What Does it Mean to Study General Studies?
A general studies degree program is intended to cover the basics of a university education. Yes, all of them. Instead of being specialized for any specific subject or career, it’s a broadly-based degree program meant to demonstrate that you have the self-discipline and intelligence to work through a university-level program in a variety of subject areas. This broad scope is the reason a general studies degree is sometimes referred to as a “generalist degree” instead.
Earning a general studies degree can serve as a prerequisite for a professional career or as a stepping stone to a college degree in another discipline. In either case, completing a general studies degree program can be a very personally rewarding experience, precisely because it is such a broad program. It’s also a program that can usually be taken at least partially online — because the program consists of courses from a multitude of fields, chances are good that at least some of the courses might be available online at your school, further adding to the program’s flexibility.
Career Education in General Studies
Many students pursue a general studies degree as a way to earn credits while they decide on possible career paths. If there are particular subjects that you find interesting, take as many of them as you can fit into your degree program. A few theoretical examples:
- A student isn’t sure whether he wants to major in history or in ethnic studies. He takes courses in both liberal arts and social sciences as part of his general studies program, giving him the chance to experience both, and learns that upper-division history courses are not so interesting to him, while ethnic studies is exactly what he’s looking for.
- A student thinks that she wants to major in math, but is also interested in computers and engineering. Rather than declare a major in math, she earns her associate degree in general studies and takes courses in all three fields, helping her to realize that her true passion is computer science.
- A student went to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but had to leave school halfway through. Now that they are returning to school, their interests have changed, and they want to find a position in marketing. Rather than throw out their psychology credits for a new major, they pursue a general studies major, which makes use of their old credits but also allows them to add in new courses in marketing.
Before you become a general studies major, consider the degree levels available in this field:
Generally requiring up to two years of higher education, an associate degree program in general studies gives students a chance to explore a sampling of several disciplines such as psychology, sociology, the humanities, philosophy, history and mathematics.
During these degree programs, students typically learn how to research and analyze vital information, as well as how to bring together the basic principles of different fields and discover different ways of looking at the same situation. General studies degree programs at the associate level can lay a foundation for future career and educational advancement, helping you to make decisions about how and where to pursue your future education, career or other goals.
The courses for a general studies associate degree program are likely to vary greatly from school to school and from student to student, but some of the possibilities include:
- Social impact of technology
- English composition
- Introduction to computers
- Principles of public speaking
- Computer science
Whether it’s pursued directly as a bachelor’s degree program or as a degree completion program after earning an associate degree, a bachelor’s in general studies degree program serves many similar purposes to an associate degree in the same subject. However, while an associate program usually just covers the basics of different subjects, a bachelor’s program can give students the opportunity to try upper-division courses in various subjects. Upper-division courses can be quite different from lower-division — a student who loves lower-div math, such as algebra, may find upper-div math, such as differential equations, to be a chore (or vice versa!)
Students pursuing a bachelor’s in general studies may take courses that teach them in-depth concepts from a variety of subjects. Examples of some of these courses you might see include:
- English composition
- Introduction to computer science
- Behavioral science
- College algebra
- Statistical analysis
What Can You Do With a College Degree in General Studies?
A general studies degree is usually appreciated by employers for positions in which specific skills are not required — just good judgment, critical thinking and analytical skills, and communication skills. Entry-level positions in administrative support, project management or materials processing are often within reach for a generalist graduate, and other opportunities may exist depending on your chosen electives and previous experience. By remaining adaptable and ready to learn new areas of expertise, you can keep your career options wide open.
Working adults may find that earning a general studies degree can help make them more appealing for management consideration or for more challenging positions. If you want to get your general studies degree without taking time off from work, it might be beneficial to consider taking your courses online so you can more easily study when and where is convenient for you.
Some of the potential positions you might be able to attain with a general studies degree include:
Insurance Sales Agents
Insurance agents perform a wide range of tasks, with most work revolving around acquiring new clients and selling new insurance policies. These workers strive to expand their books of business, analyze their client’s insurance needs, answer questions about existing policies and assist their clients as they file claims.
