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Lane: What does it mean to be "well-rounded?"

BY JOE LANE | OCTOBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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After three semesters of taking almost exclusively required general-education classes, I am finally approaching a point in my college education in which my schedule is starting to look more like the business student that I am and less like the undecided student I appear to be based on my transcript.

But make no mistake; I’m not behind in my educational career; in fact, I’m right on schedule. At least, I’m right on schedule when compared with my college student counterparts in the United States.

There is a designation used for students in American colleges, one we’ve all heard and one we’re all supposed to fit: “the well-rounded student.”

Being (supposedly) well-rounded is one of the biggest things that separate American college students from students around the world.

Take for example, how my college experience may have varied if I were attending a school in Britain as opposed to the University of Iowa. According to the website of the King’s College of Londons, for example, a student in the marketing area of study will spend three years there (rather than four) studying marketing, which includes taking classes titled “Accounting and Financial Management,” “Evolution of Modern Business,” and “Principles of Economics.”

What’s interesting about these classes is that all three are taken in the first year on campus. That’s right. No religious-studies courses, no courses about history, and no science requirements. The only required course outside of these core business courses is a communications elective or a foreign-language elective. To top it off, I’d be done in three years. Sounds great.

But the looming factor that divides myself and my fellow Hawkeyes from King’s College students and other students in British colleges is that we will graduate more “well-rounded.”

So what?

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I really don’t know what a well-rounded student ought to be. I get the basic concept, and I understand that the goal is to make American students more well-versed in subjects outside of their major, but to what end?

Am I really a more “well-rounded student” because I can rattle off a few facts about American foreign policy and the periodic table?

Well, yes and no. I will leave college more well-rounded than my British counterparts, but that doesn’t necessarily stem from my general-education requirements. While this series of classes certainly does educate me in areas I wouldn’t normally study, it’s not the classes themselves that play the biggest role in this development — it’s the extra year I have to — or get to — spend in college compared with the folks across the pond.

College is often referred to as “the best four years of your life,” and for a good reason. Intertwined with classes (including classes themselves) are some of the greatest experiences I will have in my life: traveling, meeting new people, trying new things, exploring new careers, getting to know a new city, learning about different cultures, and becoming the person I want to be once I finally do have to graduate. For me, that’s what it means to be well-rounded, and that’s why general-education requirements are so important. Not because the classes themselves change and shape you (although they do), but because they keep you in college for an extra year so you can change and shape yourself.


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