Most colleges require students to take a certain number of courses across the disciplines. These courses, known as General Education Requirements, or sometimes Liberal Arts Requirements, are the courses that students must take, in addition to the courses in their major, to graduate. General education requirements may vary from school to school. Some schools are very broad in their requirements, while other schools may be very specific. Whether the requirements are broad or specific, general education requirements are designed to help students expand their perspectives.
Many students dislike the idea of having to take courses across the spectrum in college and want to focus solely on their major or the areas in which they are interested. Students become impatient and dissatisfied with their general education requirements, and many see them as “hoops” they must jump through in order to graduate. Parents can help students view their general education courses as opportunities rather than barriers. Conversations with parents can help students understand why the school may require them to explore things outside of their major.
Here are some of the reasons why colleges require general education or liberal arts courses, as well as some ways that parents can help students think about these courses.
- General education courses help students expand their perspectives. Students may look at the world with new eyes after taking a course in a new area.
- General education courses help students engage in critical and analytical thinking.
- General education courses help students become adept at finding, managing and communicating knowledge of all types – an important skill in almost any profession.
- General education courses help students explore the possibilities of areas for further study.
- General education courses help students see connections and themes between various disciplines.
- General education courses simply help students to become broadly educated in a number of areas.
Here are some conversations you might have with your student to help her understand the importance of her general education requirements.
- Help your student understand that a college education is much more than professional training. It is about learning how to think and about gathering and understanding knowledge. Thinking and understanding are managed differently in different disciplines. Your student will learn to think more broadly.
- Help your student realize that most people entering the workforce today will move through a succession of careers and will deal with all kinds of people in their business environment. A broad background will help them move more easily through careers and will help them to interact with many different types of people.
- Help your student see his general education courses as open doors. He may not choose to follow up on some areas, but he may discover new things he would like to pursue with further study. General education or liberal arts courses open new possibilities.
- Help your student look for the connections between her major area and the liberal arts courses she is taking. She may be surprised to realize that there are many connections between engineering and psychology, or between graphic design and history.
- Remind your student that college is about intellectual growth and about becoming a more interesting person. Help him think about how he grows as he explores new areas of study.
- Remind your student that his profession will be important, but will only be one aspect of his life. He will have friends, family, interests and responsibilities outside of his career. Talk to him about the things that you do and the people with whom you interact outside of your career.
- Talk to your student about what she is studying. Ask her to tell you about some of the things she is learning in her liberal arts courses. Guide her in seeing some of the connections and interesting aspects of these subjects. Encourage her to connect with some of the faculty members in these areas. The value that you place on these areas of study will help her to view them positively.
General education or liberal arts requirements serve an important purpose in a college education. Your college student will benefit from these courses most if he enters them with an open mind and an eager attitude. As college parents, you can help your student lay the foundation for embracing the broad background he will encounter.