What Are College Electives and Why are They Important?

When selecting your college courses, you will typically have three categories to choose from. The first is general education requirements, which all students are required to take. The second is courses required for specific majors. Under this category, you’ll choose from courses that are relevant to the specific major you’re pursuing. The third is electives, which are optional. You may be wondering, if they are optional, why are electives important? If you’re not familiar with how elective classes work in college, here’s what you need to know.

Student taking pictures of violet flowers on the ground.

Flickr user Dark Dwarf

What Are Electives In College?

Electives are courses that you can choose to take or not take. In most cases, these classes are outside a student’s core curriculum. They may count toward the number of credits you need in order to graduate but they are not a mandatory requirement to graduate in your particular degree of study. This brings up a very valid question – if they are not a requirement to graduate, why do universities offer electives?

The goal of most university programs is to help students grow into well-rounded individuals, with a wide sphere of interests. College curriculums are structured in such a way that the primary focus is on your specific degree while general education programs encourage students to venture outside their department. College electives do that on a different level.

Whereas gen ed classes fulfill specific requirements (i.e., world history, foreign language, quantitative thinking, etc.), college electives are different. You elect to take them. They are the only classes in college where you can go in whatever direction you want.

Do you want to take a photography course despite being a math major? Go for it.

Do you like learning about physics even though you’re a music major? Sure, you can do that.

Taking elective classes allows you to explore new interests and broaden your areas of learning. This can improve the overall quality of your college education.

5 Reasons Why Elective Classes Are Important

Here are 5 compelling ways taking elective classes can benefit you.

1. Boost Your GPA

Most majors start with basic courses and get more intensive the deeper into the program you get. Keeping up with the coursework can get increasingly more challenging. One way you can lighten the course load while still maintaining your GPA is by choosing an elective that is less strenuous than your core courses.

This does not mean that all your electives should be easy-A courses. However, if you know you have a heavy required course load coming up, it might be nice to balance that with a comparatively easier elective. Taking an elective that doesn’t take quite as much attention can help keep you afloat when you’re drowning in upper-level coursework.

2. College Electives Can Keep Your Semester Interesting

While there are some courses in your major that are intriguing, not every subject is going to leave you wanting more. If you know that such a semester is on its way, look into electives that will keep you engaged throughout the semester. Motivation can be difficult to find if none of your classes interest you. Electives can also offer a mental break from a semester filled with major requirements that are all about the same subject.

3. Add A Minor, Certificate, or Second Major

If your electives are all focused on one specific area, you might want to consider asking if it’s something you can minor in. Minors, certificates, and second majors look great to future employers. It demonstrates that you know how to balance your time and that you have varied interests. And if your minor/certificate enhances your understanding of your future job, even better.

In addition, picking a second major or a minor can give your electives more focus. Some people like trying things from all over the board. Others like having a path to follow. Be sure to look at all the requirements to see if it is worth your time: You don’t want to get to your senior year and suddenly realize that you need to take two extra classes to finish out another major.

4. Give You A Well-Rounded Education

Having experience and knowledge in areas outside your field of study can only serve to make you a better consumer of information. Being informed is important in this day and age, whether it’s about history, science, social issues, or politics—the list goes on. Taking classes from other departments will give you an insight into things you might not have considered before. And unlike gen eds, the choice is completely yours.

5. Diversify Your Professional Portfolio

Employers have changed the way they assess applicants. Where academic accomplishments were the top, and sometimes only, criteria used to hire new employees, today employers look for more than that. They also look for transferable sills such as communication and organizational skills, drive, creativity, and passion in new hires.

This is where electives can benefit you. They help you identify and develop new skills that will make you a valuable addition to any workplace. This can make all the difference when an employer is trying to decide between two equally qualified applicants.

1 Important Thing To Consider When Choosing Your Elective Classes

Although there are no hard and fast rules about what electives you should or should not choose, there is one important factor you must take into consideration. That one thing is the requirements for your major as well as your elective.

Some electives are more intensive and challenging than others, involving extensive assignments and large projects. Some may also involve completing at least one internship. Even if this is in an area you’re very interested in, spending hours on elective classes can distract you from your major.

And if your major is equally challenging, you may find you have to cut back on your workload. Eventually, this could result in you taking longer to complete your degree. If you’re considering a challenging elective, take time to develop a practical study plan that will ensure you complete your degree program within the timeframe.

Other than that, you can go in any direction when choosing elective classes. As we said earlier, you can take a photography course despite being a math major. Or you can take a physics course even if you’re a music major.

Explore Your Interests with College Electives

You don’t have to limit yourself to something that is the complete opposite of your major. You can also take classes that might work with your field of study. An example might be taking an intro-level business course. This works particularly well with fields where you might be selling goods or services to people (i.e., professional photographer, freelance graphic designer, etc). History classes help to inform art and literature. Writing classes make you more marketable because they enhance your communication skills.

College electives are meant to be fun and interesting. You can use the classes to benefit you however you want. As discussed, you can go in the other direction of what your major is or take classes that meld with your major. They can be an immense benefit to your professional career. There are also several immediate benefits.

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