Entering college means sometimes having to take courses that don’t directly relate to your major..or sometimes not at all.The dreaded general education courses that stifle an otherwise interesting academic career focused on your major can be a serious let-down. However, since these mandatory classes are not going anywhere anytime soon, we have to learn to deal with them. We have compiled a list of things to consider before picking your general education courses.
- Understand what the class is about before you sign up. Usually general education requirements will come with a very wide selection. It is important to take something that will interest you, as well as apply to your major. Don’t just read the course name, but the description, too. Broad, undescriptive titles like “Intro to Literature” or “American Government” can often be misleading, so dig a little deeper. If you have trouble finding a description, then talk to your advisor and he or she can send you in the right direction. Keep in mind your well-being. There has been an increase in “war-time reporting” and similar classes popping up across the country serving as an English gen ed course. Although classes like this may seem academically easier for those of us who served in uniform, consider whether a course like that is really a good thing for you right now.
- Work around your schedule. Almost every advisor will tell you not to do this. However, if you wish to maintain a certain schedule because of work or other commitments, then it is wise to substitute some gen ed classes for others that fit your timeframe better. The reason advisors caution against this is because they want school to be our only priority, which may make sense for an 18- or 19-year-old high school graduate. Many of you have families, houses and serious careers that you cannot leave by the wayside. So if you are trying to pick your gen ed classes, don’t be afraid to select whichever ones fit your schedule better.
- Understand who the professor is before signing up! Ratemyprofessors.com is one of the most important websites for your academic career (besides maybe Wikipedia). Start by searching for your school, and the website will even give your school an overall rating. Then find the professor you are considering. The professors are rated by students in easiness, clarity, helpfulness and an overall rating. There is even a hot pepper that allows users to indicate the professor is hot (which personally got me through an art history class one semester). Talk to your friends, your advisor and your current professors about the ones you are considering. A crumby professor may be worse than crumby course material.
- Try to learn something new. General education courses are usually designed to be a re-introduction and sometimes slight expansion of what we learned in high school. This is a great opportunity for us to level the playing field. I replaced a lot of high school knowledge with how to march, assemble a rifle and put out a shipboard fire; not necessarily helpful in pursuit of a philosophy degree. Also, academia is constantly changing, (I graduated when there were nine planets in the solar system, not anymore!) Although a lot of gen ed classes may be boring and repetitive, they allow us to catch up with the younger freshmen in our classes.
- Help others.The classes that tend to be especially tedious for veterans will be the maths and sciences. We all had to do these areas of study at least in boot camp and generally throughout our military careers, even if we don’t recognize it. If you find yourself especially bored, try to help others out who are struggling. Not only will it help them, but it will increase your understanding, your ability to learn and your social skills. As a management major, I had to take a mandatory philosophy course for all freshmen. I ended up switching my major to philosophy and becoming a tutor for that class. I get to help people and make a little extra money.
- Appreciate the now. If you find yourself painstakingly bored, remember where you have come from. Appreciate the boredom for what it is, a lack of being busy. It’s easy to look back on a military career and miss all the good times, but there were certainly a lot of stressful times too. Keeping in mind the reality of where you are now is important. Learning to accept boredom as relaxation is an important skill.
- Take the opportunity to make some new friends. If you have nothing better to do, socialize a bit. Try not to get yelled at in front of the class, though; that’s not fun for anyone involved. Meet new people, make some friends and try to enjoy your class.