Gen Ed requirements are inevitably — and often undesirably — part of every student’s college education. These classes usually form the bulk of your freshman year schedule, and can fall outside of your intended major. Here are five tips to tackle your first set of Gen Eds:
1. Find connections to your major/ future job
A good place to start is getting into a positive mental state about taking these courses, which often feel irrelevant at best, or wasteful, at worst. The key is to finding connections between them and your current major or job. For example, English or speech courses help you become a stronger writer, speaker, and overall job candidate — at every job you’ll need to, at the very least, compose emails and communicate with colleagues and higher-ups. Science courses can improve your research skills, and math can help your skills of analysis. Gen Ed classes are required courses for a reason; they’ll build a strong foundation for whatever specific line of study you end up following. All you need to do is tap into where they could be helpful to you, even if it feels like a stretch sometimes.
2. Visit office hours
Gen Ed courses are often lecture courses in which professors remain strangers and participation isn’t required. This large-scale type of class can feel cold, and can leave you with unanswered questions. Take advantage of office hours to help combat this. Your professor will appreciate you putting a face to the name, and you’re likely to get more detailed responses to your questions and concerns. Gen Ed courses often have teaching assistants (TAs) as well; you may be able to meet with them instead if you’d like to meet in a slightly less formal environment.
3. Join or form study groups
Study groups are great for large courses as well. Join or form a study group (it can even just be you and one other person) and meet as formally or informally as you’d like. These are people you can rely on to share notes incase you miss a class, give another explanation of a class concept, or pull an all-nighter study session with. They can help you fill in the gaps, and vice versa. The great thing about Gen Ed courses is that almost everyone needs to take the same ones, so you’re likely able to study with friends who are taking the course at a different time or with a different professor.
4. Ask upperclassmen for advice
In addition to academic advisors, upperclassmen are excellent resources when it comes to Gen Ed courses: what to expect, how different professors may teach the same course, and what the workload will be like. Of course, take everyone’s point of view with a grain of salt, as you might like a professor that another person didn’t, but their POV can often mentally prepare you for the class — especially as midterms and exam week approach. They can give you specific tips not found in most university brochures.
5. Borrow or buy used books
You’re likely to want to buy and keep most books from your major courses, but not so much Gen Ed courses. Before or at the beginning of the semester, ask around your dorm or put out an ad on the school classifieds for any required books or materials. Often, sophomores or upperclassmen will have books to get rid of for cheap, doing both of you a favor. You probably won’t need them in tip-top shape or in the latest edition, and used books will generally meet your needs. Then when you’re done with the course, you can pass them on to the next generation.
Gen Ed courses don’t need to feel like a waste of time. Organizational habits, like keeping a calendar and using folders and binders, can also help greatly in terms of tackling these required courses. Once you complete these, you’ll be able to move on to more specific courses in your major!
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.