Navigating General Education

As you work through your new First Semester Schedule Questionnaire,  you will be asked about your interest in the various General Education categories. Yep, that’s right, every student will need to take courses in several general education areas and this broad spectrum of courses will help round out your liberal arts education. It’s good for you.

Note that courses used for gen ed can also be used to satisfy major requirements. (And note that you can find advice on the major programs back on the main New Student Guide page.) So, for example, if you plan to major in Physics and decide to take PHYS 105-106: University Physics I & II your first year to get started on the major, you will have also satisfied the Natural Science general education requirement with those 2 courses. There are lots more rules about gen ed courses. For instance, in most cases, you cannot use a single course to satisfy two different gen ed requirements. Don’t worry so much about all of those rules at this time. You’ll learn them during your first year at UMW and by reading the Undergraduate Academic Catalog. For now, just concentrate on picking some subjects that interest you, and your Student Success Coordinator will make certain that you get started on the right track based on your interests.

Here are the general education categories, and some comments to help you make decisions. This is just advice. Once you read the advice, you’ll still need to pick specific classes that appeal to you. Start by downloading and printing this summary sheet. It lists all of the courses that (a) satisfy a general education requirement, (b) are being offered in fall 2015, and (c) have no prerequisites. This makes them perfect for new students! The Undergraduate Academic Catalog has a complete list of courses that meet the various requirements as well, and you can use the Course Descriptions tab on the left side of that page to look up more detailed descriptions. Note that not all courses satisfying general education categories are offered every semester. Also note that some disciplines require proper placement.  This include languages, calculus and chemistry.  Prior to orientation, you’ll take the math and language placement tests, and at orientation you will take the chemistry placement test, to help sort this out.  You can read more about the placement tests here.

Ok, so let’s get started with some general advice to help you as you complete the questionnaire.

First Year Seminar (one course)

Every new college student needs to see the best of what higher education has to offer, and the FSEM program at UMW does just that. FSEMs are small classes (about 15 students). They often cover unique topics and involve multiple speaking and writing assignments. (This is actually pretty typical of seminar courses.) Sometimes it’s tough to figure out what the courses are about by their title. Over on the QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan) website, you’ll find descriptions of all FSEM courses. Look at the courses on your questionnaire, and then use the website linked above to find descriptions of those courses. Pick five that sound interesting to you, and mark them on your questionnaire. Remember – your FSEM class must be taken during your first semester at UMW and will determine the residence hall in which you live.

Quantitative Reasoning (two courses)

Yes, every student has to take a math course. Well, not really. Everybody has to take two quantitative reasoning courses. That’s a little different. Many students do take one or two math courses, but it’s certainly not required. There are intro-level philosophy, music and computer science courses that will fit the bill just as well. It is interesting that some upper-division courses in psychology, sociology and physics all satisfy this requirement too. So, if you’re planning to major in psychology, you might think of this as a 1-course requirement since you’ll pick up the other course in your major when you’re a junior or senior. So, think about how you’d prefer to satisfy this requirement and mark your choices.  Also, note that if you plan to take calculus while you’re here at UMW, you will be asked to take the Calculus Readiness Exam prior to orientation.  You can read more about the placement exams here.

Natural Science (a two-course sequence)

Here you need to pick a subject and do a year-long sequence. It’s as simple as that. If you want to go the traditional route, you can. Basic Geology 111 and 112 will do the job. But there are many other options you should consider. Did you like chemistry in high school, but have no intentions of being a science major? Then, perhaps you’d like to pursue the Chemistry & Society sequence. Want to learn about the oceans? The Earth & Environmental Science department offers their intro course followed by Oceanography. Physics offers an into-level Astronomy sequence. You get the idea. There are many examples like this. Again, look at the complete list of courses and use the Course Description tab on the left-hand side of the Catalog page to find ones that interest you the most.

Global Inquiry

You’ll see that there are many interesting courses that satisfy the GI requirement in all sorts of areas including Anthropology, History, English, Geography, Political Science, Classics and Linguistics. Pick a few courses that look interesting to you and mark them on your questionnaire. The interesting thing about the GI category, however, is that you can satisfy it without actually taking a course. If you’re considering Study Abroad down the road (and you should… it’ll change your life), you’ll pick up the GI requirement from that experience overseas. While we’re on the subject, don’t miss the opportunity to check out the Center for International Education while you’re here at orientation. Those folks will be doing a presentation for you the first day.  Of particular note is the plethora of faculty-led programs offered at UMW. It’s definitely worth a look.

Arts, Literature and Performance (two courses, one performance and one appreciation)

The important thing to remember about this category is that you need one Performance class and one Appreciation class. These are different! The first provides you with the opportunity to create something, while the latter asks you to sit back and ponder its beauty. For the performance side, you’ll see choices from the obvious disciplines such as Studio Art and Theatre, but you may be surprised to see options in Computer Science, Creative Writing, or Communication. The appreciation side is even broader. There you’ll see courses in English, Classics, and Art History to name a few. Again, mark those that interest you the most, remembering that your major may have some requirements that fall in this category.

Human Experience & Society (two courses from two different disciplines)

HES is a fairly broad category covering many disciplines in the social sciences and beyond. There is definitely something here for everybody. Business majors will satisfy this requirement with Economics 201. History majors will satisfy this requirement with any one of a large number of options at the 300-level. Philosophy majors will find their required course PHIL 201: Ancient Greek Philosophy on the list. Geography majors can use GEOG 102 in their major and, guess what, it also satisfied the HES requirement. You get the idea. So, here’s a good place to seriously think about where a course you’d like to take might also be used to satisfy a major requirement.


Every student who wants a degree from UMW must make it to intermediate level competency in a language other than English. This translates to the 202-level course in some language. Many students start in 101. This means taking 101, 102, 201, and 202 in one single language. But many other students start beyond 101. For example, if you were in French for four years while in high school, chances are that you can start at a higher level than FREN 101. You’ll take a placement test prior to orientation which will help you decide where to start. If you place highly enough, we’ll let you start in 102 or 201, for example. Then you won’t need to take all 4 courses to meet this requirement. For now, it’s most important to simply indicate which language(s) interests you. We can take care of getting you into the appropriate course later.

Experiential Learning

This last category is really something not to worry about your first year. This requirement asks students to complete an outside-the-classroom experience. Internships, practicums, individual study courses, undergraduate research, study abroad, and more all satisfy this requirement. But most students knock this one out during their final years at UMW. So let’s not sweat it for now.

Speaking Intensive and Writing Intensive

In addition to those categories above, every student is required to take “across the curriculum” courses in the two broad areas of Speaking Intensive (SI) and Writing Intensive (WI). Interestingly, here’s a place where you can double dip. Courses that are SI or WI can also satisfy other general education categories. It’s not unusual for students to take a course such as MATH 115 which satisfies the quantitative reasoning requirement and is also SI. Other examples exist throughout the curriculum. However, you must be careful to note that WI and SI designations vary by professor and semester. While ENGL 205 has some sections that are SI this fall, other sections of ENGL 205 are not SI. It depends on the professor teaching the course.  This information is always readily available in the Banner registration system.

That about wraps up the general education portion of this guide and advice for you. If you still have questions about general education courses and requirements, you can always contact one of the Student Success Coordinators in the Office of Academic & Career Services at 540-654-1010.