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troubleinharlem's avatar

Why is it necessary to take college courses that have nothing to do with your major?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7981points) August 30th, 2010

This is a question from a friend of mine, and I decided to ask it here because I didn’t really have an answer.

”... [ the college system ] _ is mostly based on how it is a profit oriented education system, which is ridiculous. They force students to take additional courses and programs that are not at all related to their focused career path or course of study and pay for it. Let alone other classes and courses. I mean, literature and english classes make sense, for helping people actually communicate their ideas, sure.
But beyond that, it’s still a system designed to maximize profits, and it doesn’t even guarantee a job or success to put oneself into massive debt_.”

So? What do you guys think?

—I tried to put an emphasis around the quote, but it isn’t working for some reason…—

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19 Answers

Austinlad's avatar

Do you know at 18 what you’ll need to survive, let alone be successful, 5, 10, 20 or 30 years in the future? My advice is the same as I gave to somebody in another thread who asked whether he should be picky and send out only a few resumes or blanket the market. Why would he or you want to limit your options?

troubleinharlem's avatar

@Austinlad : I’m just relating his question, I don’t agree with him, but I didn’t have an answer.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

For my major (architecture), the school that I’m going to requires surprisingly little aside from the actual architecture classes: English 101, Western Civilization 101 or World History 101, and then a math class and a science class that should probably relate to architecture. There are about 3 or 4 electives, but really, taking a pottery class to unwind almost definitely hasn’t claimed the lives of more than 1 or 2 students.

Austinlad's avatar

@ troubleinharlem, I understood—I was using the word “you” to apply to anyone in that position.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because many educators were in college themselves and they know (like many of us know) that one’s major isn’t what one’s life will necessarily be about, in most cases.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir But they don’t necessarily require you to take a certain set of base courses. Often it’s strange classes that wouldn’t help you even if you did change professions – like Egyptian Hieroglyphics or Alpine Ecology. Plus, I can understand wanting to prepare us for life’s unexpected, but that’s what K-12 is for. College is a buttload of money. If I’m paying for it so that I can get a career and not just a job, why can’t I focus on that career? It’s not like their requirements change if you’re 40 and not 18.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@papayalily Requirements are requirements – you can bitch about ‘em (boy did I ever bitch about those damn MAP courses at NYU) but you could have checked ‘em out prior to choosing that school.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You can, but they’re everywhere – there aren’t a whole lot of schools that don’t have them. It seems like more of a systemic problem than one or two schools where you can just go somewhere else.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@papayalily Well, though I do think schools looove to pump money out of you, they can do that with your major courses just as well so I do think it’s about adding diversity to your studies.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It’s all about the fading tradition of getting a well-rounded education before you specialize. It wasn’t long ago, in America, that you were required to study Greek and Latin in your first two years at University. This was to ensure you could access foreign texts in your chosen field in the original languages and also to facilitate communications and understanding in not only your own language and field of endeavor, but other’s as well. Schools that didn’t require a broad education in the early years of University were known as trade schools, or technical institutes.

Today, we don’t produce professionals that can relate their specialty to other specialties. We produce technicians that know only the info required in order to graduate with a degree in their profession. This retards the ability to understand advances in other fields that may help advance their own.. Their world is less rich in understanding of other cultures and their creative abilities are limited due to a poor general knowledge base.

In my case, Latin was drilled into us by Jesuits in Catholic High School. I hated it and thought it useless for my future, unless I were to become a priest. But later, when I studied in Europe and Latin was required, It made my time there easier. I also noticed the people around me had a much greater command of the many languages one has to deal with while living there, doing business, etc., compared to the Americans who hadn’t had Latin, German, or Greek.

