When my brother was planning his schedule for his first semester, one of the questions he asked me was how to choose general education courses in college that would satisfy his major requirements while letting him explore his interests. When I was taking my general education courses, I had learned what classes to take that would complement my major and focus on my research interests in accessibility and assistive technology, and I was excited to help him do the same and find classes that would embrace his love of film and media. Here are my tips for how to choose general education courses in college that are fun and connect to student interests.
About my general education requirements
At my college, all undergraduates have to take about 30 credits of general education coursework in order to graduate. These courses are a mix of major requirements and classes that students can choose themselves, and in some cases the amount of general education coursework needed varies from major to major- for example, one of my friends had to take a non-western culture class for their communications degree, while I needed to take an extra science class for my data science degree.
Categories for general education requirements include:
- Composition (lower and upper level)
- Global Understanding
- Information Technology/Computing
- Natural Science (both lab and non-lab)
- Oral Communication
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Social Sciences
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Find a list of approved courses
My college has a dedicated website that lists all of the approved courses for general education requirements for undergraduates, and has them organized by topic. I bookmarked this list for future reference so I could ensure that I could easily check back and see which classes would count for requirements, and I could write down interesting course names.
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Check to see if certain courses are covered by your major requirements
In my data science major, my information technology, qualitative reasoning, and natural science requirements were satisfied with required coursework for my major, so I didn’t need to find any specific classes with these topics, with the exception of one additional science class. My brother’s film major also satisfied some of his general education requirements, so we didn’t have to worry about finding classes for topics that were already covered.
See if classes in a minor will satisfy general education requirements
As part of the requirements for the assistive technology minor at my college, I was able to satisfy my general education requirement for psychology by taking a class about disability in America. This allowed me to satisfy two different requirements for graduation and take one of my favorite classes of all time. My brother also wrote down a couple of minors he was interested in pursuing, and we checked to see if any of those classes would satisfy general education requirements as well.
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Look at special topics sections
One of my biggest tips for how to choose general education courses in college is to look at special topics and sections for each semester to see if there is something cool being offered. I did this for my literature requirement, and had the opportunity to take a fascinating class about disability and chronic illness in literature. In order to find special topics, I recommend searching the names of general education courses in the scheduling database and seeing what the titles of different sections are.
Search the course catalog with keywords of interest
Another technique I use to choose general education courses in college is to search the undergraduate catalog for classes that contain keywords or topics of interest in the course name or description. Since the course catalog labels which classes satisfy general education requirements, this is fairly easy to do and helps me find elective courses as well.
Since I am interested in assistive technology, visual impairment, and disability, I search for the following terms:
- Visual Impairment
For my brother who loves anything film and movie related, I search for the following terms:
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Talk to your advisor about recommended courses
When it came time for me to take my capstone/synthesis class, I contacted my advisor asking for their recommendations on which course to choose, since my major did not have a specific requirement for which class to take. My advisor sent me back a message saying that they had students who enjoyed a course on traumatology and trauma-informed design, so I signed up for it and ended up really enjoying the class. I wouldn’t have found it if my advisor had never suggested it!
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Use research assignments to dive deep into topics of interest
While there aren’t many courses dedicated to studying assistive technology and accessibility, over half of my general education courses featured open-ended research assignments where I could study a topic of my choice. Whenever possible, I chose to write my paper about a topic related to assistive technology or visual impairment, as I wanted to expand my knowledge on this topic.
Some examples of topics I used for assignments include:
- The use of audio description in theater for my advanced composition course
- Visual impairment in developing countries for my global understanding course
- Cooking with a visual impairment for my introductory composition course
- My brain condition, Chiari Malformation, for my public speaking course
- Assistive technology for Parkinson’s Disease for my literature course
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Take virtual classes to satisfy requirements
One of the stereotypes about general education courses is that there are dozens of people in one class and the professor never gets to know students, and that the classrooms are large and crowded. Instead of sitting in a lecture hall for my history requirement, I took a virtual class from the comfort of my bed that satisfied my history requirements with an interesting adjunct professor. I took half of my general education courses virtually and it helped a lot with time management as well.
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Knowing how to choose general education courses in college is an incredibly helpful skill to have so that students don’t get stuck taking boring or pointless classes in college. I found my general education courses to be a lot of fun and a great way for me to expand my knowledge about assistive technology, and I hope that other students will take advantage of the opportunity to develop their interests as well.