What Is a General Studies Degree?

by Genevieve Carlton
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A general studies major can explore myriad liberal arts subjects, developing sharp critical-thinking and communication skills.

General studies majors build their degrees around their coursework, interests, and career goals, covering a wide range of topics. The flexibility of a general studies degree appeals to learners who have widely varied academic interests and transfer students whose existing credits do not fit easily into a single major.

The interdisciplinary coursework of a general studies major can prepare graduates for many career paths, depending on what classes they choose.

General Studies Degree Curriculum

During a general studies major, students take the same general education classes that other majors take, including courses in English, math, and the social and life sciences. Unlike regular majors, general studies programs allow students to use the rest of their credits as electives, selecting courses from a variety of subjects, like business, information technology, anthropology, or criminal justice. Typically, students must choose a couple fields of study to concentrate on, but they aren't limited to a single field.

This section explores common classes for the degree, but remember that general studies students often set their own curricula and take many additional courses.

  • English Composition: English composition builds strong persuasive reasoning and writing skills. Students learn to organize their ideas and express them effectively. Composition courses train learners in diverse types of writing, including business writing, persuasive writing, and descriptive writing.
  • Social Impact of Technology: Courses on the social impact of technology explore the relationship between technology and culture, ethics and technology, and the unintended consequences of technological change.
  • Public Speaking: Public speaking encourages communication skills. Learners examine the principles of spoken communication, practical applications of public speaking skills, and ways to enhance presentations. This course helps professionals in fields like business, the public sector, the nonprofit sector, and sales.
  • Statistics: Statistics trains students in data analysis. Coursework covers approaches to hypothesis testing, probability theory, and statistical computing. Fields like business, marketing, and technology all rely on statistics.
  • Art History: Art history explores visual culture, including architecture and the fine arts. The field strengthens research and analytical skills by exploring artistic trends, historical contexts, and cultural frameworks.
  • Anthropology: Anthropology studies humanity from its inception through its modern-day form. Courses cover cultural diversity, the evolution of cultural institutions like politics and religion, and the links between biology and culture.
  • Life Sciences: The life sciences explore biology at every level, including cells and complex ecosystems. Students examine natural selection, genetics, the origin of life, and molecular biology. Life sciences also include classification systems and biodiversity.

Pros and Cons of a General Studies Degree

A general studies major offers several pros, including the ability to customize your degree. However, before pursuing a general studies degree, prospective students should consider the cons, as well.

Pros of a General Studies Degree

Allows customizability based on unique interests that do not fit into one field Offers an interdisciplinary approach that builds varied skills Helps students with multiple college credits complete a degree An associate in general studies often meets the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree

Cons of a General Studies Degree

Does not provide focused career training for fields that require a certain major Graduates may need an internship or work experience to demonstrate focus to potential employers Some departments restrict upper-division courses to majors only, excluding general studies majors A more focused major might serve students better when pursuing graduate degree

What Kinds of General Studies Degrees Are There?

Students can earn general studies degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, allowing them to customize their coursework. The interdisciplinary approach of a general studies degree prepares students for many careers after graduation. This section explores common concentration options, graduation requirements, and job opportunities for general studies degrees.


Associate Degree in General Studies

An associate degree in general studies blends coursework from diverse disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, business, information technology, and STEM. During a two-year associate degree, general studies majors take introductory courses in different fields.

A general studies major also fulfills the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree at many four-year colleges. This means learners with associate degrees in general studies can transfer directly into four-year colleges to pursue bachelor's degrees in more specific majors. Earning an associate degree can also lead to careers like administrative assistant or social services assistant.


Bachelor's Degree in General Studies

A bachelor's degree in general studies lets undergraduates design an interdisciplinary curriculum around their academic interests. During a general studies major, learners customize their coursework to focus on what interests them, including subjects like business, creative writing, information technology, or communication. Similar degrees include a bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies or liberal studies.

Completing a bachelor's degree generally takes four years of full-time enrollment. Transfer students or those who choose an accelerated bachelor’s program often earn their degrees in less time. After graduating with a bachelor's in general studies, professionals pursue careers in sales, business, the public sector, and nonprofit organizations.


