University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst: General Education

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For Students


Frequently Asked Questions


What are the Gen Ed Requirements?

General Education requirements are a set of course designations selected to provide experiences that lead directly to the achievement of the General Education learning objectives by a student who completes them. The Gen Ed requirements have changed for students enrolled at UMass fall 2010 or later. To see a listing of Gen Ed requirements for students enrolled prior to fall 2010 and for students enrolled fall 2010 or later, go to Fulfilling the Requirements. Gen Ed requirements for transfer students enrolled fall 2010 or later may vary from the requirements for freshmen. Transfer students should consult their Academic Requirements Record (ARR) and/or an advisor for clarification.

What do the designations mean?

Gen Ed designations label each course based on what experiences and learning objectives that course delivers. For instance, the PS designation - short for Physical Sciences - labels all General Education courses that involve students in asking and using the fundamental questions of a scientific discipline to build skills in critical thinking, analysis, mathematical application, and scientific communication. Not all courses within a discipline satisfy that Gen Ed designation; for example, not all History courses satisfy the HS designation. To see a full listing of Gen Ed course designations and what the courses carrying those designations offer, visit the Curriculum Areas.

Why are only certain courses designated as General Education courses?

The General Education curriculum follows a special set of criteria that ensure that students will be prepared to face challenges both academically at UMass Amherst and professionally when they enter the workforce. Employers repeatedly report that what they value most highly in new employees are: a) excellent communications skills, b) exceptional analytic skills, and c) the ability to understand and think critically about complex issues. Therefore, only the courses specifically designed to provide experiences and activities that allow students to meet specific learning objectives are designated Gen Ed. Before any course can be included in the Gen Ed curriculum, it has to go through a thorough review and approval by a faculty committee (Gen Ed Council).

If I've already taken a 3-credit course elsewhere or at UMass, is it useless?

No, it is not useless. You can take another 3-credit Gen Ed course at UMass or elsewhere in the appropriate designation and the two courses will satisfy a 4-credit course.

Can courses within my major count towards Gen Ed?

As many as 4 courses from a student's major department can be applied to GenEd requirements: Junior Year Writing, Integrative Experience, one course applied to another GenEd requirement, and one course applied to a Diversity requirement.  There is no limit on GenEd or Diversity courses that can be counted toward major requirements.

Where can I get advice about Gen Ed?

Visit the page Gen Ed: The Basics for information on where to go for assistance.

What Gen Ed courses are available this semester? How do I find a course to fulfill a specific designation requirement?

You may search SPIRE for the most current information about course listings for a given semester. SPIRE also allows you to search by Gen Ed designation. Click on the "Search Schedule/Browse Catalog link." Choose the semester term. Under "Class Search Criteria," leave the "Subject" field blank, for "Course Career" choose "Undergraduate," choose the appropriate "Session," and click on the Gen Ed designation that you are looking for.

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How do I find out when a course will be offered next?

The most efficient way to find out when a course will be offered next is to call the department offering the course. They will likely be able to tell you how often the course is offered and which instructor teaches it. Refer to the complete listing of undergraduate programs for contact information.

How can I make sure I get the Gen Ed course I’m interested in?

Certain popular Gen Ed courses do fill early. The earlier you register, the more likely you are to be able to enroll in your preferred courses. An essential part of enrolling in your preferred courses is having a well thought out plan for approaching your Gen Ed requirements, just as you do for your major requirements. Sometimes it may be better to put off one of the more popular courses until later in your academic career, when as an upperclass student you earn an earlier registration date and can enroll in a larger variety of courses. Work with your academic advisor(s) to plan a set of Gen Ed courses that meet your interests and needs, and give yourself the flexibility to enroll in the most convenient course(s) in any semester. It is also good to have prepared a list of acceptable alternatives if you find your first choice is full. Try to know as far in advance what courses will be offered and which ones interest you so that you can be ready to register as soon as it is possible to do so. Also see the next FAQ about what to do when a course is full.

The Gen Ed course I want to take is full. Now what?

Many courses maintain a waiting list, from which students are enrolled when other students change their plans and remove the course from their schedule. If a particular course is very important to you, speak to the instructor about how to get onto the waiting list for that course and follow up with that instructor to find out your waiting list status. You may also want to speak to the instructor about what other courses are offered with similar content that may not be overenrolled, and try to enroll in the high-demand course in a later semester. Finally, you should keep trying by checking SPIRE often, since openings do sometimes occur.

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How can I make sure that the Gen Ed courses I take will help me achieve my academic and career goals? 

The Gen Ed course requirements are selected to give you the flexibility to enroll in courses that interest you while guaranteeing a diversity of experiences sufficient to meet the Gen Ed learning objectives. For example, both "CLASSICS 335H - Women in Antiquity" and "GERMAN 376 - The Holocaust" fulfill the HS (Historical Studies) requirement. Although the academic content of these courses will differ, the transferable skills that are the aim of general education are facilitated by both. You can expect that all courses designated HS will require you to exercise your ability to view our culture and society from a different and relevant historical perspective, but the specific historical context will vary from course to course, and you may elect any course that meets your specific interests and goals.

