What are the general education requirements in California?

General education requirements refer to the courses and subjects that students must complete in order to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from a California community college or university. These requirements are designed to ensure that all degree-seeking students gain exposure to key subject areas like communication, mathematics, arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Overview of General Education Requirements

While specific general education requirements can vary somewhat between different community colleges and universities, there are similarities that apply across all public higher education institutions in California:

  • Students must complete a minimum number of GE units – usually in the range of 45-70 semester units.
  • These units must be divided between specific subject areas like written communication, oral communication, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, arts and humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences.
  • Both lower division and upper division GE courses may be required depending on the degree program.
  • Some courses may satisfy more than one GE category, allowing students to fulfill multiple requirements.
  • Students transferring between California community colleges and CSU or UC campuses may be eligible to fulfill one full GE pattern.

While giving students a well-rounded educational foundation is the goal, general education is also intended to develop key skills like communication, analysis, problem-solving, and research abilities. The distribution of courses across disciplines encourages intellectual inquiry from multiple perspectives.

California Community College General Education

The California community college system provides lower division preparation for students planning to transfer to a CSU or UC university to complete a bachelor’s degree. There are two main GE patterns that fulfill CSU and UC admission requirements:

CSU GE Breadth Pattern

The CSU GE Breadth pattern requires a minimum of 39 semester units distributed across 5 categories:

  • Area A – English Language Communication and Critical Thinking (9 semester units)
  • Area B – Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning (9 semester units)
  • Area C – Arts and Humanities (9 semester units)
  • Area D – Social Sciences (9 semester units)
  • Area E – Lifelong Learning and Self-Development (3 semester units)

At least 9 of the 39 units must be completed at the community college awarding the CSU GE certification. Note that 3 semester units are also required in U.S. History, Constitution and American Ideals, which can be double counted in Area D.

IGETC Pattern

The Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) is the other common GE pattern for fulfilling lower division requirements before transferring to the UC and CSU university systems. It requires completion of a minimum of 37 semester units across 7 course categories:

  • Area 1 – English Communication (6 semester units)
  • Area 2 – Mathematical Concepts and Quantitative Reasoning (3 semester units)
  • Area 3 – Arts and Humanities (9 semester units)
  • Area 4 – Social and Behavioral Sciences (9 semester units)
  • Area 5 – Physical and Biological Sciences (7 semester units)
  • Area 6 – Language Other Than English (proficiency required)
  • Area 7 – CSU Graduation Requirement in U.S. History, Constitution and American Ideals (6 semester units)

At minimum, completion of IGETC will meet the lower division GE requirements at both the CSU and UC systems, though some campus-specific requirements may remain. The IGETC pattern is also accepted by some private/independent colleges and universities.

California State University General Education

The 23 campuses of the CSU system share a common lower and upper division GE framework. However, each campus can define their own specific GE pattern that aligns with CSU minimum requirements.

Lower Division GE Requirements

As mentioned above, completion of the CSU GE Breadth pattern at a California community college will fulfill all lower division GE requirements at any CSU campus. Students transferring without a complete GE certification will need to fulfill the equivalent CSU GE Breadth or campus-specific requirements.

Upper Division GE Requirements

All CSU students must complete a minimum of 9 semester units in upper division GE courses. These are typically completed after transferring and focus on more advanced study in Areas B, C, and D. The distribution of upper division GE units includes:

  • Area B – 3 semester units
  • Area C – 3 semester units
  • Area D – 3 semester units

Individual CSU campuses define which specific courses can meet these upper division requirements. This allows students to tailor their advanced GE studies to fit their major and interests.

University of California General Education

Unlike the CSU system, each of the 9 undergraduate UC campuses has autonomy in defining their school-specific GE requirements. However, some common principles and patterns exist across institutions.

Foundations of Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences

All UC campuses require students to complete lower division foundational GE requirements in the arts/humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Campuses may define specific disciplines and course options within each foundational area. Completion of IGETC will satisfy these requirements.

Foundations of Scientific Inquiry

In addition to basic prerequisites in math and quantitative reasoning, UC students must take at least two foundational courses that focus on scientific inquiry and experimental methodology. This develops key skills like hypothesis testing, data collection, experimentation, and ability to analyze results.

Disciplinary Breadth

UC students must also fulfill topical GE requirements that aim to provide disciplinary breadth and exposure to a variety of subjects within each foundational area. For example, a range of arts, humanities, social science, or natural science disciplines may need to be covered.

Campus-Specific Requirements

Individual UC campuses can add unique GE requirements beyond these foundations and disciplinary breadth. For instance, some may require demonstrated proficiency in a language other than English or specific courses related to diversity and global perspectives. The total number of lower and upper division GE units ranges from 48 at UC Merced up to 84 at UC Berkeley.

Private and Independent Colleges and Universities

Private non-profit colleges and universities in California handle general education in diverse ways based on their specific missions and values. However, some commonalities exist:

  • GE requirements may be based on a core curriculum model that defines required common courses for all students.
  • Distribution requirements across disciplines like humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences are also commonly used.
  • Total GE units range widely from around 30 up to nearly 70 units.
  • IGETC coursework is often accepted to fulfill lower division requirements.
  • Religious institutions may incorporate required theology and religious studies courses.

Reviewing the published general education requirements for any private college is strongly recommended during the application process.

Ways to Fulfill GE Requirements

There are a few key ways that students can approach completing their general education coursework:

GE Courses

Enrolling in individual courses that are approved for GE credit within each subject area. This provides the most flexibility for trying different disciplines.

IGETC/CSU GE Breadth Certification

Completing all areas of IGETC or CSU GE Breadth at a community college to earn full GE certification before transfer.

Major Requirements

Some major prerequisite courses may also fulfill applicable GE requirements.

Minor/Double Major

Requirements for a minor or double major may satisfy areas like Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences.

Study Abroad

Programs abroad sometimes offer courses that meet diversity, global perspectives, language, or other GE requirements.

AP/IB Test Scores

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams may earn GE credit for high school students entering college.

Tips for Managing GE Requirements

Here are some tips for effectively and strategically approaching general education:

  • Review GE options early – Understand requirements before starting college.
  • Meet with advisors – Get guidance tailored to your goals and interests.
  • Balance with major prerequisites – Efficiently double-count some courses.
  • Try diverse subjects – Explore outside academic comfort zone.
  • Look for engaging courses – Choose interesting material and professors.
  • Consider minors/double majors – Knock out overlapping requirements.
  • Be strategic if transferring – Fulfill one full pattern effectively.
  • Plan upper division courses – Understand all university requirements.
  • Access AP/IB/CLEP – Use alternate credit opportunities.


While each college and university in California has their own unique general education program, they share the common goal of providing undergraduate students with a well-rounded liberal arts education. By thoughtfully selecting courses across key subject areas, students gain the diverse perspectives, knowledge, and transferable skills needed for lifelong success in work, society, and as engaged citizens.

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