Pursuing a college education is a very personal journey and as many students select their majors, they are itching to dive into the curriculum specific courses. However, a good number of them are immediately dismayed to learn they are to take a series of general education courses as part of their degree program. And, almost as often, their academic counselors will recommend they start their college path taking these gen ed classes. Not exactly what they'd expected to find when they arrived at college.

Radford University, Virginia
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Students head off to college anticipating taking classes they'd never taken before. Many are dismayed to find out from their academic advisors they have to take a number of courses that are upper level classes of what they'd taken in high school.

What are 'Gen Ed' Classes?

General education classes, often referred to as core curriculum classes, are categories of courses that are required for all degree programs on top of the degree-specific classes. The exact gen ed classes students are expected to take will vary depending on the degree path chosen, but the individual required courses come from a broad set of classes. For instance, science majors are usually required to take a couple of literature classes, and art majors will have to take some math.

Students wonder why are these general education course required? They also often have difficultly seeing how there is value in taking these credits. But there is a lot of value, here's why.

Literature textbooks
Credit: Leigh Goessl

For example, all students pursuing a degree, regardless of major, usually have to take at least a couple of literature courses.  Along with some math, science, humanities and a few other topic areas.

Exposure to Diverse Learning

Many students have the idea they don't "need" general education classes to further their education because they feel the courses are useless and don't pertain to their career goals. It's easy to see where this misconception comes from. After all, how many people directly use algebra, western civilization or psychology in their daily post-educational routines? The thing about general education classes is they provide a broad foundation of education which offers a spectrum of various knowledge areas.

Additionally, a fairly good number of students enter college gung-ho on a major only to learn a semester or two (or even three!) down the road they are traveling the wrong road. Over these semesters they sometimes become disillusioned with their choice for one reason or another. It might be they discovered they find the material boring or the major isn't exactly what they envisioned it would be. Then they select a new major and, as a result, have to start over.

Focusing on gen ed courses helps students learn and explore the various disciplines. Not only did I make the aforementioned mistake myself and learned it the hard way, my years spent in an admissions and registrar position showed me just how frustrating this is for students. Taking a variety of general education courses provides exposure to different disciplines and often we are sparked by something we've learned. These core courses show us what our potentials are by allowing and encouraging us to experience a wide breadth of knowledge.

Develop Stronger Critical Thinking Skills

Some courses, which on the outside appear mundane and boring, are actually developing critical thinking skills underneath the surface. It's not always necessarily what you are learning (although that is important too!), but how you are learning it. In problem solving, there is a lot of value to be said for the process taken to reach the solution. This is valuable in itself.

Serve as Building Blocks

Other classes are the building blocks to the foundational knowledge base to other courses. While I was in community college there was one semester my first choice was canceled due to lack of enrollment. It was just before the semester's start and the only class left with room in it was an Adolescent Psychology course. In college I was a business/technology major and taking this psych course seemed fruitless at the time and a big 'ol waste of time. Not to mention it was frustrating, but I needed to maintain a certain level of credits to keep my financial aid, so I registered for the class.

Fast forward a few years as I'm completing my bachelor program and taking a technology ethics course; I found many of the theoretical "blocks" I'd received in that psych class helped me succeed in a technology class! Who'd a thought? Plus it did turn out to be interesting material.

Legos/Building blocks
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Students are smart to start with the required general education courses rather than jump into degree requirements. As they work towards their degree, these gen ed"building blocks" may take them in a completely new direction than what they originally planned, ultimately changing what they want to build.

Acquire Knowledge

General education is a great way to get a broader knowledge and perception of the world and its components. This exposure and awareness of the world which surrounds us is valuable in itself, and broad courses promotes shared values in our interactions with others. Taking general education classes opens us up to cultural traditions and history and promotes a deeper understanding of world; this is particularly important in a world which has gone global, in society, politics and business.

General education courses are valuable because the various disciplines do interrelate and apply to one another. Obtaining a broad foundation encompassing humanities, histories, sciences, mathematics, language and other pertinent areas only enhance and increase our learning as we progress to higher levels of understanding.  All these courses are small pieces of an overall puzzle. Those "boring" general education classes are more inclusive and relevant than we think.

[ Related Reading: Planning Your College Exit and Entering the Real World ]

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-learn-arrangement-components-210785/

All disciplines ultimately connect to become a finished puzzle. The pieces may not seem to connect during the process, but in the end it all makes sense.