Completing a general studies degree online opens a variety of career paths to graduates, as the program allows students to gain general competencies that complement an array of professional roles. If you find yourself on the fence about online schools for general studies, use this guide to learn about the application process, common courses, skills gained, professional organizations, graduate school, and why accreditation matters. You can also find helpful information about the careers this degree prepares you for and earning potential for those careers.
Overview of General Studies Degrees
Rather than focusing on a specific industry, discipline, or career, online general studies degrees allow distance learners to study different liberal arts topics. As the name implies, general studies provides a broad overview of academic topics, rather than honing in on a specific study area. A general studies degree online does not prepare graduates for a specific career, but rather, individuals who are interested in a variety of careers may find the course of study appealing.
According to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — one of the many schools that offers a general studies degrees online — graduates from these programs pursue careers in business, marketing, communications, writing and literature, math, science, technology, and media. Most general studies programs do not require online students to visit campus for in-person requirements, but applicants should check with individual programs to confirm before enrolling.
This degree appeals to individuals who want to learn the basics of many different topics. A general studies degree also serves those who want to attend graduate school, but do not yet know what they want to study. Since general studies programs offer such versatility, graduates enjoy career stability because they can pursue so many different roles.
Prospective students must gather and prepare documents as part of the application process for a general studies degree online. Requirements include a basic application form, along with high school transcripts and transcripts from prior colleges. These documents allow the college or university to ascertain whether applicants meet GPA requirements. Most schools look for 2.5 GPAs and above. Applicants must also take the ACT or SAT and submit official scores.
Many colleges require applicants to answer a series of essay questions, which help admissions officers understand applicants' experiences and college and career aspirations, and why they feel their prospective school best suits their personal and academic needs. Applicants must also provide between one and three letters of recommendation. These should come from teachers, supervisors, mentors, or other individuals who can speak to the prospective student's character and college preparedness. Particularly competitive institutions may mandate applicant interviews, either in-person or over the phone.
What Will I Learn?
General studies degrees online help students gain a wide spectrum of knowledge regarding how to think critically, use reasoning, write well, and understand the foundational elements of numerous disciplines. Through their course of study, degree-seekers explore subjects such as history, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, science, and religion, to name a few.
Many degrees focus only their first 60 credits on general education, but a general studies degree online devotes the entire program — which usually comprises 120 credits — to generalized study. By structuring programs in this way, degrees allow students to choose from several areas of coursework and learn about many different topics. In addition to reviewing the sample courses listed below, students should research multiple study plans to get a better sense of what to expect.
Introduction to American Studies
This interdisciplinary program introduces learners to historical, cultural, and socioeconomic topics within the American experience. Students consider questions concerning what characterizes America's unique qualities, what it means to be an American, and what we can learn from U.S. history.
Theories of Wellness
Offered through health science departments, this course teaches students what it means to make healthy decisions in all facets of their lives. Specific topics include caring for your mind and body and working toward aspirations and desires.
Typically taken in learners' first or second year of study, this course introduces degree-seekers to some of the general mathematical tools and functions that can help in their everyday lives. Students learn about practical applications that solve common questions, such as understanding odds, using logic, and determining probability.
Students who take this course learn about the ethics and philosophical questions surrounding how we use — and abuse — our natural environment and resources. Specific topics touch on the use of property, treatment of animals, preservation of species, protection of ecosystems, and responsibilities we owe to future generations.
This course helps students learn about the various developmental phases across the lifespan. Degree-seekers consider how newborns, toddlers, children, adolescents, and young adults understand and learn about the world around them, with special emphasis on how factors such as culture, community, and socioeconomic status influence development.
Religion Within the American Experience
As a nation founded on religious freedom, America has taken on various identities through the ages. While most Americans consider themselves Christians, other religions play a role in each individual's experience of their country. Students consider the place of religion in the U.S., with emphasis on the past, present, and future.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in General Studies?
Completing an online general studies degree provides graduates with the foundational knowledge and skills they need to compete for entry-level jobs in a variety of fields. In the following two sections, prospective students considering this path can learn about the core skills they will gain in the program. This guide also explores five potential careers, and the average salaries individuals in these roles earn.
General studies degree online paths usually do not equip students with thorough knowledge of any particular subject, so you may wonder what makes the degree valuable. Rather than helping students understand the nuances of a discipline such as business administration, analytical mathematics, or art history, these programs teach overarching competencies that benefit graduates pursuing many personal and professional paths.
