Are general education courses a waste of time?

Author Ethan Ford; Media by Kelsey Kuethe.

Going to Greenville College means many things, but one certainty is that you’ll be required to take a large amount, perhaps even a majority, of classes that are not specific to your major. These general education courses range from psychology to HPR and students often take them from first semester freshman year until their final semester as seniors. But are they worthwhile? Does a mathematics major, such as myself, need to know about the history of Western civilization?

I think the answer to that question depends on your motivations for asking. If you are concerned solely about technical knowledge in the workplace, then no, as a math major I will probably not apply the facts I learned in Western Civilization in that context. I feel that general education courses are not a waste of time, however, because I am motivated not only to be an excellent mathematician, but also to be a well educated person. This motivation leads me to feel that my one admittedly painful semester of philosophy was worth it because now if ever I see names like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or some other famous philosopher, I already have some knowledge about them, and I can use this knowledge in any way that the situation necessitates. The philosophy class gave me knowledge that is universal, something I have for the rest of my life and that I can apply to my own passions, whenever, if ever, I need to.

There is a valid argument that general education is a waste of time that distracts students from pursuing their chosen paths, but again, that argument assumes that the student only needs technical knowledge for their particular field to succeed. This may be true in a workplace setting, but in daily life, to read a newspaper and understand basic economic concepts, to be able to communicate on a basic level with a Spanish speaker (even if it’s only “hola” and “de nada”), has value too, and is often times just as useful as expertise in your chosen career.  If, ultimately, someone feels that general education seems like a waste of time, then a liberal arts institution is probably not his or her best fit.


  1. Good article, Ethan. In addition, I’d like to point out that general education classes provide an opportunity to interact with professors and students that you might not meet if you were only taking classes in your major. They can also be helpful to students who are uncertain of what they want to major in. As a graduate of the Communication department, I heard quite a few stories of people who pursued that major after a good experience in COM 101 with Professor Ross.

  2. I do not believe the cost of tuition and the book for a gen ed is worth the broken knowledge a student gains. It is strange to assume that these 18 year old kids can comprehend what they are learning and think ‘deep’ about them. That is not to say all kids are like that, but a one size fits all educational policy appears to be counter intuitive and an increase of debt.

    These gen ed courses also assume the student is a genius and is going to be able to retain 16 weeks of learning about, say, Confucius. I know that I took an intro to Chinese history as a requirement at a community college. All I recall is $400 for the class, $100 for the book, and 16 weeks lost. To say a student will become culturally diverse or well rounded from a glimpse into an unrelated field is a fraud.

    Your a mathematician, maybe you can come up with a formula that shows the increase in tuition and the decrease of output to the economy due to students being tied up in two years of nonsense.

    • I fully agree with Stephen. It seems like our school system only cares about indoctrinating a student through rote memorization rather than helping a student foster their own passion and talents. In my eyes, everyone is special at something and if we foster that form of education to our students, they will find more of sense of purpose. As a math major who wants to be a mathematician, I cannot agree with you. For one thing, a lot of the majors at vocational and trade schools are very limited to what they offer compared to a liberal arts school and are usually only concerned about technology, nursing, business, art design, or any other technical job. The problem with most anti and pro GE advocates is that it always has to do with career skills vs well-rounded education. Both of these are wrong, while education has to deal with a self-actualized purpose in ones passion of study through critical thinking and subjective beliefs. existing facts and information are then used as research to explain the new discovery or exploration. That is real education, and this was the education i wanted when i was young and never got it. Granted, it is important to learn the basics of every subject, but should only happen in grades K-5 and some of middle school. By the time a student is in high school, a student should already be immersed in the passion of their own subject . This will take away a student’s lost thoughts in school. The grading system, testing, and a so called well-rounded education destroy education by creating anxiety and stress for getting good obedient marks rather than building a community of free-thinkers. I bet people like Newton, Decartes, or Einstein are crying in their graves right now because our politicians are destroying critical thinking and curiosity in young minds. Because of that, my mind does not feel free any more, I only have the ability to regurgitate.


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