Why Do I Have to Take Electives? Why are Electives Important?

Student taking pictures of violet flowers on the ground.

Flickr user Dark Dwarf

You might have heard the term “well-rounded student” before. That’s because that is the goal of most university programs. While the primary focus is on your specific degree, general education programs force 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 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. You like learning about physics even though you’re a music major? Sure, you can do that.

Why 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.

Boosting Your GPA

Most majors start with basic courses and get more intensive the deeper into the program you get. Especially starting around the junior year (or equivalent), you may want to look at electives as a way to maintain your GPA. I’m not suggesting that all your electives be easy-A courses, but if you know you have a heavy required course load coming up, it might be nice to balance that with a comparatively easier elective. Something with homework that doesn’t take quite as much attention can help keep you afloat when you’re drowning in upper-level coursework.

Keeping Your Semester Interesting

While there are some requirements in your major that are intriguing, not every course 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.

Adding a Minor, Certificate, or Second Major

If your electives are all focused in 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.

Giving 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 politics, history, science, social issues—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.

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