4 Things to Consider When Choosing Electives in College

Electives shouldn't be considered throwaway classes you have to take to earn your college degree. Here's what you should think about when choosing your gen eds.

Elective classes are unique opportunities to explore new subject matter in college. Every college student will have the opportunity to choose a limited number of these general education courses. Unfortunately, many students simply choose classes that fit into their schedule. But that’s blowing a chance to make your college experience more well rounded and enjoyable. Here are four things you should consider before choosing an elective course.

1. You can explore majors through your electives

Undecided students (aka, the majority of entering freshmen) are encouraged to take electives in fields of study they're considering. If you're contemplating majoring in Psychology, Philosophy, or Chemistry, these courses should all be on your electives list. Many students take an introductory class in a field of study they're considering only to find out they have little to no interest in the subject. And if you're bored with the subject after only three months, you probably won’t want to work in the field for 30+ years. Also remember that freshman year of college can be stressful, and lower-level classes often only skim the surface. So it’s a good idea to take two or three classes in any given field before making any major decisions.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Gen Ed Classes Aren't a Waste of Time

2. Try taking a class you've always wanted to but never could

Remember that college students are free to explore their education and broaden their horizons with the subject matter of their choice. This isn’t like high school, when students often choose electives they think will look good on their college applications. If you always wanted to paint but never had a chance to take an art class, now is the opportunity to receive credit for it. Or if you always wanted to learn about the science behind yoga, you may be able to take a kinesiology class or, in some cases, an actual yoga class in order to receive elective credit. Elective courses offer students a chance to truly love their course material.

Important note: You should make sure you're taking these experimental classes as a non-major. For example, students taking Painting 101 for non-majors will often be graded on effort, improvement, and ability to follow directions, whereas students majoring in Art will be graded on their talent and technical skill.

3. Consider the social aspect of the course

Many students find the large lecture hall experience to be impersonal. Although a number of introductory courses are only offered in this format, most students enrolled in these courses are losing out on valuable social experiences. If you'd like a more social experience in your elective class, look at the number of students allowed in the course. If the course closes at 30 students, you're more likely to have a chance to get to know some of your classmates in a more intimate setting. On the other hand, the elective course might close at 300 students—just another lecture. Also consider the setup in the classroom. Art classes offered in a studio and science classes conducted in a lab often provide a more intimate setting where students can collaborate on work and get to know each other.

4. Choose a class format that's convenient to you

When it comes to choosing college electives, students are encouraged to think about the particular class format they prefer. For instance, if you're working a part-time job to supplement your education, you may find that it makes life easier to take electives online, if they’re offered in that format. Online classes still have due dates but generally don’t require students to attend class at a specific time, which allows you to work your assigned shifts. Blended learning courses are also a good option for students who are balancing work and academics. If you're only accountable to go to campus twice a month, it may be much easier for you to maintain your part-time job and continue to study online in your free time.

Related: How to Take Charge of Your Education in Online Classes

General education courses are a great opportunity for students to explore their interests, discover their major, make friends, and have fun while working toward their degree. These classes won't seem like a waste of time if you choose them with intention. And you never know—your ballroom dancing elective may be the class you draw from the most years down the line. So have an open mind and take advantage of all your options! 

Learn more tips and tricks for choosing and excelling in your courses with our "college classes" tag.

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