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General Education at Harvard

Harvard’s Program in General Education (Gen Ed) tries to connect what students learn at the College with the lives they’ll lead after graduation. Harvard undergraduates are required to take at least one Gen Ed course in each of the eight study areas: aesthetic and interpretive understanding; culture and belief; empirical and mathematical reasoning; ethical reasoning; science of living systems; science of the physical universe; societies of the world; and the United States in the world. Gen Ed in Harvard has become a hit with students and faculties and has expanded to more than 400 courses since its launch in 2009.

Gen Ed aims to prepare students for a life of change and complexity, rather than a specific career. In 2006, the American Association of Colleges and Universities conducted a poll that asked business executives from hundreds of midsized firms how colleges should prepare students to succeed in the global economy. 95% of employers said it was either “very important” or “fairly important” for colleges to provide “broad knowledge in a variety of areas of study” that “helps students develop … intellectual and practical skills … such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills”.

“The curriculum exposes undergraduates to the wide range of ideas and knowledge available here at one of the world’s leading research universities. It provides students with the ability to think critically and to see a problem from many different perspectives. And we believe it helps students to become lifelong learners who will always be interested in the world around them,” said College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds.

Gen Ed classes are taught by teachers from nearly every faculty at Harvard. Stephanie Kenen, associate dean of undergraduate education and administrative director of the Program in General Education, said the opportunity to create courses that draw from different disciplines and to teach enthusiastic young students already has attracted some of the brightest scholars at the University to Gen Ed.

“Once the program launched, faculty across campus began to see opportunities for new kinds of teaching and interdisciplinary work,” she said. “We began to see more courses being proposed. The curriculum provides opportunities and support for course topics that might not fit in particular Schools or departments.”

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