Five quick tips to navigating Gen Ed classes at UMass

By Elizabeth Geffre, Class of 2014 (piece written for a Journalism class)

Do you ever wonder why you have to take all of those classes that don't go toward your major? Do you think it's a waste of time? Students often question the value of a general education class, especially because such classes don't necessarily count towards their major. They are classes designed to broaden a student's knowledge in other fields other than their own, and are mainly referred to as "Gen Eds". Because students have to take a certain amount of Gen Eds that cover subjects like physical sciences to literature, here's a five step plan to determining whether a Gen Ed fits your needs:

Find classes that interest you

"Find what you're interested in - not what your friends tell you is easy," says Tamatha Gaumnitz, an Academic Advisor at UMass. Taking a class just to get the requirement over with isn't always the best way to go about Gen Ed classes. Because you have to fulfill a certain requirement, at UMass, there are usually many options for a student to choose from. Gaumnitz says a class that has a bunch of sections shows how popular a class is, and makes it easier to get into. Psych 100 and Intro to Microeconomics/Macroecomics are all classes that have a large amount of sections for students. Doing something as simple as reading a course description for a class is important to determining whether that class would interest you or not.

Take Electives

Many students come to college undeclared. Gen Ed classes give students an opportunity to explore possible majors without wasting time, because they are requirements that must be fulfilled to graduate anyway. If you're lucky and you already know what your major is, Gen Eds give you options to study new subjects. This breaks up the possible monotony of your curriculum and replaces it with random classes that you can take for fun. The option of electives is a time to explore other possibilities, and you may realize you want to pick up a minor in something new, or double major. Students should explore beyond Gen Eds, through electives, to aid them in picking what they want to study.

Don't Rush

A student at a four-year institution has eight semesters to fulfill all requirements. Gaumnitz recommends that students take their time in finishing their Gen Ed classes. It's typical for most students to go to college with the intention of knocking out all Gen Eds during their first year or two, but it may be smart to save a few for later in your college career. If you're exploring majors, Gen Eds are a way to see what you're interested in, but you should also take electives during that process. Many times, some 100 level classes for a major can double as a major requirement and a Gen Ed, and once you have your major, you can plan accordingly and take the time to spread out your Gen Ed classes.

Your Friends Aren't Always Right

Not every student learns the same way, and not every student likes the same subjects. If a friend recommends a certain class, don't just listen to them without familiarizing yourself with the class first. Make sure to read the course description! Gaumnitz suggests asking friends questions like why they liked the class, or what the structure of the class is like. Some students are great at taking three tests a semester, but others need things like homework assignments or papers along the way instead. Every student learns differently. Don't hesitate to email a professor to ask what the structure of a class will be like ahead of time. If you do find yourself in a class that you know won't work for you - then get out! That's why the add/drop period exists, and that's why students can withdraw from classes about midway through the semester if necessary.

They're a part of the curriculum anyway

Realize that it's very rare for a university to not require general education classes. Meaning that almost anywhere you go, you'll have to take some sort of general education class. Many people argue that these classes are a waste of a student's time, but others, like Gaumnitz, say they are just a natural part of the higher educational system. These classes are based on a liberal arts model to broaden a student's knowledge, which makes for a better well rounded student and to help students in becoming flexible learners. "Gen Eds push students outside of their comfort zone. That's what college is about," says Gaumnitz.

Pamela R. Marsh-Williams, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost & Dean

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