Column: GW should let students focus on their majors, not unrelated requirements

GW’s nine general education requirements cover a vast array of courses that help train students in a variety of analytical disciplines. But these classes are useless for students who’ve already declared their major. I chose to attend GW because I was excited to partake in the incredibly uncommon creative writing and English degree program, a combination that’s hard to find at many universities. My major is only 33 credits, but I still have to slog through an additional 26 credits in math, science, social science and oral communication courses as part of general education requirements.

These 26 credits realistically equate to at least two semesters of coursework, burdening students with hours of coursework that don’t relate to their field of study. Despite the necessary foundation for writing and conversational skills that general education requirements provide, GW should eliminate the courses that individual schools already require to relieve students from coursework that bears little-to-no relationship to their major.

GW has a 24-credit cap on the number of AP and IB credits from high school that students can apply to their education. These high school credits can fulfill the University’s critical thinking, math, science, writing and oral communication requirements. But whether or not they have AP and IB credits, many students will need to retake courses to graduate from GW. Each category of GW’s requirements has a list of classes that will fulfill the requirement, but some are downright paradoxicalthere are foreign language courses that don’t fulfill the oral communication credit and introductory classes that feel as difficult as capstone courses. Several semesters of general education requirements rob students of the time to take electives, pick up a minor, double major or learn a new language.

Mandatory math, science, social science and oral communication courses are often unrelated to students’ actual majors and fail to both further students’ skills and set them up for their career goals. And despite all the options to fulfill these requirements, it’s been challenging for me to find a course that I’m passionate about. 

To succeed in introductory science courses or those that are designed with non-STEM students in mind, like Understanding Organisms through Service Learning, students realistically need to have a background on the subject. Instead of a quick and easy class to fill a requirement, these courses can become a grueling academic experience. I’m currently enrolled in an environmental geology course, using my time to look at rocks and landforms when I could be focusing on and mastering my creative writing skills.

Additional school-specific requirements demonstrate the redundant nature of the University’s overarching general education requirements. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences – which houses my writing and English program – requires students to take six additional courses in critical thinking, scientific reasoning and creative thinking, global or cross-cultural perspectives and local or civic engagement, according to the CCAS academic advising website. Students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Business and Elliott School of International Affairs must take a required science, social science and humanities course from the University’s general education requirements. But how many courses must students take before they can actually focus on their major? On top of those 26 general education requirements within CCAS, I have to take an additional 19 GPAC credits to graduate. Together, those 45 credits represent around three full semesters of mandatory, nonmajor requirements – nearly half of my time at GW.

Forcing students to take classes that are largely unrelated to their major can jeopardize their college success, future, ability to stay on good academic standing and mental health. Though all GW’s fields of study have their own set of challenges, intro-level requirements that add little to a student’s overall education should not risk them losing their scholarships or high-level post-graduate jobs if they risk getting academic probation.

Students only have four years at GW, and I’m dreading wasting my time with another semester of required lab science, social science, history and civic engagement classes next spring. Attending lectures on top of studying and taking exams for the sake of an A in a class that has nothing to do with my major is extremely disheartening. I’d rather study something I’m passionate about, and I’m sure other students would too. For the amount of money each student pays to attend GW, it’s disheartening to realize that you’re paying in time and money for courses that are not beneficial to your major and career aspirations.

GW should eliminate its social science, science, history and writing in the disciplines requirements, which school-specific requirements already cover, so students can have the chance to take another class in their major or an elective of interest. If the University removed its additional requirements, students could make the most of their college experience before entering the real world.

Grace O’Reilly, a sophomore majoring in creative writing and English, is an opinions writer.

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