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At many well-respected bachelor’s degree programs, there are graduation requirements that all students must complete regardless of what major they choose. The classes that fulfill these requirements are known as a core curriculum. The requirements that form the core curriculum vary from one school to the next, but they often encompass introductory-level studies in a wide range of academic disciplines.
The Purpose of the Core Curriculum
When you choose a major, many of the courses you take to earn your bachelor’s degree will be in subjects related to that discipline. Studying a topic in-depth allows you to develop a thorough background in that subject. As you begin looking for jobs in that field, your prospective employers will want to know that you’re well-versed in the discipline and that you have sufficient knowledge that makes you qualified for the job.
However, earning a college education isn’t solely about preparing for one job. For that matter, it’s not about preparing for a single type of career. More broadly, earning a bachelor’s degree means attaining a collegiate level of knowledge that helps you become a personally and intellectually well-rounded individual. This broad education is so important that Forbes referred to core requirements as “pillars of a college education” and called the trend away from requiring theses classes a “terrible erosion of the college curriculum.”
Providing you with the breadth of knowledge necessary to achieve this goal is the primary purpose of implementing a core curriculum. In fact, some of the best degree programs for undergraduates have earned recognition for excellence precisely because of the academic experience their core curricula provide. Students study subjects as part of these requirements that they might never have the opportunity to learn about otherwise. This gives them the chance to explore new perspectives and interests, develop versatile thinking and communication skills and broaden their knowledge base.
Typical Requirements in an Undergraduate Core Curriculum
Often, the core curriculum required to graduate from an undergraduate degree program includes a wide range of subjects. Studies in the liberal arts and sciences are common, as are studies in the humanities. Some schools require students to take courses in technology or fine art. Others ask that undergraduates study a foreign language or take writing-intensive classes that develop their written communication skills.
At some schools, students complete the core curriculum entirely during their first year. Other schools require students to spend their freshman and sophomore years on general education courses and begin studies in their major when they become juniors. Still other institutions spread out the core curriculum requirements, so that even seniors take some required classes.
Academic Options and Flexibility in a Core Curriculum
Sometimes a school or degree program will require that students take a specific course. At other times, students need only complete one course or type of course from a list to fulfill their degree requirements, which means students have more freedom to customize their education. Core requirements are minimal at some schools but take up nearly one-third of students’ coursework at others.
Not every undergraduate degree program has a core curriculum. Ivy League school Brown University, for example, features an open curriculum. Instead of setting specific general education requirements, the school sets “liberal learning” goals and allows students to choose how they meet those goals.
Even if you’re not eager to take all of the courses required as part of a core curriculum, a strong core curriculum – or an alternative like Brown’s – is one of the things you should look for in an undergraduate college degree program.