The Best Gen Eds

Now’s your chance to learn about the ocean, space and everything in between.

By Josephine Werni, University of Minnesota Twin Cities


Unless you’re one of those Type A freaks of nature who finished a billion credits pre-college via PSEO or AP/IB, you’ve probably got some general education classes to get out of the way before graduation.

While it’s natural to want to lament the time and money depleted by courses that aren’t directly related to your degree, I’m of the belief that your general classes are ultimately what you make of them. One of the exquisite things about college is that you’ll never have so many different classes to choose from. Of course, some generals have more of a universal appeal than others. Based on my own experiences and those of my peers, here are some common general courses that students of all different paths of study will likely find compelling and useful.

Special Topics Literature Classes

Most liberal arts degrees, from the sciences to humanities, have some variation of a literature requirement. Fortunately, universities typically offer an assortment of intriguing courses that revolve around the dissection of the written word. These classes take basic literature analysis exercises and apply them to specific themes. Some of these courses are even designed for certain majors. For instance, biology majors will probably be able to find a class in which the selected readings are all related to the science of life.

Other special topics classes are simply intended to cater to various areas of interest. For example, I took a lit class called “The Original Walking Dead,” in which we read a bunch of creepy books about death, like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula.” I don’t harbor a profound fascination with the afterlife or anything, it just sounded a bit more interesting that your average British Literature course. It’s also a fine example of how delightfully odd and specific special topics literature classes can get. You’re probably going to have to read a few books and write about them at some point in your undergrad career, so you might as well try to find a class with some novels that you’ll be interested in.

General Classes That Everyone Should Take, Regardless of Their Major

Image via The Imaginative Conservative

Intro to Astronomy

If you’re interested in outer space but you know you’re not capable of the actual rocket science that being an astronomer requires, an introductory astronomy course is the perfect way to pass a few hours of your week. You’ll cover things like the history of space exploration and where it’s going in the future, as well as stars, planets and all of the other curious entities hanging out up there. It’s a pretty sweet moment when you look up at the night sky and realize that you’re finally able to identify something other than the big dipper. I think this particular class is recommendable to the general population mainly because I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t think that outer space is cool as fuck.

Physical Geography

Not to be confused with human geography or GIS classes (which are still crazy interesting and will teach you about mapping and countries and junk), physical geography examines the intricate workings of the robust lump of rock that we call planet Earth.

Physical geography explains it all, from the outermost layers of our atmosphere to the planet’s blistering core. You’ll learn what exactly makes a sunny day different from a cloudy day, and how many times the earth’s magnetic fields have casually reversed themselves. This class is basically the comprehensive guidebook for How the Earth Works, which is pertinent to each and every one of you considering that you exist here.

Oceanography

While physical geography touches on how oceans function in the grand scheme of planet Earth, an actual oceanography course goes much farther in depth on the subject (pun intended).

You might be wondering why I think that the ocean—as opposed to any other part of the Earth—is worth the extra scrutiny. My rationale is simply that because we are land faring creatures, the deep ocean is something that the vast majority of us will never experience intimately. The same is true for outer space, which I suppose is one of the reasons that I included astronomy on this list. While you might never personally see the rim of a tectonic plate chilling on the ocean floor, their tiniest movements are relevant to your life and, therefore, it’s worth it to learn a little bit about how they work.

General Classes That Everyone Should Take, Regardless of Their Major

Image via The Brain Train

Human Evolution

When I transferred schools, I found out that I needed to complete one extra biological science credit. I chose to take human evolution because, out of the options I was given, it seemed like it would involve the least amount of math. Although I was initially irritated about having to take the class a year after I thought I had finished all of my gen eds, it ending up being one of the most captivating courses I have ever taken.

It was amazing to learn about what familiar modern features of our bodies developed first and when, and how the domestication of fire really did have a massive impact on the human race. When you’re perusing those early human museum exhibits, you’ll actually be able to make some sense of the tiny, bizarre, moldy looking skeletons in front of you. If you brought a date with you on this venture, you can impress them by saying things like: “Oh shit, what a fine example of Australopithecus robustus!”

I’m aware that there are many prevalent beliefs about the origins of human beings and that human evolution is consequently somewhat of a touchy subject. If you do believe in this particular explanation why we are the way we are, why wouldn’t you want to understand it, given the opportunity?

Stress 101 (And Other Low Credit PUBH Online Courses)

Not unlike any other college student, I’ve frequently found myself in dire need of some chill. Many universities offer classes about how to manage your wellbeing, specifically your stress, while in school. These classes shed a little light on how stress works and how to cope with it in a healthy fashion. While adding another class to your schedule might seem a bit counterintuitive in this situation, these courses are usually low credit, low pressure and available online. They are typically located under the categories of either physical education or public health.

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