculum they can often feel like “extra” steps to getting your degree. In reality, colleges created these class requirements to give students foundational knowledge before they start their major and minor classes. While it’s valuable to have a good basic skill set—writing, math, history, public speaking, etc. —it doesn’t change the fact that some gen ed courses requirements can feel like an (expensive) delay to getting to your major/minor classes and graduating with your degree.
3 Steps to help with General Education Requirements
Here’s the thing, though, gen ed requirements aren’t going away, but you can be smart and plan ways that gen ed courses can count twice for some of your requirements.
1. Get a Full List of Gen Ed Requirements: First thing’s first, talk with your college advisor and get a full list of all the required general education classes. This is important—you need to know all of the requirements needed before you can start planning things out. When looking at the full list of gen ed courses consider that generally there are two types:
- Strict/Specific Classes: There are many specific gen ed classes that you have to take. For example, nearly every college in the U.S. requires a freshman composition course for all students. There’s no real way to plan around these types of classes, so it’s important to plan early for them. Make sure you get these required strict classes scheduled and completed early in your college career.
- Flexible Classes: The other big possibility with gen eds are “flexible” requirements. These are generally certain subjects where you have to complete the college-specific requirements, but you have the flexibility to select which of the individual course(s) will fulfill that requirement for you. For example, your school’s gen ed requirement might say something like, “Every student must complete six credit hours of a science program.” This means you can choose the specific type of science class that you would like to take as long as it’s within the parameters set by the school. This can be particularly handy because it gives you the freedom of choice to pick courses that count in more than one flexible course category.
2. Outline ALL of Your Major/Minor Requirements: Once you have a list of your school’s gen ed requirements, the next step is to outline what courses you’ll need to complete for your major/minor degree. Starting early is key; knowing what you’ll need to take a year or more in advance can help you “double-up” on certain courses. Keep in mind when planning your degree a few key course types:
- Major Classes: These classes are usually fixed classes that are required to obtain a degree in your major; typically, they don’t change very often. They’re the crux of what you’ll be learning for your degree and future career. Despite being fixed requirements, they might not always be offered each term. It’s critical to know when these classes are available so that you can plan out your registration ahead of time and avoid missing crucial windows for sign up.
- Minor Classes: Minors often tend to be more flexible because they do not make up the main course of your college career. Some minors are also complementary to your major, meaning they might share several key course requirements. Since they require fewer overall courses for completion, it’s important to see where, if any, overall you have with these courses and your major and your gen ed classes.
3. Look for Opportunity to Have Classes Count Twice: Now that you have everything listed out, you can go through your gen eds, your major courses, and minor courses and see where the categories might offer an overlap. There are a couple of popular areas where these “doubling” up options might reside:
- Pre-requisites: Pre-requisites can be the bane of many student’s existence. They’re the class you must take before you’re able to take other courses or higher-level courses. For example: If you want to take Psychology 301, you may need to take Psychology 101. Or if you want to take a computer science course, you might have to take and pass Algebra I. While pre-requisites might seem like a pain, they offer a lot of opportunity for “doubling up.” For example, let’s say you’re getting an engineering degree; you’ll need to take an English pre-prerequisite course, but you can also see if that course counts for credit in your gen ed writing requirement.
- Gen Ed Flexible and Minor Classes: Often one of the biggest opportunities for having classes count twice is in those gen ed “flexible” courses. Remember, these are the categories that say you need X many hours/credits in a certain discipline, i.e. humanities, science, writing, etc. but leave the actual course choices up to you. This is an incredibly easy way to pick things that fit the gen ed category but also count towards your minor or major. For example, a history major might have to complete a certain amount of gen ed art credits. Why not both? Art history courses might count for both categories at your school. Minor adjustments are particularly helpful in this area, as many of the courses required for a minor could easily fall into gen ed flex courses.
Examples on how to double up General Education Requirements
Examples are always helpful in seeing how this “doubling up” might work for you. Jane Smith wants to be an English Major with a business minor and also has to fulfill a few other flexible gen ed requirements – 6 hours in history, art, social science, and communication. To continue on in her major studies, though, she must also take Freshman Composition as a pre-requisite. Below are two examples of schedules she could choose from:
See the difference?
In Schedule A, she picks courses that could count twice. Art History, for example, could count for both an art requirement and a history requirement. Linguistics could serve as a communication credit but also count towards her English major. And small group communication could fulfill the public speaking requirement that most schools have, but also fit within her business minor. Most of these classes carry “double” weight, i.e. serving two gen ed requirements for the price of one class taken.
Schedule B has Jane taking all the necessary gen ed requirements, but they’re all spread out–only individually fulfilling one category at a time. This means that Jane would still need to take additional courses to get credit in her business minor, major, and other gen ed flex categories.
With a little planning, you can see if there are any opportunities in your own college and schedule to pick classes that will count double for you. Keep in mind, it’s important to read all the fine print with your individual college’s requirements. Don’t get caught taking a class that you think fulfills a requirement only to find out later that it doesn’t. When in doubt, ask your advisor. Making your gen ed course requirements count double – particularly for your major and minor classes – is an excellent, easy way to save time and money.