General Education

General Education
In the United States, general education is the most common term for the group of courses required for most bachelor’s degrees. (The term general education is often shorted to gen. ed.) These courses are designed to give students a broad foundation of knowledge for their advanced coursework. General education is designed to give college students general knowledge about the world, to help students communicate effectively, and to help students develop their critical thinking skills.

Bachelor’s degrees typically require between 40 – 60 semester hours of general education coursework. Associate degrees that are designed to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, such as an Associate of Arts degree or an Associate of Science degree, often require a large portion of the courses to be general education. Career-focused associate degrees, such as an Associate in Applied Science or an Associate of Occupational Studies, usually require fewer general education courses.

Each college sets its own general education requirements. General education requirements may be the same for all students graduating from their institution or they can vary by type of degree or major. Students should check with their college’s course catalog (also called a school catalog, course directory, and college bulletin) to understand the requirements of their college. Students intending to transfer to a different college should review the general education requirements for the schools they plan to attend.

Although colleges set their own specific general education requirements, most colleges require similar categories of coursework such as arts, communication, foreign language, humanities, mathematics, natural science, social sciences and wellness. The number of required courses in each category and specific courses that fulfill each category vary greatly among colleges.

Common General Education Requirements


The purpose of this requirement is to help students learn about artistic expression, art history and the impact of the arts on society. Courses in this category might include fine arts, performing arts, or art appreciation. At some colleges, art is not a separate general education category but part of the courses that could fulfill humanities requirements.


This purpose of this requirement is to help students improve their written and oral communication skills for college coursework and for their futures. This category might include English and speech communication courses.

Foreign language

The purpose of this requirement is to help students gain an understanding of another culture and language. For this reason, some colleges prohibit students from fulfilling this requirement with courses in their native language.

Typically, Bachelor of Arts degrees require foreign language courses because these degrees are most representative of the traditional liberal arts education focused on preparing college graduates to be well-rounded citizens. Foreign language is often not a requirement for Bachelor of Science degrees because they tend to have a more technical or career-focused degrees.

While many associate degree programs do not require foreign language courses, they may be available as an option. Associate degree students who intend to pursue a bachelor’s degree should research the requirements at the college they plan to attend when selecting courses.

Master of Arts programs often require students to be proficient in a foreign language. Students can sometimes fulfill this requirement though previous undergraduate coursework. Therefore, students who plan to complete a graduate degree should research requirements at the school they plan to attend before selecting courses.


The purpose of this requirement is to help students understand diversity and creativity. Courses in this category may include study in subjects such as literature, philosophy, culture, or religion.


The purpose of this requirement is to help students develop analytical skills, logical reasoning skills, and to gain a greater understanding of how mathematics is used in the world. Students should select specific mathematics courses based on their major and intended career objectives.

Natural Sciences

The purpose of this requirement is to help students understand the scientific method and the world around them. Courses that might fulfill this category include astronomy, biology, chemistry, and physics. Some colleges will require that students take at least one science class with a laboratory to help them gain experiential learning.

Social Science

The purpose of this requirement is to help students understand society and human behavior. Social sciences study human behavior using the scientific method. Courses that fulfill this requirement often include subjects such as anthropology, sociology, and psychology.


The purpose of this requirement is to help students learn how to lead healthy lives. Courses that fulfill this requirement often include health and physical fitness courses.

Many degree programs in the United States require students to complete general education coursework. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature and purpose of this requirement. It is also important that students gain an understanding of the specific general education requirements at their college. Students planning to transfer to another educational institution will also need to understand the general education requirements of the college for which they plan to transfer.

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