Posted in HS4CC

Universal General Education

I answered an email this morning asking about “Universal General Education” courses.  The parent wanted to know if such a set of college courses exists that will satisfy the general education degree requirements at every college.  While you won’t find a universal list of general education requirements, I have a list of 10 courses that will almost certainly be part of any general education list you find.  This plan will get you really close until you can narrow your target college list and choose the exact courses your teen needs.

What are the “general education” courses?

This is a list of classes, usually, 15-20 of them, required of everyone who attends a specific college.  For students in that college, it applies to all the majors and all degrees, assuring that everyone who graduates from that college has ticked specific boxes in many areas.  In other words, you can’t randomly take 20 math classes, or 20 music classes –  general education courses happen first, building you into a “well rounded” college student.  Since each college feels strongly about what courses are on their list, you’ll find differences, making it confusing for many of us.

Why general education in high school?

It just so happens that most dual enrollment courses (and CLEP or AP exams) are meant to hit the general education requirements of colleges.  This isn’t an accident!  It also just so happens that these courses will look a lot like the high school courses your teen is already doing (English, math, history, etc.) so completing the general education courses while simultaneously completing a high school diploma moves your teen a lot closer to the goal post (a degree) while resourcefully planning and saving a lot of time and money.

Since the general education courses aren’t “in” the field your teen wants to study, many students grumble at taking these courses, and statistically, more students drop out of college during their general education courses than once they hit their major- this makes sense considering students start with general education courses at most colleges.

Improved transfer:  Classesonline

If you don’t have a target college picked out, and your teen may attend a private university or one of your state university’s flagship locations, you’re going to improve your chances of transfer by completing your general education courses through dual enrollment program instead of credit by exam (CLEP, AP).  Dual enrollment courses (taken through a college) simply transfer better.  In some states, tuition is waived, but others here won’t have that benefit, and thus dual enrollment can be expensive.

Save more money: Credit by Exam

If your primary motivation is having enough money to get your kids OUT of college with a degree (I’m in this category) then saving money on general education courses is a slam dunk. I used CLEP exams in my own degree, completing my college’s entire general education requirement this way- but I had a target college picked out FIRST and knew that I could use CLEP to do so. Not every college is super CLEP-friendly, so to take this approach means deciding that you’ll pick a college based on their CLEP policy.  Many people do this (we did) and thus guaranteeing the credit transfers.

CLEP is more readily available and is lower cost than AP, but AP is accepted by a few more colleges- still both are accepted for college credit by half the colleges in the country.  If your teen is too young for dual enrollment, dual enrollment is not free in your state, you want to save the most money, and you’re comfortable choosing a college that allows credit by exam, you can hit all of the gen ed requirements through CLEP and AP exams.  Currently, the Modern States voucher program pays for CLEP exam costs, so the cost for college credit through CLEP is literally $0.

If you plan to use a community college first

A community college has already developed a specific program that should transfer into your state’s public colleges and universities.  One of their main reasons a person would complete an associate degree at the community college is to complete the full general education core (at a fraction of the cost).   In almost every case, your community college’s AA degree will match your state’s general education list perfectly.  If this is the case in your state, this is the best way to get a list you can work from (for dual enrollment now, and finishing the general education courses after).


For everyone else

Start with 4 Core Courses

The following 4 core courses are almost always on a college’s general education list and also work well as high school classes during 11th or 12th grade.  As such, if you’re not sure where to start, these 4 courses will help you build a plan that will most certainly align with most colleges.  Notice I said courses, not credits, because I think that these 4 give you the best return on your investment if you can arrange these as dual enrollment courses instead of CLEP or AP.  Not only is their transfer potential higher, but these 4 are the foundation courses your teen will draw from for the rest of their degree, so proficiency is really important.

The last 6 represent the courses you’re almost certainly going to find in every degree except for an Associate of Applied Science degree (which will have the fewest general education requirements of all).  If your teen is planning a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, these 10 are

  1. English 1 (aka English 101)
  2. English 2 
  3. Speech
  4. Math (College Algebra is the best bet for the most degrees)
  5. Science – Biology with Lab*
  6. Science- Chemistry or Physics
  7. Humanities- Literature
  8. Humanities- Art of Music Appreciation
  9. Social Science – Psychology or Sociology
  10. Social Science – American History or Government


*Lab credit can’t be earned through credit by exam

Extra Credit

Many colleges ask for 2 years of high school foreign language as an admissions requirement, while others may ask for 2 years of a college foreign language as a degree requirement.  If this applies to you, they can kill 2 birds with 1 stone by earning their college language requirement in high school.  Unlike some subjects, even colleges with strict CLEP or AP exam policies often encourage credit by exam to demonstrate foreign language proficiency.  If your teen is able, follow their high school foreign language courses with the following exams to earn high school and college credit.

CLEP- French, Spanish, or German

Advanced Placement (AP)- Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, or Spanish

Read more about earning Foreign Language Credit by Exam


If your teen completes the list of 10 courses and earns credit by exam in a foreign language, they’ve accumulated ONE YEAR of college credit.  Congratulations!!!

At this point, it’s prudent to pick a target college.  Credit beyond the first year is unlikely to fall into place and fill the slots of multiple colleges, so at this point, you need to plan and choose your courses more carefully.  Some parents stop here- and that’s fine too, after all, you’ve just completed a year of college at home in high school, and that’s a huge accomplishment and cost savings!



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