Take a Strategic Approach to Gen Ed Courses

Posted on September 28, 2023

Posted on September 28, 2023

General education – gen ed – courses are part of any college curriculum. They may feel like extra hoops to jump through to get to your degree but they’re designed to give you foundational knowledge and build different skills to support your academic and professional careers.

Still, it may feel like taking math, science, history, or public speaking courses are a delay and expense on your way to major-specific courses and your degree. If you're eager to complete these courses and dive into your field, there are some ways to choose your courses strategically to save time and money.

How to Choose Your Gen Ed Courses

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute 

Classes fill up early, especially for popular courses that have limited offerings. Registering early allows you to choose your courses while you have several options for time slots, so you can balance your schedule more easily.

Ideally, work with your advisor to plan your schedule a few months in advance. If you wait until the last minute, you could get stuck with a course you dread. Worse yet, you could miss out on opportunities to combine your requirements with strategic scheduling.

Balance Difficult Courses with Easier Ones

Academic burnout is a real thing, even for high achievers who are comfortable under pressure. Gen ed courses are often easier than degree-specific courses, but a packed schedule with tough major courses and gen eds or electives that take you out of your comfort zone is a setup for burnout. 

Make sure to balance your schedule with difficult courses, easier courses, and some fun courses. This will help you prioritize your study time according to workload and keep your mind fresh with varied subjects. If you want to challenge yourself with an unfamiliar course, surround it with easier courses to ensure success.

Speak to Your Advisor About Degree Requirements

Your college advisor is your asset in choosing the right gen ed courses to optimize time and tuition. Get the full list of gen ed courses you will need to take to plan things out. You will have two types of gen ed courses:

Strict requirements that you will need to take, such as English Composition 101. These are courses that are typically required at any college or university in the US. Usually, the only way you won’t need to take these courses is if you had an AP course or got a jump on your gen eds with online courses. It’s best to get these required courses out of the way early. 

Flexible gen ed courses that fit within certain subjects to complete your subject area requirements for your degree. These aren’t “free” electives with complete flexibility, but you have a choice of specific courses to satisfy your English or math requirement, for example.

Identify Your Prerequisites

Prerequisites are courses you need to take before you’re able to take other courses or higher-level courses. For example, if you need upper-level psychology courses for your major or minor, you will need to take Psychology 101.

Some prerequisites are required for your major or minor, but others may be required if you want to take a specific course for your gen ed or electives. For example, if you are set on taking a computer science course, you may need to take College Algebra. 

Pay attention to your prerequisites to get them completed early in your college career. Some of the degree-specific or upper-level courses you need to take are limited, so you don’t want to struggle with your third- or fourth-year schedule by missing a prerequisite.

Look for Opportunities to “Double Up”

With your list of gen ed courses, electives, and major and minor course requirements, you can get into the strategy. Some of these categories may overlap, giving you the option to “double up” and knock out two requirements at once.

As mentioned, prerequisites are something you want to get out of the way early, but they’re also good for doubling up. For example, if you’re pursuing a major or minor in anthropology, you will likely need courses on human origin and evolution. A prerequisite for that may be geography to understand the relationships between people and the environment, but that course could also count toward your science or social science requirement, depending on the school. 

Gen ed flexible courses and minor courses are another great opportunity to double up. These are categories that require a certain number of credit hours in a specific discipline like science, writing, or humanities, but you have freedom to choose courses within that discipline.

So, you could double up on a gen ed category that also helps your major or minor. For example, a history major may be required to complete a certain number of gen ed arts and humanities credits, so an art history course may count toward both categories.

Here’s an example of how this could work:

Say you are an English major with a business minor with a requirement for six credit hours in history, art, social science, and communication. Your major requires English Composition as a prerequisite for your degree-specific courses. 

You could set up your schedule one of two ways:

Schedule 1:

  • English Composition 
  • Art History 101
  • Sociology 101
  • Linguistics 101
  • Small Group Communication 101

Schedule 2:

  • English Composition
  • History 101
  • Introduction to Humanities 101
  • Sociology 101 
  • Public Speaking 101

With the first schedule, some of your courses may count twice, depending on the school’s requirements. For example, Art History may satisfy an art requirement and a history requirement. Linguistics could be a communication credit, but obviously benefits an English major. Small Group Communication may fulfill your public speaking requirement, but it’s also beneficial for a business minor.

Now, with Schedule 2, each gen ed requirement is covered by only one course – no more, no less. You would still need to take courses to get credits for your major, minor, and other gen ed flex categories, as well as any prerequisites. 

Naturally, not every course will perfectly align with your requirements, major, minor, and individual interests – not to mention that sometimes the schedule simply doesn’t work out. Scheduling conflicts exist, especially with courses that are popular and limited. But planning in advance helps you optimize your schedule and requirements as best as possible.

Another option is to balance your in-person courses with self-paced online gen ed courses. You won’t need to worry about classes filling up, scheduling conflicts, or balancing a lot of coursework. You can employ similar strategies to double up on requirements with online courses for transfer credits, just be sure to speak to your advisor about your transfer options and degree requirements.

Take Courses That Interest You

Choosing your gen ed courses strategically isn’t about gaming the process. While it can be helpful to double up or complete certain courses early, gen ed is also about exploring your interests and igniting intellectual curiosity. Don’t be afraid to take a course to try something new, even if another course fits better. 

Knock Out Your Gen Eds with Sophia 

Gen eds can be a great way to explore interests, learn new things, and satisfy your intellectual curiosity. But if you want to fast-track your degree program to get into the degree-specific courses you really enjoy, choosing gen eds strategically can help you double up on requirements, get prerequisites out of the way, and get your degree faster.

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Category: Higher Education

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