What Is General Education (Gen Ed)? | BestColleges (2024)

Learn about general education credits, their significance, why you need them, and how to choose the best courses for your future success.

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Updated on April 23, 2024

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Stephanie DeBord has spent the past eight years working in higher education. She has held various academic advising roles, and she currently works as a quality assurance manager at the College Credit in High School program at the Metropolitan State U...

By

Danika MillerRead Full Bio

Writer & Editor

Danika Miller is a senior writer at BestColleges and Accredited Schools Online. Her writing has also appeared in Grad School Hub, Best Value Schools, Affordable Colleges Online, and Her Campus. Her financial expertise has been featured in The Simple ...

Edited by

Raneem Taleb-AghaRead Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Raneem Taleb-Agha is a copy editor for BestColleges. Previously, she worked as a bilingual educator in both the U.S. and Spain before transitioning to editing and writing. She holds a BA in Spanish and Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley....

Reviewed by

Stephanie DeBordRead Full Bio

Reviewer & Writer

Stephanie DeBord has spent the past eight years working in higher education. She has held various academic advising roles, and she currently works as a quality assurance manager at the College Credit in High School program at the Metropolitan State U...

Updated on April 23, 2024

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Before colleges and universities offered majors and minors, all students took the same courses — a type of curriculum called a "liberal education." Today, all undergraduates must spend time studying literature, history, philosophy, and other liberal arts subjects through general education requirements.

At many universities, gen ed classes take up most of an undergraduate's first two years. These include basic liberal arts courses, such as English and history, as well as science and math.

However, which classes are considered essential continues to change and ultimately depends on the institution. Even Within a university, specific schools may interpret those requirements differently. In recent years, more colleges have begun to require general health and P.E. courses, as well as diversity and inclusion subjects.

Understanding the role of gen ed will help you make the most of your college education and prepare you for success in your major and career.

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Why Do Students Have to Take General Education Courses?

The requirement for general education courses is intended to expand students' knowledge beyond their main area of study, ensuring a well-rounded learning experience.

These courses are designed to develop critical thinking abilities, enhance communication skills, and teach basic knowledge in many subjects.

By introducing students to a variety of subjects, including math, English composition, history, humanities, social and natural sciences, general education encourages a comprehensive approach to learning. This inspires students to consider multiple perspectives when problem-solving, setting them up for lifelong learning and success in their personal and professional lives.

How to Choose Gen Ed Classes

Taking general education classes should be more than just meeting a requirement. Choose classes that truly captivate your curiosity, as this will lead to better engagement and valuable learning. Think about how these classes can lay the groundwork for your future career.

Ensure your schedule has a good balance of challenging and easier classes. You don't want to take gen ed classes that will negatively impact your GPA, but chasing easy A's isn't a good idea either.

Instead, treat general education requirements the same way as you might treat a college minor: as opportunities to explore other interests, whether they counterbalance or complement your main course of study.

Also, make sure to enroll in general education classes early in your college career. They usually fill up quickly, and if you're not sure what you want to major in yet, they can help guide you toward your major.

Transferring Credits From Gen Ed Classes

Transferring credits from your general education classes is typically straightforward. Most universities generally accept credits from a completed degree, particularly those from general education.

Many students enroll at a local community college for a couple of years so they can get general education requirements out of the way at a much lower price before eventually transferring to a four-year university.

However, keep in mind that many institutions have a residency requirement. This means that a certain percentage of your total college credits by graduation, often around 25%, must be earned from the institution you're transferring to.

To fully understand specific transfer policies and to know which of your credits they're likely to accept, speak with an advisor at your prospective school.

The Case for Gen Ed

General education is fundamental in shaping well-rounded individuals capable of independent thinking and practical application of knowledge.

A broad, college-level encounter with math, science, communication, writing, and other key disciplines develops critical soft skills, such as analysis and creative problem-solving. It's these types of skills that employers want to see the most in college grads.

The gen ed framework itself varies and has changed substantially over time. What colleges consider fundamental speaks to the culture of specific colleges and of higher education as a whole. For example, a Christian college may require a course in religious studies as part of its general education requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions About General Education

How many gen ed classes do you need to take?

The number of general education courses required to complete a degree can vary among educational institutions. Generally, these gen ed requirements make up between one-third and one-half of a degree, typically equating to around 42-60 college credits.It's also worth noting that individual college departments may stipulate additional gen ed requirements for their specific programs.

Some gen ed classes are required for all undergraduates, but other gen ed subjects may present you with a list of classes from which to choose. Ultimately, it's best to pick gen ed classes that interest you and/or that complement your major or minor. Make sure to meet with your academic advisor to fully understand the general education requirements for your school and program.

Failing a gen ed class means you will likely have to retake that class at a later date or take (and pass) another course in that same gen ed subject category.

During your second attempt, don't forget to leverage all support systems, like your college's learning center, the instructor's office hours, and tutoring services, to make sure you succeed in the course.

Typically, students simply need to complete all gen ed requirements by the end of their degree program. That said, some colleges may require you to fulfill certain gen ed requirements by the end of your first or second year.

Some students might prefer to distribute these courses across their entire undergraduate journey, while others may aim to wrap them up in the early stages of their college education, allowing them to later focus exclusively on their major's coursework.It's wise to engage with an academic advisor who can guide you through your choices and program prerequisites, assisting in tailoring your course timetable effectively.

Passing AP exams and IB exams in high school could help you enter college with credits already under your belt, allowing you to fulfill certain general education requirements. Note that college policies vary in terms of what AP/IB scores you must get to earn college credit.

Dual enrollment programs are another excellent choice, enabling you to simultaneously earn credits for your high school diploma and future college degree. Just make sure to confirm with your prospective colleges that they accept credits from these programs.


Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed April 23, 2024.

What Is General Education (Gen Ed)? | BestColleges (2024)
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