Last Updated: Oct 23, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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!