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One key element that differentiates the US education system from others is the opportunity – no, a requirement – to study a wide variety of topics and not just those addressing your major and minor fields.

Different schools have different ways of handling what is commonly called ‘GenEd’ (for GENeralEDucation) or ‘distribution/group’ requirements. Some have a very specific set of classes everyone must take, some leave it up to the student and advisor, and others are somewhere in between.

In my own case, I went to two different schools which had very different programmes. The first one, a private women’s college in New England, had no specific required courses or themes. Each student met with a guidance counsellor before registering each semester and chose classes by keeping in mind the need for a very broad-based education.

In contrast, the large public state university I graduated from had specific GenEd/group categories (fine arts, math, communications, etc) which were each required, but within each category, there were many different classes to choose from.

I appreciated this system, as it meant that I was forced to take classes outside of my main interests and by doing so I received an excellent grounding in humanities. I doubt I would have taken ‘Music Appreciation’ if there hadn’t been a Fine Arts requirement and I most likely wouldn’t have thought to take ‘Non-Verbal Communication’ or some other off-beat classes that were very interesting, although they didn’t apply to my major of Social Psychology or minor of English Literature.

A wide foundation in humanities helps in any field, in my opinion. If you can problem-solve, apply critical thinking, understand how people think, and can read and analyse a wide variety of topics, you’ll be prepared for anything life throws at you. Broad knowledge is power!

— Cathy, US Consulate General Hyderabad

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Author: Howard Caldwell