Master's Degree in General Studies

A master's degree in general studies or a closely related program, like a master's in liberal studies, offers graduate-level coursework in the humanities and social sciences. Depending on the program, graduate students may also take science, mathematics, or technical courses. A general studies program often allows enrollees to design their own interdisciplinary curriculum, aligning with their professional goals.

Earning a master's degree typically takes two years for full-time students, though many universities offer part-time, online, and accelerated options as well. With master's degrees in general studies, graduates can pursue careers as editorial directors, survey researchers, brand managers, and business analysts.

Accreditation for General Studies Programs

Prospective general studies majors should always choose regionally accredited colleges. Regionally accredited schools meet the highest standards for educating students and granting degrees. Accredited degrees also meet the requirements for professional licenses and certifications. Students attending accredited institutions also qualify for federal financial aid programs.

What Can You Do With a Degree in General Studies?

General studies majors pursue many different careers after earning their degrees. Courses in liberal arts, business, and STEM encourage strong critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills. These abilities can lead to careers in fields like business, public relations, public health, social services, and the nonprofit sector.

As general studies majors explore their career goals and hone their interests, they may consider transferring into more specific majors or picking up a minor. For example, a student who finds themselves drawn to accounting classes might switch to a finance degree, or students who enjoy political science courses might pursue a criminal justice degree.

Similarly, pursuing internships and paid work opportunities during college helps general studies majors focus their resumes and demonstrate experience in specific areas. Internships and work experience also help undergrads develop practical experience.

Business

Many business careers require strong analytical and problem-solving abilities. With a general studies degree, graduates can work as human resources specialists, loan officers, and insurance sales agents. These professionals interact with customers, analyze data, and help businesses operate smoothly.

General studies majors who complete courses in business, human resources, and finance gain the knowledge and skills necessary for diverse business careers. A business degree also prepares majors for these jobs.

Social and Behavioral Sciences

The social and behavioral sciences include careers in psychology, social work, and human services. Entry-level careers in the social and behavioral sciences include social and human service assistant, psychiatric technician, and substance abuse counselor. Assistant and technician roles typically require candidates to have associate degrees, while caseworkers and counselors often need bachelor's degrees.

A general studies degree with coursework in psychology, the social sciences, and social work prepares graduates for careers in the social and behavioral sciences. A psychology degree also leads to opportunities in these fields.

Marketing and Communications

Marketing and communications careers require strong critical thinking and communication skills. A general education degree prepares graduates for careers like advertising sales agent, market research analyst, and public relations specialist. With work experience or a graduate degree, marketing and communications professionals can advance into managerial roles.

Courses that emphasize communication, writing, and analysis benefit marketing and communications professionals. A communication degree also helps people considering careers in marketing, public relations, or advertising.

Professional Organizations

AIS encourages interdisciplinary approaches to education. The association publishes resources, hosts conferences with networking opportunities, and offers teaching resources for interdisciplinary educators. NHA promotes the humanities in higher education. This organization encourages federal funding for the humanities, promotes best practices for teaching humanities, and connects members through conferences and events. AGLS advocates for educators and students in general studies programs. The association encourages collaboration, inclusivity, and innovation. AGLS also offers a blog on general and liberal studies

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a General Studies Degree?

Professionals with a general studies degree earn many different salaries, given the degree's broad application. According to PayScale, general studies majors earn around $60,000 per year, as of spring 2021.

true What Is a Bachelor's in General Studies Good for?

A bachelor's in general studies strengthens critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills. The degree leads to opportunities in fields like business, public relations, social services, and the nonprofit sector.

true Is a General Associate Degree Worth It?

A general studies degree at the associate level provides an interdisciplinary education, and many programs at the associate level meet the general education transfer requirements for bachelor's degrees. This makes them an affordable option for many students seeking bachelor's degrees.

true Does a General Studies Degree Look Bad?

General studies majors pursue an interdisciplinary curriculum that includes humanities, social science, and natural science coursework. While the degree's broad nature lacks the specificity of most programs, many career paths do not require bachelor's degrees in specific subjects, so graduates still qualify for many careers.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Igor Alecsander | Getty Images

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