Those Gosh-Darn Gen-Ed Requirements

It’s just about time for us current students to choose our classes for next year. One thing I’m really starting to appreciate now is Brandeis’s lack of a “core-curriculum,” minimal amount of general education requirements, and ease of double-counting classes.

So first thing is first: we don’t have a core-curriculum, meaning that there isn’t a set of classes required by all students at the university, regardless of major. Instead, we have general education requirements and distribution requirements. I’ll explain to you what those are.

There’s a writing and oral-communication requirement. This ends up being three classes overall. First, all freshman must take a University Writing Seminar (UWS) class. The courses are offered in both fall and spring and cover a variety of topics. I’m taking my UWS class right now, and the topic is Comedy&Sympathy. We write three papers/essays over the course of the semester. The next thing required of students is that they take either two classes considered “writing intensive,” or one writing intensive class and one “oral-communication” class. Your decide which way you choose to do it. This requirement is pretty easy to fill, because the classes that fit this criteria are not in a specific department. For instance, my biology lab next year is writing intensive, some foreign language classes involve oral-communication, and there’s even a math class that’s writing intensive. Chances are that when you are choosing your regular classes, you will discover that some of them are either writing intensive or involve oral-communication.

There’s also a quantitative reasoning requirement. Math and science courses fill this requirement, although there are economics, psychology, politics, and even legal studies classes that fill this requirement.

Then there’s the foreign-language requirement. In short, you must take classes through level three of the language, and this means three semesters. Brandeis offers a ton of languages, from Spanish, to Yiddish, to Chinese, to Arabic. If you took a language in high school, you can place into a higher level of that language, so you won’t need as many classes to meet the requirement. There are also a few ways to place out of the requirement entirely. You can score high on a placement test, proving that you have proficiency in a language beyond that of a third-semester course. Or, an SAT II score of 620 or higher on foreign language test, or an AP score of 4 or 5 in a foreign language can exempt you from the requirement. I took Latin in high school and am going to use my AP scores to place out of the foreign language requirement.

There’s a non-western requirement, which means that you will have to take a class that studies a non-western culture (i.e. not America or Europe). These classes are spread across the disciplines. There’s an economics class that studies the Chinese economy, there’s a literature class that studies Middle-Eastern literature, and there’s a Japanese dance class. There are a ton of ways to fill this requirement  and still find a class that interests you. Also, if you find a class that is both non-western and writing-intensive, you can meet two requirements at once! Additionally, if you take a non-western foreign language, you can meet the requirement that way too.

There’s also a distribution requirement, meaning that you need to take one class in the school of humanities, school of creative arts, school of science, and school of social sciences. Your major will be in one of those schools, so you’ll easily knock out one of those categories. And chances are, your non-western and writing-intensive courses will be in either the school of humanities or social sciences, so you can knock out a second one of those classes that way. For those of you not into science, you can choose the Lerman Neubauer first year seminar that is science-related, and meet the “school of science” distribution requirement. The trickiest distribution to fill will be the “school of creative arts,” if you’re someone who isn’t already interested in art. Luckily, there are dance classes, improv comedy classes, and a ton of music and art classes. You’ll find something fun.

The last requirement at Brandeis is the physical education requirement. You’re required to take two semesters of physical education. There are many classes to choose from, including Dance Dance Revolution and power yoga. You can also place-out of this requirement by passing a fitness test. Depending on how you do on the test, you can receive credit for one or both semesters of PE. You can also participate on a varsity sport while at Brandeis, and receive credit that way. Lastly, if you take a course to become CPR certified, you can earn PE credit.

I know that sounds like a ton of classes to take. There are a total of 14 little requirements to meet. However, you’ll meet a good chunk of those just by taking classes in your major. You’ll also end up double-counting a lot of requirements, and you might even place out of some. I’m able to fill 7 of those requirements without going out of my way whatsoever. I’m filling 3 more of those by taking classes outside of my major, that I already wanted to take. That leaves 4 requirements that I wouldn’t have met on my own… two of which I’m double-counting. So there’s a total of three classes I need that I wouldn’t normally have taken. That’s not a lot, you gotta admit.

So that’s all. I know that was all pretty confusing, and don’t worry, you don’t have to understand all of it now. It’s just something to keep in mind as you continue making your decisions.