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Being Liberal with Your Education - Undergraduate Curriculum in the US

You don’t have to make all your decisions about what to study before you head to the US for a bachelors degree. Time at the university will give you plenty of time to choose. Read more below.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   06-10-2016
Image Credit: Derek Bruff licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you finally decide to travel to the US for an undergraduate degree, you have probably made many a decision already – country, college, and course. Without trying to sound all too dramatic, these are the decisions that will determine your foreseeable future. And they are big demands to be made of an 18-year-old.

Once you’ve decided where you want to study, and which college is your best fit, it is your choice of course which will shape your career outcomes. Not an easy call to take! You might not be sure whether you want to do a degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering or both, or how to choose between Psychology and History. These are important decisions which require a major investment in terms of your time and money.

The good news is that a university is often the best place to start figuring all of this out. Many universities in the US do not ask you to apply to a particular school or major. For example, at Johns Hopkins, the country’s first private research university, undergraduates can take classes in any of the 51 majors and 44 minors offered across the schools. This flexibility in the curriculum is aimed at giving students an all-round exposure, inspired by a liberal arts philosophy of education. Students enrolled in the gateway course in English Literature at Johns Hopkins are also required to know a foreign language, and take two supplementary courses in the Social Sciences and/or Humanities.

This means that you’re not going to be pushed off at the deep end. Unless you choose to go to a college or university which has an absolutely open curriculum. Most universities structure their coursework in various ways, and with varying degrees of flexibility. But, even if the curriculum is open, it will have distributed requirements that you need to fulfil.

Vanderbilt University, for instance, insists that a third of your undergraduate coursework and classes will be in its College of Arts and Sciences, regardless of your major. University of Chicago, on the other hand, divides its curriculum into thirds. The first consists of the core, i.e., 8 subjects. This gives students a chance to develop an academic toolkit, which is the foundation for the remaining two thirds of the coursework – the major and the elective. This flexibility allows students to add a minor, a major or even a double major (depending on how much sleep you can do without!)

In terms of core requirements, universities generally require for students to take classes in Composition, Literature, Foreign language, US Government or History, Economics, Maths and Natural or Physical Science. At Columbia University, the core has Science, Global Core, Foreign Language and Physical Education requirements.

So, if you’re stressing about which major and which minor, and the fallout on your future - you can stop worrying right now! Think, instead, of whether you want to go for an open, distributed or fixed curriculum. Higher education in the US affords every opportunity for you to exercise intellectual independence and shape the future that you choose!


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