Is there any way out of the Gen Ed requirements?

Gen Ed is a required program for all undergraduate students at UMass. Every undergraduate student at UMass must complete a major sequence, which provides depth in a field or discipline; a General Education sequence, which provides breadth of experience; and sometimes a set of requirements specific to their college, which guarantee that everyone who graduates has completed an extensive body of work that justifies their degree.

In a colloquial way, the major requirements help you become an expert in something and the Gen Ed requirements help you become a well-rounded, capable and confident adult. While both are valuable independently, it is the combination that propels students to a successful future and makes UMass graduates so highly sought after by employers.

To receive the most educational value from the program, you should learn about the objectives of the Gen Ed program and the relevant skills you will build through your Gen Ed course sequence. Work with your academic advisor to develop a Gen Ed strategy and course sequence tailored to your personal interests and life goals. The Gen Ed Course Planning Guide may be useful to you as you plan your Gen Ed experience.

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Last semester all of my Gen Ed requirements were complete, and this semester a course I'm taking now is a Gen Ed. Can I use it in another requirement?

The Academic Requirements Report reads courses chronologically and puts each course into the first requirement it can satisfy. It does not check to see if other courses could satisfy the same requirement. At the end of the semester, when these courses are completed, everything should fall into its proper place. If it doesn't, visit the Registrar's Office to get the courses relocated.

I want to take a course at the college near my home over the summer. It offers Intro to Sociology as a 3-credit course, but it is 4-credits at UMass. It looks like the exact same class. Will it meet my SB Gen Ed requirement?

It might not, depending on your version of the General Education requirements. Your Academic Requirements Report will indicate whether you need to satisfy the requirement in terms of number of courses or number of credits. (For example, a student who entered the University as a freshman in fall 2010 or later needs 4 credits to satisfy the SB requirement. If you take that 3-credit course over the summer, you would later need to take another 3-credit SB course to fulfill that requirement.) ALWAYS file the appropriate prior approval form before taking a class that you think will meet a Gen Ed (or other) requirement; this is your guarantee that the course will count as you expect as long as you earn a C- or higher and send in a final official transcript to the Registrar’s Office.

I think one of my transfer courses should satisfy a Gen Ed requirement. Why doesn't it?

The Office of Transfer Affairs (OTA) assigns Gen Ed codes to transfer courses. If they didn't do so, it probably means that the course doesn't qualify or that they didn't have enough information about the course to judge. Obtain a course description or syllabus from the instructor at your former school and ask an OTA evaluator to review it. Consult the Registrar's Office for more information.

One of my International exchange courses should satisfy a Gen Ed requirement. Why is it in "Additional Electives" instead?

The International Programs Office (IPO) assigns Gen Ed codes to international exchange courses. Follow the same procedure as with transfer credits (see previous FAQ), but take the course description to the International Programs Office.

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Why doesn't a course within my major fulfill a Gen Ed requirement?

Not all courses within a discipline satisfy that Gen Ed designation; for example, not all History courses satisfy the HS designation. To see a full listing of Gen Ed course designations and what the courses carrying those designations offer, visit the Curriculum Areas. It is also helpful to keep in mind that only 4 courses from your major department can be applied to GenEd requirements: Junior Year Writing, Integrative Experience, one course applied to another GenEd requirement, and one course applied to a Diversity requirement.  There is no limit on GenEd or Diversity courses that can be counted toward major requirements.


Will I be able to get credit for my major, minor and General and Global Education requirements for a course I take abroad?

In some cases, yes. Many majors and many minors will give credit toward departmental requirements for courses taken abroad. Many departments encourage students to include study abroad in their plans. Students must get their study abroad courses approved by their academic advisors prior to departure, so they should find out as much information as possible about getting credit before you travel. The International Programs Office (IPO) can help you plan ahead if you are undeclared when you first seek advice. Many courses abroad can fulfill General Education and Global requirements as long as they fall within the guidelines for those areas. Check with your academic advisor to be sure. (Note: It is not advisable to take the Basic Math Skills and/or Analytic Reasoning while abroad.)

If I study abroad or on exchange in the US, will that change my Gen Eds?

When you do an approved exchange or study abroad program through UMass, you will work with the program staff to make sure you understand how the program fits into your academic program.  
Occasionally, due to different credit systems at the institution they attend, students who go on a UMass/Amherst-approved exchange or study abroad program will choose to change to transfer GenEd requirements. This is done by filing a Change to Transfer General Education Requirements form in the Records Office (207 Whitmore).  It is recommended that students file the form as soon as possible following the exchange, but no later than the beginning of their last semester at UMass/Amherst.  Make sure you discuss this with your advisor and/or the International Programs or Domestic Exchange Offices.

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