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GRE Issue 70: Universities Should Require Every Student To Take A Variety Of Courses - With A Free Review

Prompt: “Claim: Universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student's major field of study. Reason: Acquiring knowledge of various academic disciplines is the best way to become truly educated. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.”

The statement claims that universities should require every student to take a variety of courses outside the student’s major field of study because acquiring knowledge of various academic disciplines is the best way to become truly educated. It is true that acquiring knowledge of diverse courses could help student gain more knowledge and become educated. Nevertheless, following this recommendation could lead to undesirable consequences, especially when students are not interested in disciplines outside their major courses. Also, attending various courses does not mean students can become truly educated if they just study carelessly without deep thinking.

It goes without saying that taking a variety of courses beyond students’ majors is beneficial to them. After all, a student with rich knowledge of different fields is more educated than the one with knowledge of only his/her majors. Take me for example. Besides major courses including computer science, I also attend courses with respect to literature. During this class, I not only learn more about eminent writers, but also understand how to appreciate the profundity of their masterpieces. When I communicate with others, unlike other students majoring in computer who know little about arts, I am able to have a discussion about literature with them. As a result, lots of people consider me more educated since I have a wide range of knowledge. Therefore, requiring students to take a variety of courses outside their major field benefit them to some extent, helping them broaden their visions.

However, requiring every student to take courses outside their major is a little bit unrealistic and infeasible. Everyone has his/her own interest. In some cases, students may only be interested in their own major courses. Forcing them to do so not only reduce their time spent on major subjects, but also make them feel bored during other courses, which causes a lose-lose situation. Take my classmates for example. Some of my classmates who like computer science pay much attention to this course, spending their most time writing programs or doing experiments. However, after being forced to take other courses, they can hardly squeeze time out to write codes. Worse still, because of dislike other subjects, they just doze off during class, learning nothing. Consequently, they do not achieve success in writing perfect software as well as failing to pass other courses outside their majors. Thus, acquiring knowledge of various disciplines does not mean becoming truly educated.

In addition, if students just study various academic disciplines only for the sake of getting credits or accomplishing universities’ requirement, it is impossible for students to become truly educated. For example, instead of absorbing knowledge and honing their abilities of critical thinking, some students just burn the midnight oil so as to cram for examinations. Thus, students would hardly become educated under such circumstance.

In conclusion, students who like acquiring knowledge of various disciplines may benefit from this statement, becoming more educated. Nevertheless, if students do not like other courses except their majors or just want to get credits, requiring every student to take diverse courses would engender negative effects.



If you say in one sentence that “following this recommendation could lead to undesirable consequences,” you can’t really say without contradicting yourself a couple of sentences later that “taking a variety of courses beyond students’ majors is beneficial to them” (at least not if by “undesirable consequence” you mean “negative consequences for the students,” which turns out, in your subsequent discussion, to be what you mean). So be careful how you articulate your claims. Changing the word “is” to the phrase “can be” would be enough to solve the problem. This may seem like a trivial objection, but if you contradict yourself early in an essay you influence your reader’s perception of your essay in a negative way, and that may have consequences disproportionate to the size of the error. Generally it is a good idea to make “safe claims” in an essay; that is, claims that are qualified rather than claims that are absolute. You will never lose a point, so to speak, for saying “taking a variety of courses MAY BE beneficial” instead of “IS beneficial” and you also make the task of demonstrating the truth of your claim a lot easier.

Now your first argument, ostensibly in favor of the recommendation, is that a student who takes courses in a variety of fields is “more educated” than a student who does not. Note that the reason offered in support of the original claim is that studying a variety of subjects “is the best way to become truly educated” not “more educated.” Make sure, when asked to analyse the merits of a “reason” in these kinds of prompts, that you are in fact being faithful to the reason you analyse. Of course the phrase “truly educated” in this case is just as vague as the phrase “more educated.” One of the ostensible problems with this reason is just this vagueness, which of course is a problem that you cannot address by replacing one vague term with another. You then replace the concept of “more educated” with “the appearance of being more educated,” which is a different matter again. Still, the idea that you can hold conversations about poetics and not just about algorithms might be relevant to a specification of “truly educated.” The thing to do, I suppose, would be to begin with the definition. Like this, for example:

“Let’s define a “truly educated” student as one who is capable of speaking intelligently on a variety of subjects, and not just on his core discipline. In that case, it follows immediately that taking a variety of courses might be [notice I don’t have to say “would be”] of benefit to students. Et cetera.” (Yes, it’s a trivial argument.)

But since you are free to define “truly educated” in any way you like, you could adopt a more nuanced approach:

“On the one hand, if by “a truly educated student” we mean one who is capable of speaking intelligently on a variety of subjects, then it follows immediately etc. On the other hand, we could define a truly educated student as one with deep knowledge of a specific discipline, in which case taking a variety of courses might be counterproductive.” Those claims are also trivial, but one could use them to demonstrate the silliness of the “reason” if not the original “claim.”

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: hahaxiao66


Here is what i came up with. I think i would score a 3.5 to 4 with this. Suggestions are welcome

Being educated in various fields would be smart and prudent compared to restricting oneself to a single subject. It is a good principle to study a variety of courses, though there is no need to master them, as this would in turn help the major field of study in some way or the other.

Taking courses unrelated to the major field of study will help the student, though not directly, achieve better results in his/her field. When Steve Jobs gave a speech for a graduating class, he talked about taking Calligraphy as a subject in his college. Even though, at that time, he had no idea how this would help him, in the later years when he co-founded Apple Inc., he used his Calligraphy skills to build a font for the Mac computers which is venerated to this day. So, in retrospect it is encouraging to believe that even though it would sound dubious to take courses outside one's curriculum, the dots would connect themselves in the future.

In contrast, the courses that are taken outside the Major should be at least be congruous to the interest of the student if not related to the field of study. For example, taking a History course would barely help a Computer Science Graduate if he/she has no interest in that field. It would prove to be distracting and contradicting to the major field of study.

It is important to have diversified knowledge. Most people don't know what they would like to be when they grow up. Of course, as naive kids, when we see our qualified and achieved contemporaries, we would want to be like them when we grow up. But unless a variety of options are considered, it would be imprudent to make a career decision. Taking a range of courses would open up multiple choices which a student may have not thought of.

Diversity in academic principles is laudable, it opens up the individual to new areas of education that would otherwise be neglected. True education is not mastery of one aspect, but the acknowledgement of what is out there, of what is unknown. Taking choices would open up these possibilities.
September,08 2012

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