What Is a General Studies Degree? 2023 Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you're seeking a degree program where you can build key skills in a variety of areas, a general studies degree could be a good fit. Find out more.

[Featured image] A student working on a general studies degree sits in a wheelchair in a college library. He's wearing a turquoise hoodie and grey sweatpants.

A general studies degree is an undergraduate program designed for students seeking an interdisciplinary education while building the key skills that degree programs typically reinforce.

These programs are often geared toward professionals and nontraditional students who pursue their degrees in an effort to advance their careers. Some programs also admit traditional students pursuing their degrees straight out of high school.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at general studies degrees, including the types of degrees offered, what to expect from a general studies program, and whether general studies may be the right path for you.

Types of general studies degrees

General studies degree programs are most common at the associate or bachelor level. Students who pursue graduate degrees tend to seek a more specialized education in their field of choice, so it’s not as common to find a general studies program at the master’s level.

  • An associate degree in general studies is a two-year program with a mix of core course requirements and elective courses in specified areas of study. People who earn their associate degree in general studies may later transfer into a bachelor’s degree program and pursue a specialized major.

  • A bachelor’s degree in general studies is a four-year program that encompasses core coursework, electives in specified areas of study, and often an additional concentration, minor, or major.

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Bachelor’s degree in general studies

General studies programs are often housed within a university’s school of continuing or professional studies. A bachelor’s degree in general studies can be a good option for people who want a credential validating their proficiency in college-level skills. This can include students continuing their education after spending some time in the workforce, whether starting their college journey for the first time or returning to college with some transfer credits.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from a general studies program.

Learn more: Do College Credits Expire?

Types of courses

General studies programs tend to emphasize an interdisciplinary approach, often requiring courses across various subjects. However, many programs still require students to pursue a concentration, minor, or major.

Majors associated with general studies degrees may have a more flexible structure than traditional majors. For example, a traditional major may require a specific series of introductory courses, whereas a general studies major may require a particular number of credits across your area of study.

Some examples of core courses are:

  • Writing

  • Math

  • Social science

  • Natural science

  • Humanities

  • History

Some examples of concentrations, minors, or majors are:

  • Management and administration

  • Behavioral science

  • Information technology

  • Data analytics

  • Communications and media

  • Hospitality

Tuition and degree length

The cost of your degree will vary depending on the school you attend. A 2021 survey by the College Board found that the average tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students in the United States were $10,740 at in-state public schools and $38,070 at private schools [1]. You may be able to cover some of your tuition by applying for scholarships or grants.

A bachelor’s degree program is typically designed for students to complete in four years. However, students may take more or less time to complete their degree depending on whether they attend classes full- or part-time or enter their program with a considerable number of transfer credits.

Online general studies degrees

There are several flexible options for pursuing your general studies degree to better accommodate working professionals and nontraditional students. Some schools offer classes on nights and weekends, while others take place entirely online. Online degrees come with the added benefit of learning from anywhere with an internet connection, sometimes asynchronously, meaning you can also learn on your schedule.

If you are interested in an online general studies degree, check out the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Texas.

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What can you do with a general studies degree?

A general studies degree comes with all the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree. Among this degree's most commonly cited benefits are increased earning power and in-demand skills development.

Job outlook and salary

Although it’s possible to have a fulfilling career without a bachelor’s degree, many employers seek applicants who hold the credential, particularly for mid- to upper-level positions. Additionally, people with a bachelor’s degree tend to earn higher salaries than those with an associate degree or a high school diploma.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a bachelor’s degree earn a median weekly wage of $1,334, those with an associate degree earn $963, and those with a high school diploma earn $809. People with a bachelor’s degree also tend to experience lower unemployment rates: 3.5 percent, compared to 4.6 percent for those with an associate degree and 6.2 percent for those with a high school diploma [2].

Skills development

Regardless of your course of study, earning your bachelor’s degree can be one way to efficiently develop and demonstrate the transferable skills that many employers look for in job candidates. The National Association of Colleges and Employers has identified eight career readiness competencies that pursuing a bachelor’s degree tends to reinforce [3]:

  • Career and self-development

  • Communication

  • Critical thinking

  • Equity and inclusion

  • Leadership

  • Professionalism

  • Teamwork

  • Technology

General studies students tend to cover each of these skills through the program's interdisciplinary nature.

Is a general studies degree right for you?

Whether a general studies degree is right for you will depend on your experience and goals. Here are some examples of students who may want to consider a general studies program:

  • Returning to school: General studies programs are often designed with nontraditional students in mind and may offer more flexible options, such as online courses or evening classes, for people with responsibilities outside the classroom. Additionally, the concentration, minor, or major structure may enable students to forego the introductory coursework they may have been exposed to throughout their career in favor of more tailored specializations.

  • Completing your degree: Because general studies programs are interdisciplinary and require students to learn a breadth of disciplines, they tend to be transfer-friendly. If you are entering a general studies program with a substantial number of college credits, you may be able to use those transfer credits to fulfill your graduation requirements.

Traditional students entering college straight from high school may succeed in a general studies program if they prefer a broad educational approach. More commonly, traditional students will spend the first two years of their bachelor’s degree program fulfilling core graduation requirements before choosing a major, to which they dedicate roughly the second half of their undergraduate education.

Choosing a major

Choosing a major can be both an exciting and overwhelming task. When the time comes for you to declare your major, gain clarity by considering these five questions:

1. What have I enjoyed about my work experiences? 

2. What are my values? 

3. What are my interests?

4. What’s my “big picture?” 

5. What are my degree goals? 

Learn more about factors to consider when you’re choosing a college major.

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Keep learning

Pursue your general studies degree with Coursera. Earn your Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Texas. This online degree enables you to learn from anywhere with an internet connection and offers eight concentrations: administration, organizational supervision, social wellness and community, hospitality, media innovation, consumer behavior, data analytics, and information technology. Try a free open course like Research Design: Inquiry and Discovery or Contemporary Biology to see if online learning is right for you.

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Article sources

1. College Board. “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf.” Accessed September 14, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Education pays, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2022/data-on-display/education-pays.htm.” Accessed September 14, 2022.

3. National Association of Colleges and Employers. “What Is Career Readiness?, https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/.” Accessed September 14, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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