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Articles / Campus Life / College "Gut" Courses

College "Gut" Courses

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 23, 2014
Ever heard of a college “gut" course? If not, the Urban Dictionary can help you understand what that is:

A college course that can be easily passed …

“Man, Pizza 101 is such a gut course; there's no reason for you to fail it."

I've always been fascinated by the existence of gut courses. Naturally, I availed myself of a few of them during my college daze. As a parent, you may be wondering about the return on your investment (ROI) for all those tuition, room, and board charges you have been (or will be) paying. So, I thought that it might be informative for you, out of curiosity, to take a deeper look into your child's current (or future) course catalog.

Just for kicks, I Googled “world's easiest college courses." One of the top links I got in return was The 10 Hardest (& Easiest) Classes At Harvard University, an article written by Danai Kadzere of hercampus.com. Naturally, I went directly to the easiest courses listed there.

Here's a sampling of what I found:

– Neurobiology 95hfj: The Sleeping Brain

… But with just about three hours of work outside of class each week, and 0% of former students rating the class as difficult, this may really be one of those deceptive sounds-hard-but-is-easy classes that are pretty much transcript treasures …

– Swedish A: Beginning Swedish Language and Literature

… This class, though an immersive language course, has a CUE guide score of 5.00 out of 5.00 (meaning everyone thought the class was perfect) and boasts a mere three hours of work per week outside of class! … [If I were a college prof, I would love to start a class about learning the basics of the language of Finland. I would call it … wait for it … Beginning Finnish.]

– Anthropology 1010: The Fundamentals of Archaeological Methods and Reasoning

… As one former student said, “The class is great. It teaches you things that you have not known before, but does so in a relaxed manner, without pushing you to study, study, study." Where else can students fulfill a math requirement by cooking Mayan chocolate and making stone tools and clay pots? …

I can personally vouch for the difficulty level (or lack thereof) of so-called “Anthy" courses. I took Anthy 8 at Penn State (sounds like a rap lyric): The History and Archaeology of South-Central America. I think I attended the first class, mid-term, and final, with a little cramming along the way. Result: Pass.

– East Asian Studies 160: Writing Asian Poetry

… WOW! I have saved the best for last with this one—just about three hours of work outside of class per week and a perfect 5.00 out of 5.00 CUE guide score for all five categories (section, feedback, assignments, materials, and course overall). It seems that this is a true gem, hiding out in the underappreciated East Asian studies concentration … [As the Lone Ranger used to say, “Haiku, Silver, away!"]


Although this article highlights so-called “easy" courses, I have to say that I actually did learn some stuff in the easier courses I had in college. One particularly easy course I had was known derisively as “Art in the Dark." I think the proper course name was The History of Art. It was an intro survey course but was taught by a world-class art historian, Dr. Anthony Cutler. Here's a link to Cutler in action.) I still recall his name after all these years. He was memorable not only for his encyclopedic knowledge of all things art but also for his unforgiving attitude toward those in our huge lecture hall class who would doze off during his presentations.

I remember the drubbing one poor guy got when he nodded off while Prof. Cutler was expounding upon the magnificent staircases of Michelangelo. Dr. Cutler spotted the drooping head of this fatigued freshman and promptly placed the light from his illuminated pointer (laser pointers hadn't yet been invented) squarely on the perp's nose. The professor then spoke softly, saying, “Would the kind young lady wake up the sleeping sloth next to you, please." After a nudge, the snoozing suspect opened his eyes in confusion, shielding his eyes from the strong beam of light. Dr. Cutler then proceeded to lambast the sleeper by accosting him about how many people think that they don't need culture in their lives simply because they have color TVs, large refrigerators, and fast cars, among other indulgent sins. I never forgot that dressing down, and although this class was a legendary gut course, I learned some things that I still use today to sound impressive, even when I don't know all that much, which is most of the time.

Anyway, to augment my discussion of guts, here are some comments from an interesting College Confidential discussion forum thread entitled OK, Parents–What's the “fluffiest" course YOU took in college?See if this brings back any collegiate memories for you.

– History of Rock and Roll to fulfill a social science requirement. For P.E. requirement, I was able to take canoeing, as a fairly fast flowing river ran through campus.

– I took some kind of comedy in film class for my first degree where we got to go to bunches of cool old comedy films like Bringing up Baby, Some Like It Hot, old Charlie Chaplin films, etc.

– Badminton. No kidding. I have absolutely no athletic skill. When the teacher told me I had potential to compete, I dropped the course.

– I took jewelry making, bowling, and snorkeling, all in different terms. A took sailing and building a stereo speaker, in the same term.

– I did African dance and it was a blast.

– Introduction to Wines at the Cornell Hotel School. Maybe more fuzzy than fluffy though.

– The History of Rock and Roll Music, Stony Brook University. Three hundred kids in a lecture hall.

– History of Jazz at 8 A.M., put a bullet in my brain. I want to see a study of the suicide rate of professors who teach fluff gen ed courses to freshman who are forced to take the class. What a miserable existence!

– The fluffiest class that I ever took, was a charcoal drawing class. At the end of the semester, we all sat in a circle and informed the class what our final grade would be, based on sincere self evaluation of course.

– … my very first quarter in college, I took a class called Architecture 101. It was a survey class for non-majors, big lecture hall, 8:30 class. The prof would frequently turn down the lights and do slideshows of whatever architectural principle he was lecturing on. The slideshows were often accompanied by Gregorian chanting for some reason. That could put me to sleep in seconds flat!

– I took Advanced Surfing at San Diego State. Having just transferred in, it was actually a pretty cool deal. The first day of class we met down at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center. We went around the room and each of named a favorite surf spot around town. Each week we met at a different spot.


So, parents, keep the above in mind when you're writing your checks to pay those tuition bills. However, as I mentioned, even gut courses can instill some knowledge. Oh, and by the way, if you want a real treat, take a look at Dr. Anthony Cutler in action, even if you don't have a fancy TV, big refrigerator, or fast car.


Check College Confidential for all my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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