Understanding the Value of Core Subjects in College

Posted on October 12, 2023

Posted on October 12, 2023

If you’re like most students, you may be wondering why certain courses are required in college, even if they’re unrelated to your degree. Why does a communications degree need life science courses? How does English Composition 101 help an engineering major? 

Contrary to popular belief, these courses aren’t designed to slow you down, pad your tuition, or waste your time. All of the core subjects and areas of study play important roles in preparing a student for college-level learning, a future graduate program, and an increasingly competitive job market. 

General Education for Foundational Learning 

Colleges may differ in what they require for core classes and electives, but all schools have general curriculum requirements that are designed to help students gain important skills. These typically include a range of courses in the arts and humanities, foreign language, English and literature, sciences, social sciences, history, and math. 

While these courses may seem irrelevant to your degree-specific courses, they build skills that will matter in your career. With competitive applicants for a job, employers aren’t just looking for job skills that come with a specific degree (which most of the applicants possess). They’re looking for the valuable soft skills that inform how you’ll perform your job and contribute to the organization, such as: 

  • Critical thinking 
  • Creativity 
  • Analytical skills 
  • Flexibility 
  • Teamwork 
  • Empathy 
  • Cultural sensitivity 
  • Civic engagement 
  • Clear communication 
  • Intellectual problem-solving 
  • Evaluating data 

Let’s take a deeper look at how each area of study develops important skill sets. 

College-Level Areas of Study 

Arts & Humanities 

The arts and humanities are central to all human cultures throughout time. Studying these subjects is key to gaining deeper intercultural understanding and laying the groundwork for an engaged life with cultural sensitivity and connections. 

The human touch is essential to the workplace in a variety of fields. The more routine work is automated, the more we need to include human judgment, critical thought, empathy, and creativity in the process – all of which is taught through arts and humanities. 

English Language & Literature 

College-level English courses and literature courses encompass a wide range of skills that are important to not just the academic experience but the transition into the workplace. These courses typically take place in the first two years and are used as an introduction to the college environment to build skills for future courses. 

English composition courses teach you how to write in an academic style that’s appropriate for virtually all college courses. They also teach research, rhetorical devices, how to construct arguments, and how to communicate ideas in writing. These skills are built upon with literature courses that develop strong critical thinking and storytelling skills. 

Foreign Language 

Studying a foreign language may improve the brain’s cognitive functions and may develop cognitive control abilities, increase nonverbal and verbal capabilities, and increase perceptual sensitivity. In addition, studying a foreign language and its nuances can strengthen existing English skills. 

Though a foreign language may not seem relevant to your degree, its study can improve opportunities after earning your bachelor’s. You may need some of these skills for work in multinational business, government, medicine, law, technology, or marketing. 


For many, history is boring or irrelevant, but it must be studied because it doesn’t stay in the past. Learning about history is essential to understanding how the events of the past shaped the way things are today, and more importantly, how to avoid similar mistakes moving forward. 

History also supports academic skill building. Asking thoughtful, complex questions about historical events may enhance critical thinking and teach robust research skills, including how to evaluate primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and apply the information to a current problem. 


Math may seem irrelevant in everyday life, especially with smartphone calculators at the ready. Studying math is important for understanding our world and informing our perspective, however. Even at a lower level, math courses can develop critical thinking and quantitative analysis skills that are not only necessary for certain courses but your future career. 

Sure, not every field requires math in its day-to-day responsibilities. But even without calculations, math teaches us to think logically, identify and state a problem clearly, and develop and execute a strategy to solve it. We learn to evaluate and draw conclusions based on knowledge. 


The sciences are generally regarded as one of the most important areas of study, even for people pursuing non-science degrees. Science courses are essential for developing scientific literacy, which is the ability to identify questions and draw evidence-based conclusions. 

Science is also collaborative. Though students may not pursue the sciences and perform research that must stand up to peer reviews and scrutiny, it teaches them to work together toward a common goal and stringently – but respectfully --    vet the results from their peers. 

Social Sciences 

The social sciences encompass several disciplines, including anthropology, economics, environmental studies, psychology, and sociology. Together, these disciplines can build critical perspectives and deepen the understanding of different cultures. 

Combining elements of the study of history and sciences, social sciences also develop research skills, including analyzing sources, collecting data, and evaluating change on individual and systemic scales. In the workplace, these skills help to create more inclusive and effective organizations. 

Prepare for Core Subjects with Sophia 

Though they may not seem relevant, these courses are a key part of the college learning experience. At their core, these courses can teach you to ask questions, think about the world critically and creatively, and develop innovative skills to solve problems and become an asset to your future employer. 

Whether you have a major in mind or you’re just exploring your options, you can get a jump on your gen ed courses with Sophia. Our self-paced gen ed courses are designed to transfer and get you closer to graduation. Start a free trial and explore our courses today! 

Category: Higher Education

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