General education classes, also know as core curriculum, serve as part of many college’s requirements for earning a degree. These entry-level courses allow you to learn about a range of topics. While universities tend to focus their general classes on the topics of math, science, social science and English, each university sets its own specific guidelines for general education classes.

Core Curriculum Basics

Many colleges require that you take a set of common courses before receiving your diploma. All students, regardless of major, must complete an integrated sequence of classes. There is no set standard across universities. Each school selects which classes their require for their degree. The reason behind these general education courses is to educate students on a wide range of topics, not just their major. At most colleges, the core curriculum makes up half or more credits required for graduation. At the University of Texas, for example, students take the majority of these courses in their first year, known as the first-year Signature Course, including English composition, literature, government, history, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences and technology, and visual and performing arts. Students gain experience and skills in quantitative reasoning, global cultures, cultural diversity, ethics and leadership through these courses.

Overview of General Classes

Universities require a list of general education courses to bring together students and faculty from all disciplines, creating a global conversation. The topics in most college’s general education classes include natural science, math, English, social science, arts, humanities and foreign language. In these classes, biologists, writers and economists explore different disciplines together, participate in debates and broaden each other’s communal learning. This produces a more diverse, well-rounded student body. At Southern Illinois University, students must take 41 credit hours of general education course work organized so that 15 hours come from courses to strengthen students' writing, oral and mathematical skills, 23 hours come from courses such as Fine Arts, Human Health and Humanities, that introduce students to the universe of human knowledge, and three hours come from Integrated Studies, designed to increase students' respect and appreciation for diversity.

Benefits to the Student

Your college requires a core curriculum because it wants you to graduate as a well-rounded individual. These classes send you into the world with a broader knowledge of topics so that a history major does not leave without any math knowledge or an English major without any science knowledge. While you may never have otherwise taken an art history or jazz class, your general education classes may help you discover a new passion. While in these classes, you also have the opportunity to work with people from other backgrounds, majors and diversities. This allows for various viewpoints and opens up a broader discussion.

Making The Most Of General Education Courses

Most likely, your college’s course catalog is quite vast. Universities usually offer a variety of courses to fulfill your general education requirements. At the University of Georgia, for example, students must take English, math, humanities, fine arts, science, technology and social studies classes and there are more than a dozen courses to choose from in each discipline. Picking topics that interest you or also count towards your major can help make the most of your general education requirement, possibly adding minors or additional majors to your studies without requiring too many extra credit hours. Some students enter college unsure of their major. By taking general education courses, you have an opportunity to explore new topics and meet new professors, which can help you find your strengths and interests and introduce you to a mentor that will guide you through the remainder of college.