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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Death, Taxes and General Education Requirements

Learning to Learn Series - Part 3
By Jim Larkin and Jack Powers

Let's face it, even if you find a major and career path that perfectly meshes with your talents and temperament, it still doesn't save you from general education requirements. It’s a universal pain point, like death and taxes. No matter how brilliant you are within your chosen field, you must endure a litany of courses with no apparent connection to your future, outside of their ability to sink your GPA, grad school plans and scholarship. So how does one survive general ed? 

People tend to approach general ed in two ways, depending on personality preferences for either Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), as presented by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument. Those with either preference frequently hit a wall in general ed courses, but often at different points and for different reasons. 

Students with an S preference tend to focus on the practical “here and now,” and for them that “wall” comes almost immediately. If you’re a business major, for example, you may see having to take cultural anthropology or English composition as a waste of time with no practical career application. Consequently, you’ll be disengaged from the start.  

Focusing on the big picture
You can counter this by flexing your natural analytic abilities to understand that this is an experience that you must wade through to achieve your goals. Looking at the big picture may not be your immediate impulse, but viewing the course as a single rung in a ladder that leads to being able to do what you really want will help motivate you to buckle down and study.

Finding the method in the madness
If an immediate connection between the course subject matter and what you hope to do for a living eludes you, find one. For example, while as a business executive or engineer you may never be asked to produce an essay on the nihilistic voyeurism of Hemingway, you’ll certainly need to cogently, convincingly and at times creatively express your thoughts.

Those in technical fields are increasingly required to make the case for their initiatives to non-technical audiences -- to succeed, you’ll need better communication skills than the average math teacher. And for those with more administrative goals in mind, remember that a crackerjack speechwriter may not be there to help you with your big presentation. In such cases, you’ll be thankful if you paid attention in English class.

Take your general ed early
Finally, take your general ed courses as early as possible -- preferably your freshman and sophomore years. You may actually find that what you thought was your ideal career isn't so ideal, and that another course of study appeals more to you. If you don’t discover that until your junior year, it may be too late to switch directions.

In summary, if you've got a preference for Sensing, your general education stumbling block will be the perceived lack of practicality. However, if you dig a little deeper you may find that even if the subject matter is irrelevant, often the skills are highly relevant to your future, which will help you become more motivated and engaged to succeed.

Next time we’ll discuss how Intuitives (N) -- whose natural curiosity and big picture focus may get them initially stoked about a general ed course -- can avoid losing steam halfway through when the novelty of the new subject wears off and the coursework kicks in. 

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