Lette Berhe

Lette Berhe

The U.S. College System’s 2 Best Kept Secrets

Have you decided that you are going to study your undergraduate degree in the U.S.? Maybe, you’re still trying to convince your parents.

Have you decided that you are going to study your undergraduate degree in the U.S.? Maybe, you’re still trying to convince your parents.

Whatever situation you’re in, there are two important academic factors you should know about

  1. GE classes
  2. Changing majors

​The Background

The U.S. education system is very different from many other countries in several ways. One of the major differences is the transition from high school to college. Even though you are planning to come directly as a university student, this system can have an impact on your career goals.

In the U.S. the high school system is 4 years. Students take general education courses such as language, math, and history. Similarly to you, many students make an early decision to go to college. So some schools offer more challenging courses to help prepare students for college and make them more competitive applicants.

But what makes the high school to college transition in the U.S. different is that you can apply to college without having taken specific courses in your potential major or field.

For instance, a high school senior who decides that she wants to study a B.A. in business, does not have to take any business classes in high school. Or, a high school senior who decides that he wants to study a B.A. in film production does not have to take film classes.

And, why do we think this is so revolutionary?

Because when you decide to study in the U.S., you will not be limited by the classes you have taken in high school. You may even have more flexibility than in your home country, with exposure to more majors and the possibility to change your mind later.

What are GE Courses?

Most universities have what they call GE courses, which stands for General Education Courses (also known as Core Curriculum Courses).  You are probably familiar with the idea because your high school in your home country may have a similar system:

  1. Classes you have to take
  2. Classes you choose to take

U.S. universities do it a little bit different. Instead of giving you a list of required courses, they give you a list of required academic fields. For example, at the University of Toledo the Core Curriculum Courses fall under disciplines such as:

  1. humanities
  2. social sciences, and
  3. diversity.

But the university does not require one specific course to satisfy these requirements. You are given a long list of classes for you to choose from. To satisfy your humanities requirement, you could take classes such as:

  • Introduction to Film or
  • Introduction to Japanese Culture.

And for the social science requirement, you could take:

  • Sociology of Sport or
  • Cultural Anthropology.

Why should I care about GE courses?

Once you get to campus and start talking to upperclassmen (i.e. 3rd- or 4th- year students), they may not be excited about GE courses. But these students see them as just a requirement and not as an opportunity.

You know you have to satisfy these university requirements to graduate, so we say you might as well have some fun doing it. If used right, GE courses can help you explore new subjects, meet amazing professors, and open your mind to new careers.

Although many students go into college knowing exactly what they want to study, it’s okay if you don’t. If you don’t have your future all planned out, GE courses will give you the opportunity to discover something new or lead you down a new path. A couple of interesting courses could even lead you to the point where you think, “Maybe I should study international relations instead of business.”

You may also realize that you don’t really like medicine as much as you thought you did. When deciding what you want to do with your life, discovering what you don’t like can often be just as useful as knowing what you do like.

What does it mean to change majors?

The beauty of the U.S. university system is that it allows you to change your mind. In college this can also mean changing your major. If you decide to change your major, you are making the decision to follow a different academic path. This means the classes you will be required to take in order to graduate will change.

As an international student, however, you will need to remember that a change in major is also an administrative action that can affect your legal status. Before making any official decision, it is best to discuss it with your university’s International Students and Scholar Services Office.

How can I benefit from both the GE courses and change of major systems?

College is a time to grow and this can also affect your career plans. Maybe you go to an on-campus event and it opens your eyes to the world of neuroscience, or linguistics, or art. But if you decide to change majors late (your 3rd or 4th year), this can affect your graduation date.

As previously mentioned, changing your major will affect the list of required courses needed to be eligible for graduation. So changing from a B.A. in business to a B.A. in psychology may mean that you do not have the courses needed to fulfill your new psychology degree. If this is the case, you will have to study longer – which also means paying more.

This is where making use of GE courses can be very helpful. If you don’t feel 100% sure of the degree you want to study, try and register for as many GE course as you can your first year. This can be very useful because if you decide to change majors later, you (or your parents) won’t feel as if you’ve “wasted” any time or money taking courses that you will not be able to use later.

If you are interested in learning more about how Epro 360 can help you study at a U.S. university contact us today for a free consultation!

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