Choosing the right course
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen lots of activity both online and in the LAS Student Academic Affairs office as our continuing students register for the classes they’ll take in the spring semester. Choosing which course to take can be difficult: Last year, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alone, there were more than 6,800 separate course sections offered!
In many ways, courses are the building blocks of a student’s undergraduate career. And while students are ultimately responsible for their own course selection and registration, departmental advisors and college staff are definitely here to help guide them in that selection, and help them put the blocks together. Working with an advisor, students can tailor their major or minor or general education requirements to their particular interests or post-graduate plans.
At the University of Illinois, general education courses are a significant part of a student’s undergraduate preparation—usually about one-fourth of a student’s total hours. We believe that in addition to specializing in a major and training for a career, students should also gain some familiarity with disciplines other than their own. Through their general education requirements, Illinois undergraduates expand their historical, aesthetic, cultural, literary, scientific, and philosophical perspectives; improve critical and analytical thinking; and learn skills in finding, managing, and communicating knowledge.
All Illinois undergraduates are therefore required to complete courses in composition, quantitative reasoning, and cultural studies, and to satisfy a foreign language requirement. They must also complete six hours of coursework in each of three main areas: humanities and the arts, natural sciences and technology, and social and behavioral sciences.
In LAS, students can use their coursework to fulfill two or even three general education categories simultaneously—for example, we offer literature courses that satisfy both humanities and the arts and advanced composition requirements, and natural science courses that also meet quantitative reasoning requirements. But we also try to encourage students to use their general education courses to learn about an area of knowledge that is new to them, whether it’s Asian mythology or atmospheric science.
I think it’s worth noting that, when asked about the most meaningful aspects of their liberal arts and sciences degree, many of our successful alumni tell us that that they especially value the breadth of their undergraduate preparation. We want to prepare our students not just for their careers, but for life, and we want our students to find in their education new ways of discovering themselves and connecting with others.
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