What is General Education? An Overview

Aside from your major, most colleges require all students to take a certain number of general education courses. As a new student, you may be excited to begin learning subjects related to your chosen major, but it’s important not to overlook the general education classes you have to take and their potential value to your education.


General education classes cover a wide range of topics, and while they’re not always related to your main focus of studies, they do help by rounding out your knowledge and your education. 


Let’s take a closer look at general education, including its purpose, classes you can take, and how to choose them.



University of the People student carrying general education course books



What is General Education?


Just like you had required classes in high school, like math, science, and history, there are also similar required courses in college. 


General education, often abbreviated as gen ed or GE, are courses that are part of your required curriculum that are necessary in order to complete an undergraduate degree.



What are General Education Credits?


General education credits are the credits you earn upon completing your gen ed requirements. Some schools treat these as elective credits, so you have a lot more freedom to choose which types of classes you take to complete your gen ed credits.


In other cases, schools will require you to acquire gen ed credits from specific fields of study, such as English, humanities, math, or foreign languages. Even if these subjects are completely unrelated to your field of study, these gen ed credits are necessary if you want to finish your degree. 


Additionally, some students start their studies by completing general education classes before they declare a major. That way, they’re able to work towards earning their degree while studying different topics and deciding what they want to study long-term.



Purpose of General Education Courses


General education classes are meant to round out every student’s degree by exposing them to more topics that are relevant to society. Gen ed helps students become better members of society and more well-informed citizens.


It may seem counterintuitive to have to study something like English or social studies if you’re in a field like business or biology, but learning these subjects can have an impact on your future career. 


For example, learning the basics of a foreign language can help if your career involves working with the public. Additionally, understanding things like socioeconomic backgrounds and history can make you a better doctor, lawyer, or employee in almost any other field.


A lot of colleges use general education courses to promote culture diversity and acceptance, as well as to instill an appreciation of arts and culture in the student body. This can be especially important for students with majors that don’t touch otherwise upon these issues so that they’re more aware of social issues that can impact them and their work.






What Courses are Considered General Education?


Normally, general education courses are more or less standardized across most colleges. However, there are some colleges that offer some different or unique gen ed classes based on things like their location, the background of their student body, or even current events.


The subjects listed here are ones that you’ll usually find in most gen ed course lists, so you can expect to take classes in a few of these concentrations:




Whether or not you enjoyed English lessons in high school, completing your GE requirements with credits in English can be one of the best things you do for your degree. Since most degrees will require you to submit some form of written work, either as an exam, essay, or written assignment, it’s important to understand how to write well and structure your work properly. 


Gen ed English classes often cover topics like composition and essay structure, so taking this course can really help you develop your writing skills and earn higher grades in other classes.




Math may not be everyone’s favorite subject, but it’s definitely a topic that will follow you throughout your life. Developing your math skills, even basic ones, can be extremely helpful when you work in a business or even run your own. While it doesn’t equate to accounting, studying math will make your life easier whenever you need to work with numbers. 


Even if you plan on a career in the arts, everyone has to deal with math and managing finances in their lives, so taking this general education course is a win-win.


Natural Sciences


Natural sciences covers a variety of different courses and interests. Most general education science courses aren’t very technical and don’t have strict prerequisites, making these ideal introductory classes for anyone who is curious about the field but doesn’t want it to be their main area of study. 


Some natural science classes include biology, astronomy, physics, environmental sciences, astronomy, and more. 


Social Sciences



Anyone can benefit from studying social sciences. Social sciences refers to the study of human society and relationships. While some people choose this as their major and make entire careers out of social science-related subjects, classes in their field are often of interest to a lot of students just because of sheer curiosity. 


Social sciences classes can include courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, political sciences, archaeology, geography, history, and more.





While social sciences focuses more on humanity in society, the humanities are more focused on studying human culture and expression in all its forms. Studying humanities can give you a closer insight into how humans express themselves in different cultures and often includes the study of different mediums of art. 


Some general education courses in humanities include music, art, literature, ethics, philosophy, or religion. Since these classes tend to focus more on creativity, it can be a welcomed break to take humanities courses if your major is very analytical or demanding.


Foreign Languages


Foreign languages courses are often found as part of social sciences or humanities departments, however, the benefit of taking a language course to fulfill your general education requirements has its own set of benefits. 


If you plan on traveling or moving abroad for an exchange or even for your career, then studying a language, even just an introductory course, can be very practical. Even if you don’t intend to use your second language skills right away, learning a new language is always fun, challenging, and can come in handy when you least expect it.



Can You Transfer Gen Ed Courses?


You might be surprised to learn how easily transferable gen ed courses are. Since a lot of colleges offer the same or similar general education classes, it’s quite easy to transfer credits if you decide you want to switch schools at any point.


Not only that, but if you decide during your degree that you want to switch majors, you might even be able to use relevant general education courses towards your new major, if it’s part of that degree’s curriculum. 



Can You Take Gen Ed Courses Online?


Yes, you can.


If you’re working full time but you want to start a degree, or if you simply want to complete courses from home for any reason, a lot of general education classes are available online as well. 


The online gen ed courses available to you will depend on your university. However, since it’s so easy to transfer general education credits, you can always complete your GE requirements elsewhere before starting at your chosen university. 


University of the People offers tuition-free online general education courses so that you can study at your own pace and from your preferred location.



What Should You Consider When Choosing Gen Ed Courses?


Aside from your interests or passions when it comes to your education, there are a few other things to think about before choosing a gen ed class. 


For starters, if you know you’re going to be transferring schools next year or next semester, then you might want to take as many general education classes as you can since you know they’ll transfer easily. 


Furthermore, you should check the requirements for the program you’re applying to at your new school to see if you can start earning credits with gen ed classes.


From a more practical standpoint, you want to make sure your general education courses don’t cause too much of a burden on your studies. Your main focus is still your major, so you want to choose gen ed courses that are easy enough to ensure you’ll get a good grade. 


Some students select their general education classes based on their academic strengths so that they’re more likely to get a good grade and increase their final GPA. While this shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when making your GE choices, it’s certainly an important one.



To Summarize


General education classes can be a fun addition to your time at university, but to ensure you’re getting the most out of your degree, make sure you’re studying something that can be relevant to your major and that aligns with your overall academic goals.


Finally, don’t be afraid to explore online learning, especially when it comes to general education credits. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by switching to online courses for your GE requirements. Pursuing a specialized certificate program online can also be potentially beneficial. 



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