In America, I have spent a lot of time in medical research. Language is very important in this field. I was surprised at the papers written by very well educated people with advanced degrees. Grammar and spelling were often on a third grade level. They also were very limited as to subjects which they could discuss knowledgeably. Their worlds were limited to things concerning their profession and their families. They had little real understanding beyond any of that. I don’t consider that a good education. They were merely highly paid technicians.

lillycoyote's avatar

Because the primary purpose of colleges is to EDUCATE people, not just or simply to train them in one particular field of expertise.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@lillycoyote Then I want my money back, cuz that’s not what I signed on for. I can learn just fine in my own home for the price of book. I’m going to college so I can become an architect, and that’s it (ok, and maybe learn some new drinking games…). Education has so very little to do with learning – most students don’t really learn so much as figure out how to get a good grade in the class, then move on and forget everything, and the system is set up to encourage that.

lookin4otherslikeme's avatar

Because in “the real world” you will actually use very little of what you learned in your major(s) and will pull from everything else you possibly can. It’s what makes you well-rounded and what good employers look for in employees. The more versatile you are the more you are worth to them. For example, your boss asks you to generate pamphlets (English and computer classes) for a speech (Speech classes) you will give to a group of foreign investors (Chinese language classes) who are unsure of your business’ assets (Debate Club) and who wish to experience the culture (Dance/pool) after golfing.
There was a M*A*S*H episode on yesterday wherein Radar asked Hawkeye if he could help during the doctor shortage, and Hawkeye replied, “Not unless you can do two years of medical school in two hours.”
So you may never have all the time you need to go back and learn all you need when you need it. As the saying goes, “Opportunity favors a prepared mind.”

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@lookin4otherslikeme Except for Chinese, are there any of those classes that aren’t obtained via K-12 and general living?

That may be more true if you get a general degree, like English, than if your major is paleontology and you become a paleontologist. Then, even if you only use 5% of what you learned, the diploma you got is really helping you get hired.

lookin4otherslikeme's avatar

That’s just an example. In today’s economy, it’s just smarter to diversify. I am doing therapy now, but my majors were English, Anthropology, and Education. I did not major in psychology, but i took classes in it for Anthro and Education, thank goodness!

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@lookin4otherslikeme I disagree with your premise that diversification is smarter. Diversification in college means that you will become jack of all trades, but master of none. Grad school is always specialization, so that means that it’s only the 4 years of undergrad that one has to diversify, and I find it hard to believe that you would learn any real skills taking a 101 class that you couldn’t get for $25 at the local bookstore or an independent class at a community college.

I think people should learn various things, and do so throughout their entire life, not just when they’re 20. What I object to is the notion that a person should pay 20K a year and live off of caffeine pills and ramen in order to do this.

Maybe it was a better idea 20 +/- years ago, but our higher education system is just as broken as K-12, it’s just more expensive. Education has almost nothing to do with learning at this point.

BuzzTatom's avatar

What if you graduate become a architect and decide you hate your job? Or the construction industry gets even worse. You need to be able to be versatile. A number of pretty wise answers above. You can keep arguing and put all your eggs in one basket or listen to those that have been through much of what you will be facing and have some tips for you. Let’s put it this way. If you are wrong and you do just architecture you are in trouble. If us olders guys/gals advice is wrong you just took some extra classes that made you at least a well rounded educated person that has a few more options.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@BuzzTatom Well, if you older guys/gals are wrong, I doubt you’ll be paying off the loans for me. I’d be much more interested in taking these classes if I didn’t have to pay for them.
But really, I have nothing against versatility or diversifying. I have a problem with paying for it when I can get it for free/cheap at the bookstore without paying for tuition. I can talk about many things, and do many things, and this is the first time I’ve paid thousands of dollars for this knowledge. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be well-rounded, I’m saying that I have a problem with paying a minimum of $800 a class to cover things I already know, or are such an overarching, general focus that they aren’t really useful in life without more concentration. You can argue all you want that versatility is good, and that we should all take a language class in college, but exactly how many people remember anything from Spanish 101 beyond what they can pick up at the local taco stand? If you’re looking to hire someone who’s bilingual, you’re going to hire someone who took several years of that language, or who speaks it natively, not someone who took a semester learning to say “The monkey is on the branch”.

BuzzTatom's avatar

You’ve got some good points. The best one is don’t do student loans. Bottom line is we all have to make our own decisions and live with them. My only advice for you superficial or not was to give yourself somewhat of a back up option. You are going to probably be faced with a very difficult job market. Who is the employer going to hire? It is hard to see in a job interview what you have taught yourself personally so the other guy may be a moron but the employer may go with the one they perceive as the safer bet. Most of all stay away from that student debt it is the one debt that just won’t go away. Good Luck.

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