A generalist is a player whose knowledge extends to all parts of the canon, and thus is capable of buzzing on any subject. Good generalists are often among the scoring leaders at invitational tournaments.
A surface generalist has a good command of giveaways and other easy clues, leading to high individual scores, without any deep knowledge on any subject. The surface generalist approach, extremely popular until the mid-1990s, has been waning in the college game as surface generalists tend not to score points on hard questions or against good teams. However, surface generalists can still be relatively successful at the high school level or against weaker fields.
The more common approach to becoming a generalist at the college level involves acquiring depth in one or two topics, then branching out into other areas. Many generalists start out as "science-other" players, since science is typically considered the toughest category to acquire knowledge in. In strong fields with strong teammates, these players have the advantage of "turtling" around their categories while occasionally striking outside of their knowledge base, making them good people to have around.
A third type of generalist, best exemplified by Matt Weiner, has decent-to-good depth on a wide variety of subjects, but is not considered dominant on any given subject.
The distinction between generalist and specialist isn't well established. Some generalists tend to have specialist-level knowledge in their areas while being able to consistently buzz on the last few clues of most other categories, for example.
Noted Generalists (Current and Historical) in the College Game
Players considered generalists will usually have "General" listed under "Notable Subjects" on their individual pages. Almost all of these individuals have won multiple individual scoring awards at tournaments. Their individual and team performance at nationals has varied due to varying degrees in depth of knowledge as well as teammate strength.