For many college students, electives can be the most exciting aspect of the college experience. You have an opportunity to choose what classes to take, and in what subjects, to explore your interests and indulge your curiosities.
All degree programs have electives built in to ensure that students get a worldly education and encourage intellectual curiosity. You have to be strategic in deciding how you want to use those electives to support your academic and professional goals, however.
Types of Electives
Electives are courses that you get to choose. Your electives may fall under a degree requirement, but you typically have a few courses to choose from that satisfy it. In some cases, your electives may act as prerequisites for courses that are part of your major or minor.
General Education Electives
General education requirements are the courses that are required as part of a degree program. Most general education requirements include some elective credits, which give you the freedom to choose which course you’d like to take within that category.
For example, you may be able to take a creative writing or a Shakespearean literature course to satisfy your English requirement.
Area of Study
Most majors and minors require a certain number of elective credits that fall under your program but aren’t necessary to complete your degree. Basically, these are related to your course of study, but you have some flexibility in which courses you choose.
For example, if you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you may be able to choose from electives like the Psychology of Film, Animal Behavior, or Criminal Psychology, based on what interests you or supports your career.
Free electives aren’t restricted to your major, minor, or a specific area of study or general education requirement. You’re only limited by what courses are available at your chosen university or college.
The idea behind free electives is for students to pursue interests and graduate with a well-rounded education. Depending on what’s available at your school, this could include a class on modern film, a dance class, a photography class, or just about anything else that sparks your interest.
How to Choose Electives Strategically
Maximize Subject Interests
Naturally, you’re going to be more passionate about a course that’s in a subject that interests you. Your electives are a good opportunity to not only have fun but explore different options to ensure that you’re on the right degree path.
Most introductory courses count as electives and give you a strong introduction to a subject, such as art history, geology, journalism, psychology, or finance 101 courses.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
It may be tempting to choose courses that are related to your major or things you already know about, but that’s not serving your long-term academic and professional goals. Studying different subjects means challenging yourself a bit, which can broaden your viewpoint and develop different learning strategies.
Take Courses That Align with Aptitude
While you should challenge yourself and push your limits a bit in college, there’s nothing wrong with taking courses on new topics that align with your interests and strengths. By the time you reach college, you probably have a good idea if you’re naturally strong in math, writing, science, history, or other subjects.
For example, if you already have strong writing skills, taking more communication courses can deepen your knowledge and polish the soft skills that will serve you In your future career.
Balance Courses by Topic and Difficulty
Even if you’re a stellar student, burnout is a possibility if you’re taking too many challenging courses and have a packed schedule. When you’re creating your class schedule, make sure you balance the courses based on topic and difficulty level.
For example, taking three math courses at once can be much more taxing than a varied schedule that includes a math class, a history class, and a fun elective.
Another thing to consider is how many electives you have and your degree requirements. It can be tempting to fill up your schedule with electives, but at some point, they no longer count toward your degree.
Get your general education requirements out of the way before you start taking a lot of electives, and look for opportunities to take an elective that counts toward a requirement whenever possible. Your advisor is an excellent resource to ensure a balanced and manageable schedule.
Support Your Goals with Specific Courses
Some electives won’t be part of your degree program, but that doesn’t mean they can’t support your career goals. Think outside the box a bit. Aside from the courses that are required to earn your degree, what courses could give you skills that contribute to your career path?
For example, if you’re earning a degree in culinary science, taking electives to learn French could be an asset. If you’re on a pre-veterinary track, a course on animal behavior or animal nutrition at the undergraduate level can help you prepare for your graduate experience.
In some cases, you may want to take electives to support a minor or certificate. For example, if you’re a pre-law student interested in accounting law, taking accounting courses to prepare for the Certified Public Accountant exam could get you ahead of the game before you even apply to law school.
Gain All-Around Professional Skills
If you’re not sure what electives to take, using them to gain all-around professional skills is an excellent use of your time. These skills are the ones that will apply to virtually any job you have in the future, such as:
- Business writing
- Career readiness
- Critical thinking
Consider the Class Format
The format of your class can affect your schedule and workload. Even if you really want to take an elective, if it disrupts your other classes on your schedule, you may become stressed out and unable to enjoy it.
You should also keep in mind that some courses will have additional hours required for laboratory time or other requirements. Make sure you evaluate your total time commitment and plan around it.
Depending on the elective, a hybrid or online format, such as the courses offered by Sophia Learning, may give you more flexibility to balance the electives you want to take with your required courses.
Enjoy Your Electives
While it’s never a mistake to take a course for fun, electives are one of the few opportunities you have to indulge your interests with a course that gives you credit and counts toward your degree. If you have a hobby or interest that you’re curious about, use your electives to explore them.
If you’re considering your electives, explore the courses available at Sophia or start your free trial today!