Book by: Robert Shoenberg
Review by: Stacey Borboa-Peterson
Student Academic Services  
University of North Dakota 

Today’s society is one of quick returns and efficient practices, so it should be no surprise that when students begin their university career, they do not welcome the requirement of additional coursework, often referred to as general education.  In Warner and Koeppel’s (2009) article, “General Education Requirements: A Comparative Analysis,” general education is described as the “…courses within a distribution schema that all students must pass as a requirement for graduation” (p. 241).  Helping today’s students understand the importance of a liberal education is something all academic advisers should be doing and with the support of Robert Shoenberg’s Why Do I Have to Take This Course, students may learn the value of an expansive educational experience and choose to embrace university general requirements.

Shoenberg’s book is written for students, as indicated by the subtitle, A Student Guide to Making Smart Educational Choices, however the author believes that others, specifically academic advisers and parents, may find it useful as well.  The guide is made up of three, short chapters, each containing topics that speak directly to common general education requirements, such as communication, critical thinking, and citizenship.  “The guide is intended to take some of the mystery out of those requirements, to explain the common thread that underlies them and gives them coherence and a clear sense of purpose” (preface) states Shoenberg.

Not only does the guide offer the reader a better understanding of general education requirements, but also shares the philosophy of choosing courses with intentionality in order to create the most effective academic experience. In the guide’s appendix, Shoenberg suggests that the value of a college education can be lost if students view their courses individually as opposed to a collective (p. 25).  He recommends that students consider how courses relate to one another, choosing sub-themes, and creating connections (p. 25). 

This guide offers insight into the philosophy behind general education requirements and provides the reader with information on how to get the most out of required coursework.  It is written in short, succinct sections and reads rather easily.  Some students, however, may struggle with how the information relates specifically to their institution.  If given as a guide to students, it would be beneficial to provide additional discussion opportunities, either with a parent or academic adviser, or as part of a university transition course.         

In conclusion, Shoenberg’s guide offers valuable meaning to a collection of coursework that is often deemed ineffectual.  A well-informed student has the opportunity to leave college as a very different person from when they started.  The university experience provides an opportunity for intellectual growth, personal maturity, and fosters greater understanding and acceptance of the world in which we live.  This guide supports that transition, helping students understand how to get the most out of their academic curriculum.            


Warner, D., & Koeppel, K. (n.d.). General Education Requirements: A Comparative Analysis.The Journal of General Education, 241-258.

Why do I have to take this course?. (2005). Book by Robert Shoenberg. Review by Stacey Borboa-Peterson, Association of American Colleges and Universities. 27 pp., $12.00, (Paperback), ISBN #0-9763576-5-8

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