The path to a medical or law degree is different in most parts of the world compared to the United States. Rather than requiring an undergraduate degree, many international professional degree programs start upon completion of high school. This allows immediate exposure to specialized fields and consequently shorter and cheaper degrees.
In the face of the ever-rising cost of higher education in the U.S., this shortened path sounds appealing. However, the American system has one advantage over the accelerated track — the opportunity for an individual to be exposed to subjects and learn skills outside of one’s chosen career path.
General education requirements are an important part of college. These classes aren’t always popular, and cutting them might present an easy way to shave off a year or two in addition to cutting the cost of tuition. However, these courses are valuable as they help forge well-rounded students and engaged community members. They give young people the chance to discover interests and passions they never knew existed.
My freshman year of college, I was required to take a course in writing, a subject I was convinced I hated. As a pre-med student, I was frustrated I was forced to study something I didn’t enjoy and that didn’t seem useful in my field. It didn’t even take a full semester for me to realize I was wrong. As it turns out, I actually like writing so much so that my career ambitions quickly evolved. Before the class, I had dreamed of becoming a physician. Since then, I have dreamed of becoming a physician-writer, à la Atul Gawande or Siddhartha Mukherjee.
If I had started medical school at 18, I would have never stumbled upon this passion. I would have never taken a political science class or learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Looking back, it is these classes I remember most fondly. Additionally, I am convinced that though they don’t seem directly relevant to medicine — at least on the surface — each of these classes gave me a unique perspective I will carry with me in the future. If students can go into mandatory classes with an open mind and are able to stop dismissing subjects because they don’t appear practical at first glance, gen ed classes can be rewarding and fun. Students should be grateful for the insistence that American universities place on balance and variety.