Online schools for general studies root their curricula in liberal arts, meaning degree-seekers gain nuanced critical-thinking, reasoning, and writing skills, and find answers to complex questions and problems through research. They also develop knowledge of several disciplines that translate well to various industries. For instance, individuals enrolled in online general studies degrees take classes in psychology, sociology, social work, and health and wellness.
Even if they do not work in any of these industries, knowledge of each discipline can help inform graduates in their career pursuits. Psychology helps individuals understand how to relate to their coworkers and supervisors, while wellness courses teach them how to adequately care for themselves during busy and stressful times at work.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Online general education degree graduates set themselves up for success in multiple professional areas. Since their degree may seem vague at face value, newly minted graduates often need to explain their value to prospective employers. When preparing a resume, applicants should include a short, specific overview of how their program prepared them for the role at hand. Many graduates elect to work in the business world, taking up positions in administration, human resources, marketing, finance, or sales and advertising.
Others use their knowledge of the humanities to pursue creative positions as writers, copy editors, painters, photographers, or other artists. In addition to reviewing the potential careers listed below, individuals should conduct research on other industries and sectors.
Annual Median Salary: $53,545
Executive assistants provide administrative support services to senior-level executives and managers by helping make travel arrangements, taking messages, responding to emails, overseeing budgets, managing other assistants, and providing writing and editing for professional documents.
Human Resources Manager
Annual Median Salary: $65,280
These professionals oversee the hiring, training, and firing of employees. They develop benefits packages, approve vacation days, hire vendors, arrange continuing education and training programs, and create salary packages for new hires. They also oversee other HR professionals in the office.
Writer and Author
Annual Median Salary: $61,820
Individuals in these roles write about a variety of topics. Some may provide fact-based website or blog content, while others may focus on writing fictitious stories. Still others may build their skills in legal or technical writing, working on a freelance basis, at an agency, or with their own company.
Annual Median Salary: $52,562
Account managers work to maintain beneficial professional relationships with their clients in an effort to gain and keep their business. They take orders, liaise with clients about upcoming needs, work with the marketing department to incentivize continued patronage, and maintain data on sales over time.
Regardless of their industry, project managers work to develop and keep timelines, manage other team members, set and follow budgets, ensure employees can access needed resources, and stay in regular communication with clients to inform them of progress.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in General Studies?
Online general studies degree graduates often recognize the many jobs available to them directly upon leaving school, but consider returning to school to earn higher salaries or qualify for senior-level roles. Many employers require graduate degrees as a baseline for employment, but this generally does not apply in roles available to graduates of online general studies programs. Several of these positions allow individuals to work up to managerial or leadership roles over time.
For those who do not want to spend extra time climbing the professional ladder — or who aspire to positions requiring a master's or doctoral degree — graduate school offers a good path. Some may elect to pursue a master's in the same topic as their undergraduate degree, while others may enroll in related programs, such as English, history, sociology, business, or a STEM topic.
Accreditation for General Studies Bachelor's Programs
Degree-seekers who plan to transfer credits to a different school, pursue particularly competitive jobs, attend graduate school, or seek licensure or certification, should look for an accredited online degree in general studies. Accreditation exists in two forms: institutional and programmatic. Within the institutional realm, schools can receive regional or national accreditation.
Most postsecondary institutions and employers view regional accreditation as the most rigorous form of accreditation. Community colleges and vocational schools often apply for national accreditation.
Programmatic accreditation exists for specific disciplines that obtain additional accreditation from a body within the field. Programmatic accreditation does not exist for general studies degrees, so students should look for national accreditation instead. To ensure your prospective school holds proper accreditation, check with the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
General Studies Professional Organizations
Regardless of whether an individual still attends college, has recently graduated, or has worked for decades, professional organizations provide learners with meaningful benefits that can help individuals progress in their careers. In addition to annual conferences and regional meetings that encourage networking amongst peers, these associations often provide webinars, blogs, in-house publications, job boards, career mentorship, and access to continuing education programs.
Project Management Institute
PMI offers members the chance to complete certification programs, benefit from continued learning, partake in events across the country, obtain access to industry best practices and standards, and search for meaningful jobs.
The Authors Guild
The Authors Guild has supported writers since 1912, and shows no signs of slowing. Membership includes a writing resource library, author websites, access to exclusive events, an active private Facebook group, a forum, and assistance with legal matters.
Society for Human Resource Management
As the leading professional body for human resource professionals, SHRM provides members with business solutions, examples of common forms, compliance measures, continuing education programs, career support, job listings, and regional and national events.