The Pros: Gen Ed Courses Give You a Well-Rounded Education
In most U.S. colleges and universities, you'll find biology majors enrolled in English composition courses, English majors taking math classes, and math majors studying art appreciation. This is because colleges and universities usually require students to complete gen ed courses - either specific classes or a certain number of credits from designated academic areas.
Gen ed requirements are considered to be one of the main benefits of a college education, both for students and society. Many students enjoy the opportunity to explore different disciplines, whether or not they're certain about a chosen major. Many people, including students, parents, and higher education experts, strongly believe in the value of a well-rounded liberal arts education. They think this type of education enables graduates to communicate effectively, think critically, and solve problems creatively, all of which benefit employers and the world at large. If you believe this, then you'll do just fine in a college with traditional gen ed requirements.
The Cons: Gen Ed Courses Are Costly and Time-Consuming
While gen ed requirements definitely have their benefits, they're not for everyone. Some students aren't happy about paying good money for courses they're not interested in. Also, these requirements usually take a couple of years to complete. Some students argue that time spent completing gen eds would be better used taking more classes in their major. Those with work or family obligations often express a desire to be free of gen ed classes so they can concentrate on relevant coursework. If you share these beliefs, then you may benefit from finding a college with more flexible requirements.
Finding a Flexible College
Programs at technical colleges and trade schools routinely allow students to complete programs without any gen ed requirements, but the practice is rare at 4-year schools. However, colleges vary greatly in their flexibility. It's helpful to distinguish among 3 terms:
- open curriculum: no specific requirements outside your major
- core curriculum: designated classes taken by every student
- distribution requirements: a required number of credits in several different academic areas
An entirely open curriculum is very rare. Brown University in Rhode Island, Amherst College in Massachusetts, and Grinnell College in Iowa are among a handful of colleges in this category (although Brown requires a writing course, Amherst requires a first-year seminar, and Grinnell requires a first-year tutorial).
It's easier to find colleges that have distribution requirements without a core curriculum, and there's lots of variation in how strict the distribution requirements are. A few schools to check out are Beloit College in Wisconsin (flexible curriculum with a few distribution requirements), New York University's Gallantin School of Individualized Study (individually designed academic concentration with 32 required liberal arts credits), and Pitzer College in Los Angeles.
When you're researching colleges, find out about each school's academic requirements. Look at a college's website, explore its catalog, or speak with an academic advisor. If possible, talk to students or graduates. Find a college that best meets your values, lifestyle, academic goals, and future career plans. Happy hunting!