8 Tips to Get Through General Education Courses

Many undergrads dread gen ed requirements. Our tips and strategies can help you survive gen eds while getting the most out of them.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated September 21, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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8 Tips to Get Through General Education Courses
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A lot of undergrads dread general education (gen ed) courses. Gen ed requirements are why many chem majors take world history and why English majors take math. At many colleges, undergrads spend two years meeting general education requirements.

But why do you need gen eds for a bachelor's degree? How can you get through years of gen ed courses that may not interest you? And how can you get the most out of these required courses?

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Some students just want to survive gen eds. For those learners, maximizing transfer credits, doubling up on requirements, and making a plan with an academic advisor can help cross off gen ed requirements.

But what if you want to take advantage of general education requirements? The following tips and strategies highlight how you can use gen eds to reach your academic and career goals.

Why Do Students Have to Take General Education Courses?

The concept of a broad, interdisciplinary education goes back centuries. But the idea of required courses outside of a student's major dates back to only the mid-20th century. At the time, colleges sought to find a balance between vocational training and a liberal education.

Colleges adopted general education requirements to ensure students graduated with key skills and knowledge outside their major.

Sometimes called the core curriculum or distribution requirements, general education encourages an interdisciplinary education. Colleges require these courses because they promote critical thinking and provide a well-rounded education.

But not all undergrads agree. Mercer University student K. C. Wetherington argued that "general education courses waste time and money" in a 2021 opinion piece. The same sentiment regularly appears in college newspapers.

Whether you love gen eds or hate them, you'll almost certainly take them at some point during college. But how can you meet graduation requirements as painlessly as possible?

8 Tips to Survive Gen Ed Courses

Many students show up for their gen ed courses because they need the credits to graduate, not because they're fascinated by the topic. So how can you survive your gen eds? Here are eight strategies that can help you get through gen ed courses.

1. Complete Gen Ed Classes Early

Prioritize general education requirements during your first two years of college. That will give you more time to take upper-division classes in your major and interesting electives during your final two years.

If you don't knock out your gen ed courses quickly, you risk filling up your final year with intro-level courses. This might mean missing out on opportunities related to your major.

2. Transfer Community College Credits

Looking to meet general education requirements and save money? Consider transferring credits from a community college. Many four-year colleges and universities partner with local community colleges. That means your credits should transfer seamlessly — and you can also save on tuition.

Before signing up for community college classes, check with an academic advisor about transfer policies and which classes count for gen ed requirements.

3. Meet Two Requirements With One Class

At most schools, general education requirements fall into several categories. You might need a human cultures course plus a writing course, for example.

Talk to an academic advisor about whether one class can be used to fulfill two requirements. A writing-heavy art history class might check off two boxes on your list. However, some schools limit this kind of "double dipping," so make sure to check with an advisor to see if this is an option.

4. Avoid Assuming Gen Ed Is Easy

Too many college students assume that gen ed classes will be easy. As a result, they fail to put enough time and effort into gen ed courses, risking their GPA.

Avoid assuming that a 100-level class outside your major will be easier than an upper-division course in your major. In gen eds, you're learning how another discipline operates, which may not be easy depending on your strengths and interests.

5. Talk to Your Professors

Ged ed courses challenge undergrads because each department has different expectations. A great English paper might not be a great economics paper. Talk to your professors to learn more about their expectations.

Read the syllabus to understand the grading policy. Attend review sessions before exams. And visit office hours to ask questions and see how you can improve on subsequent assignments.

6. Use Gen Ed to Explore Majors

Some first-year students arrive on campus with a clear idea of their major. Many others show up as undecided students. For undecided undergrads, gen eds are an opportunity to explore different disciplines.

Most colleges require general education courses in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Intro courses are a great way to learn more about these fields and explore your options.

It's also worth visiting career services to learn about your job options with different majors.

7. Work With Academic Advisors

Every spring, academic advisors inform unsuspecting seniors that they're missing a gen ed requirement. Those seniors may need to sign up for a 100-level class or risk missing graduation.

Avoid this problem by working closely with your academic advisor throughout your program. Ask your advisor for a list of unmet graduation requirements each year to track your progress.

And make sure you receive credit for your gen eds. You don't want to discover senior year that intro to film studies no longer meets gen ed requirements.

8. Focus on Transferable Skills

Too many students see gen ed classes as a waste of time. But colleges require these courses for a reason. Gen eds strengthen in-demand soft skills like critical thinking, communication, and writing. They also push students to build interdisciplinary skills.

Pay attention to the transferable skills that gen ed classes emphasize. Think about how those skills apply to your major and your career goals.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Gen Ed Courses

First, think strategically about how to meet graduation requirements. Can courses in your major also count toward gen ed? Can you double-up on general education classes? An advisor can help you check off the requirements as painlessly as possible.

Second, use gen ed classes to choose or complement your major. Rather than taking random classes in different departments to explore majors, try out various disciplines while also meeting graduation requirements.

And think about how gen eds can give you a jump start in your career. A STEM major with strong public-speaking skills can stand out on the job market, as can a humanities major with analytics training.

Finally, focus on skills. Sometimes, students struggle to get interested in the course content. If that's the case, shift your attention to transferable skills. Work on your research and writing abilities in a world history class. Strengthen data analysis abilities in a statistics class.

Keep gen eds in perspective. Ultimately, they can make you a stronger student and a better job candidate.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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