Michele is presently a part time adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in the Counselor Education Department where she teaches Measurement and Assessment and Diagnosis and Treatment. I formerly taught at the University of West Alabama where I taught School Counseling and College Student Development Counseling. I was also the Student Success Coordinator for the College of Education.
What Does a Degree Program Really Entail?
Bob is beginning his freshmen year at his local college. He is majoring in music education. When he signs up for classes, he is given a college catalog, which provides him with information about courses, majors, policies, and the school itself.
He talks to his friend who is at an out-of-state college and finds that his friend is taking the same courses he is. His friend who is taking courses at the local community college is also taking the same courses. Bob finds this surprising.
General Education Hours
The next time he meets with his freshmen orientation class, he asks Dr. Brown, his professor, how and why the students all seemed to be taking the same courses although they were majoring in different subjects. Dr. Brown explained to the class that almost all college students will take a basic curriculum of courses.
Most students will take similar courses the freshmen and sophomore years, and then the student will begin their major courses their junior and senior years. The courses are designed to give every student a broader background than they would have just with their major courses. Note that some courses have a prerequisite, or a basic course you need to take before you can enroll in a more advanced course.
Although the list of required general curriculum courses may vary from school to school, they will generally include the following:
- Six hours of English composition
- Six hours of higher-level composition courses
- Six hours of computer science or foreign language
- Twelve hours of humanities and fine arts
- Eleven hours of mathematics and science
Although the student may begin taking major courses as early as their freshmen year, most students will really concentrate on their major coursework the last two years. Many programs, such as education and nursing, may require a student to apply for an upper division of coursework. Once a student is accepted into the upper division, they are considered to be majoring in that subject. Not everyone who applies is accepted. Those not accepted will have to choose a different major.
The college major usually consists of several courses specific to the major course of study, which may include internships, practicums, and other experiential courses. Students may also get academic credit for work and life experience in some programs.
Dr. Brown explained that although not all programs may provide for a minor as part of its coursework, for many students, a minor or multiple minors may be a way to specialize their degree. A minor requires significantly fewer academic hours than the major. It is usually in a field closely related to the major, such as English and journalism.
Some majors, which tend to vary at different colleges, may have such a tight academic schedule that their program is an exception to the general curriculum. For instance, many colleges with an education degree program require so many experiential courses that the education department may have set its own general curriculum. This may also be true of engineering, which may require students to enter with higher-level math requirements than those in the general curriculum.
Each college develops its own general curriculum, but this curriculum must meet the guidelines of a state governing body and all accreditation boards in which they have memberships. You may notice minor differences in general curriculum courses, but most will be consistent with other colleges. Private, religious colleges, for example, may require a religion course or two as part of their general curriculum.
In some states, there is a state committee that oversees the courses offered at the colleges in its state. This allows the student who attends a community college for the first two years, or another four-year college, to be able to transfer the general curriculum courses into the new college. If all the colleges have the same general curriculum, transferring credits is much easier, and the student is more likely to have their coursework accepted by the new college.
In addition to state committees, almost all colleges seek to meet the requirements of organizations that accredit the whole curriculum. There are six regional divisions:
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
In addition, many college programs have subject-specific accreditation groups whose requirements they must meet. These ensure that students are getting a similar education at each school they accredit, no matter the size, location, or public or private status of the school.
So, by asking Dr. Brown what he needed to know about his courses, Bob understands that his general curriculum courses are designed to give him a well-rounded liberal arts background. Because his program does not have a formal upper division, he will be ready to take his major and minor courses once he has finished his general curriculum courses.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand what a major for college is
- Describe the prerequisites in the general curriculum for most degree plans
- Identify the accreditation organizations for the majority of colleges and universities
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