The Case for Gen Eds (And Why You Shouldn’t Blow Them Off)

A college student studies for an exam

Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do: they’ve had a passion for movies ever since they got their chubby toddler hands on their parents’ clunky old camcorder and they’re going to major in Film, no matter what. They’ve wanted to be a filmmaker (a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a marine biologist—you get the picture) as long as they can remember, and now that they’re finally in college, nothing can stop them from pursuing their dreams… Except for classes they’re forced to take, even though they have no direct relevance to your major.

I get it. You’re paying a pretty penny for your education here; you want to dive right into studying stuff you actually care about. While you might be stuck with a “why does world philosophies even matter when I’m a pre-pharm major” attitude, I’m going to try reasoning with you. There are definitely some general education (aka gen ed) courses I didn’t particularly enjoy (I firmly believe we shouldn’t be subjected to gym class after high school), but 95% of the time, I loved my gen eds. Do you need more convincing? Here are six reasons why you should take your gen eds seriously.

Gen eds may not be relevant to your degree, but they’re relevant to real life.

A liberal arts education does more than prepare you for your career and send you on your way. By the time you graduate, you’ll have a robust, well-rounded education supported by a general education curriculum. You won’t be an expert, but you’ll have a good enough grasp on a variety of topics to understand what’s happening in the world.

A basic sociology class can reveal the social forces behind the oppression of minority groups. Comp I and II will help you articulate your thoughts and form an argument.  And when you hear politicians spouting bullshit about women’s bodies—I’m looking at you, Todd Akin—you can think back to the reproductive system lecture from gen ed Bio, a class some candidates clearly didn’t pay attention in.

You can learn a life skill or two.

You can also gain directly helpful skills from certain gen ed courses. Instead of signing up for College Algebra, I was able to take a course called Mathematics in Society. The class was pretty self-explanatory; we calculated the interest rate on mortgages and car loans, created a budget based on our spending habits, and figured out the probability of winning the lottery. Although your major may require a more advanced math course, many gen ed programs allow you to take personal finance courses. Who said gen eds were useless?

You might find your minor.

Many degree programs will require a minor. They’re a great way to pursue an interest outside of your major while also making yourself more marketable. Gen eds are an literally an entry to most fields of study. A general education gender studies course can be a prerequisite for an upper division class, whether you decide to declare the minor immediately or later on.

Alternatively, you may end up changing (or declaring) your major after an impressive survey course. You never know when a subject will lure you away from your intended major. Don’t feel pressured to declare a major or a minor as an incoming freshman. You’ll have plenty of time.

Let’s be real—some are pretty easy…

I can’t say that your entire gen ed catalog is full of super easy courses, but you’ll probably have a hard time failing some of the tamer classes.  For example, I dreaded taking health because the course was split into two halves: during the first part of the semester we’d be sitting inside, learning about proper eating habits and sexually transmitted infections. After midterms, we’d meet in the gym twice a week.

That may be your cup of tea, but I’m a chubby couch potato. Exercise and I don’t really get along. We weren’t graded on how much weight we lost or how many calories we could burn. A huge chunk of our grade came from being at the gym, learning how to safely use gym equipment, and keeping track of what we did that day. I watched Netflix while jogging on a treadmill and passed the course with an A.

…As long as you show up.

A lot of new students (my unprepared freshman self included) don’t take their gen eds seriously until it’s too late. I know, I just told you how easy some of these classes are going to be. Trust me; you don’t want to learn the hard way. Many professors give attendance or participation points that can make up a percentage of your final grade. While you will have a handful of allotted absences, skipping class every Friday can keep you from getting an A.

I know how easy it is to blow off an “unimportant” class because I was a bad truant in my first semester–and I paid for it. Showing up to your 8 a.m. class may be one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’re balancing a part-time job and extracurriculars on top of your studies. Attempting to earn your scholarships back after tanking your GPA is even harder. Been there, done that, don’t recommend it.

You never know who you’ll remember at the end of it all.

As a recent college grad, I’ve looked back on my favorite professors. Who left the strongest impressions? When I needed advice about school, when I needed to vent, when I just wanted to shoot the shit: whose door did I come to? I adore my English department, but I’d be lying if I said my gen ed professors didn’t leave an impact on me. Thanks to these classes I was forced to take, I finally met a teacher who made me enjoy—and understand—science.

My intro-level sociology professor nurtured my passion for social justice, and I wound up taking one of his upper division courses even though it wouldn’t count toward my major or minor. I even found myself going to my freshman writing professor long after my first year of school, if only to catch up. Yes, you’ll have some classes taught by grad students or less memorable professors, but you shouldn’t entirely disregard your gen eds. Although they may not be relevant to your major, you’d be surprised how a class can change you.

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