Arm wearing red graduation robe and silver watch holding scroll tied with ribbon

Avoid Credits That Won't Count Toward Your Degree

Some college courses seem fun, but if they don't count toward your degree, are they worth your time? Here's how to avoid credits that won't benefit you.

Going to college is a major commitment that requires a lot of money and years of dedication. You spend those years refining what you're passionate about and learning how to turn it into a career after you receive your degree, but there are many steps you'll have to take before you earn that diploma. Deciding which classes you'll take may seem like one of the easiest things you'll do all year, but it can set you up to pass or fail. Taking the right courses means you'll avoid wasting your time and energy—and money—so you have a great college experience before launching your dream career. Here's how to avoid extra college credits that don't count toward your degree.

Research your degree

Once you get your college acceptance letter, you know where you'll be spending your next three to four years (or more). Most schools list how many credit hours each student must complete for every major and minor they offer. That gives you a rough idea of how many you'll need to complete each semester. After you set up your student portal login on your school's website, you can view a complete guide that explains how to earn your degree. It should list how many hours you should plan to handle each semester by outlining the courses you can choose from. Instead of browsing through every class taught in person and online, you'll have an exact list of what's available on the path to graduation. But signing up for courses that aren't on that lineup will delay your graduation and waste the years and money you've decided to dedicate to your education.

Related: All the Wrong Reasons to Choose a Major

Save your money

If you take a class that doesn't count toward your degree, it's a waste of your hard-earned money. The average college student spends $30,500 each year on tuition and room and board, so you shouldn’t spend a cent on classes that you don’t need to graduate. Instead, invest your money in courses that get you one step closer to your goals. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy an elective that isn’t traditional to your major, but you should make sure it will count toward your degree requirements and maybe even provide a skill that will make you stand out to future employers.

Learn about your interests

When you see a class that sparks your interest but doesn't pertain to your degree, make a mental note about why it appeals to you. The local surfing class at your beachside university would be fun, but you could get the same experience by taking private lessons instead. It will probably cost less and give you more time for more relevant courses. Even if you have a few credit hours left to take after filling your semester with necessary classes, you'll likely only have room for one or two nonrelated subjects while you're in school. Taking credits that don't count toward your degree is a rarity, so don't expect it to happen every year.

Related: How to Discover (and Pursue) Your Passion

Make a plan

According to a 2018 report from the National Student Clearinghouse, 38% of students will transfer to a different college within their first six years of earning a bachelor's degree. Community college might also be necessary for your first two years because of your financial situation, but that doesn't mean all your classes will automatically transfer, often due to differing state or school guidelines. You'll put yourself in more debt unknowingly if you fail to make a plan first. Avoid getting stuck in school (and debt) by deciding on your degree early. Talk with your current school administrators to ensure that all your classes will transfer and keep you on track for a speedy graduation.

Remember your intentions

Unnecessary classes can distract you from your core degree courses, so remember your intentions. Think about why you applied for college and what you wanted to do with your time there. Remind yourself of your motivations and plans as you sign up for new classes. While your college journey should be enjoyable, in the end, your degree is one of the biggest factors for landing a job you’ll love. Devote most of your energy and attention to what will get you across the graduation stage and in a successful career.

Talk with your advisor

Figuring out the college system can be overwhelming, which is why every student has an academic advisor. Meet with them as early in your college career as you can and maintain consistent contact while you’re in school. Discuss your goals, strengths, and where you think you might struggle. They'll help you balance your more challenging classes with ones that excite you the most. Their guidance will also ensure that you don't waste a single second on a course that doesn't count toward your diploma.

Related: Making the Most of Your Academic Advisor

Sometimes it's hard to remember why you shouldn't take excess credit hours even if they look fun or interesting. Professors may teach subjects related to your hobbies or curiosities—and maybe you can receive elective credit that you need to graduate—but always keep your educational goals in mind when you sign up for classes. You can always devote energy to your recreational passions in your free time.

Don’t know what you want to major in yet? You can use our College Search tool to find out what programs are available at your colleges of interest!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

choosing classes college academics college classes college credit majors

About Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is an education writer who helps students and teachers pursue their passions. Read more of her work on Syllabusy


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Dani York

Dani York

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped in my journey by comparing multiple colleges for my final decision. While looking at different colleges, I was able to compare the tuition expenses and that landed me with the college that I’m currently enrolled in, Western Kentucky University. Thank you!

Joan Franklin

Joan Franklin


I love this website and have been using it for years with my students. I originally bought products through Wintergreen Orchard House and appreciated having key facts at my fingertips when advising students. Your site is easy to access and offers a wide array of topics I need as a busy college counselor.

Ida Akoto-Wiafe

Ida Akoto-Wiafe

High School Class of 2022

I wanted a school that wasn't too far away from home and could provide me with a full-ride scholarship. CollegeXpress helped me put into perspective the money I had to pay to attend those schools, which ultimately drove me to choose to attend a community college first to get used to being in college before transferring to the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, one of the colleges I was able to research further on CollegeXpress.

Samantha Fils-Aime

Samantha Fils-Aime

High School Class of 2019

I love that CollegeXpress has helped me find some scholarships to apply for but also helped me succeed in school with lots of tips. I also really like how they consistently email me about webinars that teach me a lot of things from the comfort of my home!

Bri'Yana Brown-Dunn

Bri'Yana Brown-Dunn

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me gain interest in many colleges/universities and many scholarships. I would say the most helpful thing CollegeXpress has done for me is sending me emails that tell me certain types of colleges are interested in me as well as emails about scholarships that I can look at and possibly apply for.

College Matches