While some insurance agents sell a specific type of insurance such as life insurance, other agents sell a variety of policies such as homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance and even health insurance.
Courses to consider for this career might include insurance and risk management, marketing and communications.
- Insurance agents don’t necessarily need a college degree for entry-level work, although many have a bachelor’s degree.
- Insurance agents need to be licensed in the state they work. Agents that sell securities and other financial products need to be licensed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Customer Service Representatives
Customer service representatives deal with customers to handle complaints, answer questions and queries, and advise customers on how to use products or services. They may also handle returns, record details of customer interactions and refer customers to management whenever a problem is beyond their jurisdiction.
While the job duties can vary depending on the employing company, customer service representatives typically need to use the phone, the computer, and software technology to do their jobs. Verbal communication and listening skills are also frequently of use.
Courses to consider for this career might include public relations, behavioral science and computer science.
- While customer service representatives may not need a college degree to find entry-level work, having a general studies degree could broaden your job prospects or help your resume become more competitive.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, customer service representatives who work with information about finance and insurance may need a state license.
General Office Clerks
General office clerks perform the clerical and administrative tasks that are required for an office to function. This regularly includes answering the telephone and taking messages, sorting mail, scheduling appointments, preparing and processing bills, and typing various reports.
Responsibilities can vary quite a bit based on the employer and the job, although most general office clerks should learn to be comfortable with technology and computer software. Because their tasks can change frequently, general office clerks should also be ready to learn the inner workings of their organization in case they need to work with different clients or departments.
Courses to consider for this career might include computer science, sociology and communications.
- Office clerks usually need a high school diploma for entry level work, although associate degrees are common as well.
- You don’t need special certification to work as a general office clerk.
Advertising Sales Agents
Advertising sales agents sell advertising space or time to prospective customers. Their duties may include locating and contacting potential clients, making cost estimates, explaining the benefits of advertising, and preparing promotional plans or sales literature. They can be found in many different mediums, from radio and newspapers to television and the Internet.
Because advertising agents need to work with the public and make persuasive arguments, it helps for these workers to have great communication and bargaining skills. Drafting contracts and analyzing sales statistics can also play a large part, making writing skills and analytical skills useful to have.
Courses to consider for this career might include marketing, law, writing composition and mathematics.
- Some employers prefer a bachelor’s degree, although it’s possible to find entry-level work with an associate degree or high school diploma.
- Certification is not required for this career.
Public Relations Specialists
Public relations specialists help their organizations create a favorable reputation with other businesses and the public at large. They craft careful messages about their company and its products or services, write press releases for the media, seek to create good exposure for their company, and evaluate advertising campaigns to see if they send the right message. In today’s more technology-driven environment, public relations specialists are also focusing more of their time on social media.
Courses to consider for this career might include marketing, public relations and graphic design. Courses related to a specific organization (i.e. environmental science courses if pursuing a career at a large aquarium) might be worth considering as well.
- While some public relations firms may prefer employees with a bachelor’s degree in public relations or marketing, a general studies degree can also suffice.
- Certification is not required for this career.
Meeting, Convention and Event Planners
Meeting, convention and event planners plan out meetings or special events such as weddings or corporate parties. They meet with their clients to understand their needs and specifications, inspect locations and venues, select food and décor for the event, and stick to a given budget.
Because of the many details that go into large events, meeting, convention, and event planners need to have a keen attention to detail. Great communication skills are also required, as is a sunny disposition.
Courses to consider for this career might include accounting, art and design, marketing and ethnic studies.
- A bachelor’s degree is required to work in this job.
- The Events Industry Council offers the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) credential, although it is voluntary. The Society of Government Meeting Officials also offers certification for those who plan events for government agencies.
- Advertising Sales Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/advertising-sales-agents
- Bachelor’s Degree General Studies, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/bachelors-degrees/general-studies-degree-online/
- Customer Service Representatives, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/customer-service-representatives#tab-1
- General Office Clerks, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/general-office-clerks#tab-1
- General Studies Associate Degree Program, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/associate-degrees/general-studies/
- Insurance Sales Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/insurance-sales-agents
- Public Relations Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists#tab-1