General Education Requirements, Part 1 of 2

General Education requirements (or, general electives) (GE)†

General Education requirements expose students to a breadth of study. Basically, these are classes not in your major, but classes you need to take. Usually, these are classes you need to take from a variety of subjects.

For example: 1 year of English; 1 year of a lab science; 1 year of a Foreign Language; 2 courses in visual or performing arts; 1 physical education class; 2 social science classes; etc.

General Education Definitions


Classes you need to take before you take other classes. For example, you need to take college algebra or its equivalent as a prerequisite before taking†Calculus. These are classes that are designed to be taken sequentially.†

Survey Course

These are introductory courses. They might also be called survey courses. Usually, they are the 100-level courses.†

An example might be Econ 101: Intro to Microeconomics. You take this class before taking upper division classes in economics.

Upper Division Courses

These are usually taken after 100-level courses. They are typically smaller in class size and focus on a particular topic in detail.

An example might be German History 331: The Weimar Republic.


Classes you need to take either before or while taking other classes. An example of this would be calculus as a co-requisite for calculus-based physics. Youíll need to have taken calculus before you take this particular physics class or concurrently with your physics class. This is just so you can handle the math of a physics class.

Classes v Units

Know that most college classes count as 3 semester units/credits. Some will be 1 unit (typically a lab or abbreviated course) and others may be as many as 5 (semester) units. The 4-5 unit courses are typically upper division math or science classes.

Schools might have a quarter or trimester system, but most abide by the equation: 1 semester class= 3 semester units.

Full Courseload

A typical semester, a full load of semester classes, would be 15 units. That equates to 30 units for the year. While some schools consider a student full time with a courseload of 12 units per semester, 15 units is typically a full load.

You can petition for an overload (more than 15 units/semester). Please pursue this option only when youíre ready. You will want to make sure you can handle 15 units/semester. This means you will want to have taken at least 15 units/semester. And handled it well.

Why take an overload?

Taking more classes will definitely entail more work. An AA degree can be completed with 60 units and a BA/BS degree is usually completed with 120 units. As much as an overload will help you get to your educational goal(s) faster, you might consider another option: take classes over the summer.

That way you can pace yourself.†

But, if you feel yourself up to the task, by all means take an overload. Just be sure theyíre not all difficult classes. And check the withdraw deadline. You want to be sure you have options. Just in case.

General Education Requirements Vary Per Campus

Your General Education (GE) Requirements vary per campus. For our purposes, we will be explaining them generally. When we get into specifics, we will use local Community Colleges for details.

Please keep in mind that the requirements at your local community college can be different from a UC or CSU or other schoolís requirements.†

Regardless, you will want to start completing your GE classes early. In fact, take your math classes within your first year of attending a Community College or 4-year School. Putting off math is the worst thing you can do. This is the most common mistake Iíve seen people make.

Think of math like a particular fitness. Letís use running as an analogy. Though you may be fit in general, running takes a specific type of fitness. And, if you havenít run in 3-4 years, running will suck for you. Sorry. †It will.

Moral of the story: donít put off math. Donít care if you arenít yet math-skilled. Donít care if you dislike math. Definitely get it done early. Especially if you donít like it.

Final Notes on General Education Requirements

This is one of two posts on general education requirements. The next blog will tackle more of the specifics of GE classes. Stay tuned!



By Martin

Martin McSweeney is a National Merit Finalist, Pomona College Graduate, and member of MENSA. He has worked at the Center for Talented Youth (Loyola Marymount University campus); Upward Bound (Harvey Mudd campus); various test prep companies; and Whittier High School. Now, Martin helps students of all abilities improve their relationship with math.