Upperclassmen Flock to Gen Ed

As the College looks to juggle the transition between its old Core curriculum and the new General Education program meant to replace it, the Gen Ed office has been accommodating dozens of drop-in visits and around 200 e-mails a day—including a surprising number from upperclassmen for whom the program is not mandatory.

The rush seems to go beyond the normal “beginning-of-term insanity,” according to Stephanie H. Kenen, administrative director of the program in General Education. Administrators had not anticipated the number of juniors and seniors who have shown interest in graduating under Gen Ed in an attempt to gain greater flexibility in their scheduling.

Given that all new Gen Ed classes have been engineered to fulfill a Core requirement, and that the 2008-2009 Harvard Student Handbook recommends that the Classes of 2010 and 2011 opt for the Core, more students had been expected to stick with the older program.

But several students interviewed by The Crimson this week say that switching to the Gen Ed system allows them to shed requirements that they would otherwise be required to fulfill if they stayed in the Core.

Fathima F. Jahufar ’11, a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator, went from six required classes under the Core to three required classes under the Gen Ed scheme.

“I’ve only taken one Core class,” she said. “I’m just really happy [Gen Ed] exists.”

Although she did not yet have concrete data, Kenen suggested that many junior and seniors in the sciences have found switching to Gen Ed particularly advantageous. Several introductory science and pre-med classes—such as Life Sciences 1a: “An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences” and Math 1b: “Calculus, Series, and Differential Equations”—that previously did not count towards Core credit for science concentrators now can fulfill Gen Ed requirements for those concentrators.

But Anne Marie E. Calareso, program manager for General Education, was quick to caution that the Gen Ed office is not strictly focused on finding students the curricular path with the least number of requirements.

“Each conversation is tailored to that individual student’s interests,” she said.

Despite the evident trend, the Gen Ed office will be unable to estimate exactly how many juniors and seniors are making the switch until October 15 at the earliest, said Kenen. On that date, the registrar plans to offer an online tool allowing students who have declared their concentration to officially choose between the Core and Gen Ed.

In hopes of better educating students about the differences between the two curricular programs, the Gen Ed office plans to hold an information session open to all students sometime around the planned release of the online tool on October 15, Kenen said.

—Staff writer Benjamin M. Jaffe can be reached at bjaffe@fas.harvard.edu.