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Amelia Rivera Barreto's picture

Take Advantage of your CLA Core Courses

Studying in the United States has been a great experience for me, full of amazing opportunities and discoveries. Part of what has made it so great is the flexibility that an American Liberal Arts degree has to offer, and at the same time the universal preparation that it provides students with. We come into contact with all subjects that allow us to formulate our own educated opinions on nearly every issue of public life. The way this happens is by requiring students to take classes with "themes" in certain areas so anyone who graduates with a College of Liberal Arts degree has taken classes in the social sciences, arts, physical sciences, biological sciences, history, literature and has been exposed to themes such as civics, foreign languages, technology and society etc...

International Student Ambassador Amelia hard at work inside her apartment.

So the way it works is that if you are, for example, getting an anthropology degree with a minor in vocal music performance (like me), then you have a certain amount of program specific core classes like: Biological Anthropology, two Cultural Anthropology classes and a Linguistic Anthropology course. After that I am required to take a certain amount of credits in Anthropology courses so I can pick whatever catches my attention... Considering that a certain amount has to be 4000 level or above (basically senior level), which means the classes are smaller, readings are heavier, but discussions way more juicy and interesting. I took advantage of this and picked anthropology courses that touched upon issues I was interested in like "The Body in Society" and "Economic Anthropology" (among others), which expanded my knowledge in topics I wanted to explore for my future career. At the same for music: three semesters of music theory (for minors), two semesters of music history, four semesters of instrumental lessons and ensembles and a couple of electives. In my case I picked an opera workshop and a Brazilian percussion class. I love this because it allows me to get the basics to speak a "universal" academic music language, but still tailor the degree to my own interests.

Then... once these requirements were out of the way I was left with more than half of my degree credits in Humanities and Sciences. And the way it works is that you have a number of areas you need to cover like sciences, literature and history, but you also have specific themes to cover which you can combine with the areas. You need 4 of the 5 assigned themes only. Like taking a Historical Perspective course which satisfies your Civic Life and Ethics. The breakdown of these requirements is as follows:

  • Diversified Core: 
    • Biological Sciences (4 credits) 
    • Historical Perspective (3 credits)
    • Literature (3 credits)
    • Mathematical Thinking (3 credits)
    • Physical Science (4 credits)
  • Assigned Themes:
    • Civic Life and Ethics (3 credits)
    • Diversity and Social Justice in the United States (3 credits)
    • The Environment (3 credits)
    • Global Perspectives (3 credits)
    • Technology and Society (3 credits)

One can always pick the easy path and just take the easiest classes to get them out of the way, or be smart and take advantage of your education and surf around the U of M website, ask counselors and people in the different departments to find courses that interest you. For instance when I took my literature courses I was interested in XX century American Civil Rights and Social Movements and started looking around and found the perfect course: "Literature of Social Movements". This is by far one of the best courses I have taken at the University and it not only fulfilled my literature requirement, but also fulfilled my Diversity and Social Justice in the United States theme course so I was able to "kill two birds with one stone". The teacher was an amazing woman with such clarity and dedication that got me excited about literature and the history of social movements to the point that I almost switched to a literature major. The course made me aware of politics and history at a completely different level than before as it guided me to learn and question things I wouldn't have otherwise.

I did the same with Biological Sciences, I found a class that had a lab component to fulfill that requirement, and it was writing intensive (you need four writing intensive courses to graduate) as well. I was able to get those two items out of the way and it was a very interesting subject with amazing teachers and teaching assistants (TAs). I have had some fun exploring courses and pushing myself to learn different things, so I recommend you to do the same at the U of M. Plus we have some really good major and college advisers who know way better than me all of these requirements and about all of the courses offered at the College of Liberal Arts. So don't hesitate to ask questions, visit them regularly and make sure you not only fulfill your requirements, but take advantage of your tuition money and the time you have as an undergrad for it is the best moment in life to explore the world through different courses and formulate your own opinions about it. Don't hesitate to message me if you want some course recommendations as I have some favorites now that I'm about to graduate.

For more info visit: http://www.onestop.umn.edu/degree_planning/lib_eds/fall_2010_requirements/index.html