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What Are GECs, And Why do You Have To Take Them?

August 16, 2016 by Coventry Kessler |

New students are sometimes shocked to discover that they have to take General Education Courses (GECs) before they can concentrate on their major. “I know what I want to do!” they protest. “Why do I have to take [sociology, literature, math, natural science, history, you name it]? I’m never gonna need that.”

I’m glad you asked. First, a little backstory.

How we got to GECs

In the days of the ancient Greeks, where democracy began, a liberal arts education was considered the sine qua non (essential condition) for a free person to participate effectively in civic life—debating in public, defending yourself in court, serving on juries or in the military, and voting.

Jefferson and the classic liberal education

Like the ancient Greeks, Thomas Jefferson believed that if this democratic experiment was going to work, people needed to be educated. Of course, he went on to found the University of Virginia, where students were expected to learn Greek and Latin, history, ethics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and so forth for both civic and professional reasons. In other words, a classic liberal education.

So a general knowledge of the world has been seen as essential to living in a free society from the days of the ancient Greeks to Thomas Jefferson, and it’s one reason you still have to take General Education Courses now. 

What GECs can do for you

There’s been a lot of debate about the value of a liberal arts education. After all, students want to know they can find jobs after graduation. But the good news is, business leaders are finding that liberal arts majors are among their most successful employees because they think critically, are creative and flexible, express themselves well, and value teamwork. Taking General Education Courses can provide similar benefits. For example:

  1. You may discover what you really want to do. Plenty of people come to school thinking they know what they will major in, only to discover something they really love in a different course. College is your time to explore, and GEC courses are an excellent way to do that.

  2. GEC courses sharpen your critical thinking skills. Liberal arts courses focus on analysis and problem solving. Each subject requires a different set of skills, and learning a new one forces you to think and analyze in new ways.

  3. They help your writing and speaking skills. As author Fareed Zakaria notes in “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” nothing forces you to clarify your thoughts like writing them down. It also helps to present them to others. The writing and speaking required in GEC courses provides practice and improves both of these skills.

  4. GECs broaden your horizon and your flexibility. If your focus is math, a sociology course will help you think about how people operate. If your major is French, a biology course will introduce you to the scientific method. Eventually something in your GEC courses will help you in your work. It’s like cross training. Exercising different muscle groups eventually benefits the sport of interest.

  5. They can be fun. Why are so many foreign students eager to study in the United States? As Zakaria explains, one appeal is that students can explore topics they’re interested in rather than just focus on narrow technical training. It’s like standing in front of a huge buffet, realizing you can sample anything you want. GEC courses aren’t a chore: they’re an opportunity, and sometimes a real pleasure.


UNCG offers a multitude of General Education Courses over six areas. You must take the number of hours specified in each area.

  • Humanities and Fine Arts (12 semester hours)
  • Historical Perspective (3 semester hours)
  • Natural Sciences (6–7 semester hours)
  • Mathematics (3 semester hours)
  • Reasoning and Discourse (6 semester hours)
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences (6 semester hours)

In addition, you must fulfill General Education Marker Requirements:

  • one Writing-Intensive course
  • one Speaking-Intensive course
  • four Global Perspectives courses

You can choose from everything from African Art to Mythology to General Chemistry, Europe since WWI, Jazz Appreciation, General Psychology, and so on. Finding something interesting is easy—the hard part is deciding what to take.

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