Gen Eds: Make the most of them!


An undergraduate education gives you a variety of things. Just one of them is that through the challenge of college courses you really learn how to learn. Gone are the days of studying for a test for an hour the night before and doing great like in high school.

Yet those tests with the word banks are replaced with something better – an interdisciplinary understanding of the world around you. I can honestly say that as a senior graduating this May, I am so glad I chose to take the classes I chose to take outside of my biology major. Sociology, anthropology, and psychology gave me a global and connected understanding I am going to take with me into medical school and into my career as a physician. Surprisingly enough, I wouldn’t have discovered I loved these kinds of classes without general education requirements.

The University of Illinois requires that all students, no matter what major, complete general education requirements before they graduate. These classes are divided up into different categories such as social sciences, advanced composition…. The list goes on and on and is different depending on what college you are in.

For some reason, general education courses (more commonly known as Gen Ed’s) tend to make people groan. When I worked at Summer Registration, part of my job was to help students register for their classes in the afternoon. Tired from a long, information packed day, there would often be whining once we had to pick out some Gen Eds to get them up to the full course load.

I will admit, I was once I whiner too! That is why I am here to tell you about my experience if you aren’t completely looking forward to picking out your Gen eds. Gen Eds helped me discover subjects I never had the chance to experience in high school. For example, taking Sociology 100 changed the way I see the world. Now I understand how the socioeconomic status someone is born into has much more to do with their success than their underlying talent. I now understand how cycles of poverty continue with a lack of quality education leading to low paying jobs and having kids who also go to poor quality schools and around and around and around. Most importantly though, this class showed me that there can be change, yet to make real change it has to be on the structural level. I honestly think every Illinois student should be required to take Sociology 100 to graduate and of course strongly recommend it to you as one of your Gen Ed courses for the fall.

My general education also courses allowed me to have a balanced class load. On one hand, I was able to complete my course requirements for medical school through taking chemistry and biology during my sophomore years and then physics and physiology during my junior year. On the other hand, I was still able to connect with the social science side of myself through my other classes such as sociology and more advanced levels of psychology… even Asian mythology and gender studies! The main idea behind Gen Eds is that you graduate with a well-rounded education, no matter what your major is.

I feel that by wisely choosing my general education requirements I was able graduate a more well-rounded, socially aware person through taking plenty of sociology, anthropology, and psychology courses. You can use your Gen Eds in any way you choose, but that is how I fit mine in with my goals and values. It is possible for your Gen Eds to do this for you too — it just takes a little more time and a lot of planning.

Gen Eds are going to make up the majority of your 120 or so hours you need to graduate here at Illinois, so make the most of them!


Please note that comments close after 90 days.


March 16, 2010, 1:54 pm

Hey Alessandra, I know this question has nothing to do with your blog, but how can one become an Illinois blogger????


Diane's Mom

March 17, 2010, 7:48 pm

Thank you for posting this! My daughter will be a Freshman in Fall 2010, and has felt that Gen Ed’s would just be a waste of time that she *could* be spending on courses in her major.



March 19, 2010, 9:28 pm

Hey Grod!

I have been involved with younger students from working summer registration and wanted to continue to connect in some way.

I shared my desire with the admissions office, and I was lucky enough to land a spot as a blogger! I love it!

Have a great Spring Break!




March 19, 2010, 9:29 pm

Hey Diane’s Mom! 😉

I am glad I could help! Please have your daughter check out these blogs for a while – I wish I had this kind of great insider information when I was deciding on which college to go to!




June 8, 2010, 2:04 am

Hi Alessandra!

I’m a Freshman who’ll be arriving in Urbana-Champaign this August… Could you tell me if individual students get ‘one-on-one’ help registering for classes? This would really help: there are so many options to choose from, its really rather bewildering! Also, approximately how many hours of classes do students usually register for in semester 1?

Thanks very much!