Liberal arts colleges: Core requirements teach basic skills

Communication Skills Lab

Communication Skills Lab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most liberal arts colleges, but not all, have core requirements — classes that you’re required to take before graduation. These requirements typically include a little bit of everything (English, math, science) to give you a well-rounded foundation of academic knowledge from which to base the rest of your college years. In these classes you’ll study history books, science books, economic articles, modern literature and even perhaps an art journal — all to help give you an education in a field that might not be your major. Learn what classes are essential for your major and for college graduation from liberal arts colleges.

Here is some advice from Patrick O’Connor, in the article “How Strong Is Your College Knowledge?” posted February 26, 2012: “Some colleges have graduation requirements, including specific core academic courses all students must take, while others have no core requirements at all. Make sure you know the expectations … and think about how much flexibility you want or need in your college experience — and remember, less structure isn’t always a good thing for everyone.”

What classes are included?

Introductory level courses in English and math are the most common. Basic English composition is necessary so you can compose papers and structure your thinking and writing. A course in public speaking prepares students to speak to peers, colleagues, teachers and community members intelligently and informatively. Proficiency in English and communication skills helps students studying humanities, arts, languages, business, social sciences and law.

Basic math courses in algebra and statistics help develop critical and analytical thinking. Proficiency in math skills is required for students pursuing engineering, science, finance, computer, business and medical studies. There may be other required classes, such as history, social sciences, economics, business, literature, philosophy and science. Usually you will be allowed to select one specific course in each subject (i.e. for a science requirement, you could choose between chemistry, biology, physics, etc.).

In “College Curriculum Competencies and Skills Former Students Found Essential to Their Careers” by Andrew A. Zekeri in the September 2004 issue of College Student Journal, a survey of former students revealed key college courses. “The key skills needed to improve their careers are oral communication, written communication, problem solving techniques, motivating and managing others, and setting personal and organizational goals. These competencies should be considered essential or basic skills for college graduates at the end of their general education requirements.”

Why are there core requirements?

Learn basic skills — Core requirements help freshmen develop the basic skills to function in college. Introductory classes in math, English and science prepare students to go on to more specific classes in a chosen major. It also helps new students get acclimated to college life, feel comfortable learning on a higher level and excel.

Well-rounded education — Even though college is a place to hone a specific skill in an academic major, it is also a place to take a variety of classes in many fields in order to get a well-rounded education of higher learning. Core curriculum, as reported by in their post “Core Courses: Fulfilling your degree requirements,” “can vary depending on the school, program, or degree. At some schools, students must fulfill a foundation of basic, general core requirements such as reading, writing, and critical thinking, regardless of the major they plan to pursue.”

When to take required classes?

Consult your college guidebook, your career advisor and your major advisor for help with this one — they can tell you what needs to be taken when, whether it’s in a specific semester or year. Some classes, like prerequisite English composition and basic math, must be taken in the first semester, since they are skills you will need to master before going further in school. Other classes (such as science if you are a business major), can be taken any time before you graduate.

Some students prefer to take all their required classes the first year to get a taste of different academic fields. Others concentrate on their major first, then take a bunch of electives the last year before graduation. The year before you’re ready to graduate, check your transcript and list of required courses to make sure you haven’t missed any essential classes and ask your office of records about any required audits.

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