How to Choose Electives in College

How to Choose Electives in College
portrait of Danika Miller
By Danika Miller

Published on July 29, 2021

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College electives embody the ideal educational experience — you get to choose what you want to learn without parameters. Electives in college live outside core and mandatory courses, and give students a chance to pursue interests and curiosities that fall outside their major.

Universities build electives into each program to provide students with a well-rounded education and to customize their experience. We'll walk you through the different kinds of electives and how to choose them, and answer some common questions about college electives.

What Kinds of College Electives Are There?

Elective courses are classes you get to choose. An elective can fall under a degree requirement, but the specific class is up to you. Sometimes you'll choose electives that act as prerequisites to required classes for a major and minor. Below are a few different types of elective courses you can take in college:

General Education Electives

General education requirements are the baseline courses every student is required to pass. These requirements usually include a portion of elective credits, in which you can choose how you'd like to fulfill a specific requirement. For example, for a communication requirement, you might choose a class like Texas State University's Talking Like TED course, which examines the TED talk communication style.

Area of Study Electives

Most majors and minors require a certain number of elective credits. These fall under your program but are not specific requirements for completing the degree. For example, a bachelor's in psychology may offer elective choices like animal behavior, the psychology of corporate culture, and the psychology of science fiction. You can also use these electives to take classes to prepare you for specific career paths, like a forensic psychology class.

Free Electives

This type of college elective has no obvious relation to your major, minor, or a specific general education requirement. Instead, these classes are designed for students to graduate with a well-rounded education and to fulfill general credit requirements. You could take a snowboarding P.E. class, a hip-hop class, or a cinema course.

5 Tips for Choosing Electives in College

Choosing your elective classes in college can be a complicated process. We recommend you set some time aside to map out your university's requirements, research your elective options, and reflect on your career goals.

Determine How Much Room You Have in Your Class Schedule

When creating your class schedule, balance courses based on topic and difficulty level. You don't want to burn out on too many tough classes, and a varied schedule can help keep things stimulating. For example, three history classes may be harder to sustain than a math class, a history class, and a P.E. elective.

You should also prioritize general education requirements before filling up your schedule with electives. Since the majority of students have to take the same general education classes, they can be harder to get into during your first few years. Some are also only offered during select semesters or have strict sequences that require you to take them in a specific order.

Focus on Your Biggest Interests

For undecided students, electives can be a tool for exploring potential majors while completing your general education requirements. Introductory courses often count as electives and can provide an overview of the subject. Students with a spectrum of interests can take 101 classes in subjects like psychology, journalism, statistics, kinesiology, geology, art history, and finance as exploratory electives.

You can also use electives to supplement your major. For example, you could take a foreign language to complement your culinary degree. Or you could pair your computer science degree with a series of graphic design electives.

Consult Your Academic Advisor

An academic advisor can help you figure out the best electives to take for your particular educational journey and career goals. For example, an advisor can identify a minor that may complement your career path and electives that can double as prerequisites for that minor.

Your advisor may also help you find courses that could improve your weaker academic areas. For example, a business major may want to take a writing elective to learn how to craft proposals and communicate business ideas.

Consider the Class Format

The format of your class can impact your schedule, workload, and experience. Consider whether the elective is a lecture or a seminar — that will impact your interaction with fellow classmates and professors, as well as the participation expectations.

If your elective is a laboratory class, that could mean an extra class each week for lab work. You can also choose to take electives that use an online or hybrid format, which may allow for more flexibility in your schedule.

Take the Opportunity to Try Something New

Electives are a great opportunity to learn new things and try something you've always wanted to do. Many students use electives to take fun and unique courses like dance, glassblowing, game theory, photography, and the infamous underwater basket weaving. If there's a hobby or a skill you're curious about, use elective credits to add something fun to your schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Electives

What are the best electives to take in college?

It's best to take elective courses that you're interested in and that you may be able to apply to your future career. Classes that teach personal finance, business writing, public speaking, and foreign languages can provide real-world skills useful in any career. For students with particularly challenging course loads, the best elective may be an easier course that will guarantee a GPA boost. For undecided students, the best electives will help you explore your strengths and interests.

How many electives can you take in college?

The number of electives you take will depend on your university and program. General education requirements typically include three to five elective classes. Each degree will also have an elective portion, usually two to four classes. Technically, you can take as many electives as you'd like, but after a certain number of elective credits the classes no longer count toward your degree.

Are all college students required to take electives?

Each university and degree maintains different requirements. Most colleges have general education requirements that include electives. If you've previously earned college credit, you may be able to transfer those in place of electives.

When is the best time to take electives in college?

It's best to disperse your electives throughout your time in college. Electives are a good way to balance the more intensive study you'll do in your major. Many electives are also offered online, which you can use to your advantage during semesters with busier schedules.

Related Pages

How to Choose Your College Class Schedule Auditing a Class: What It Is and How It Works When to Take a College Class Pass/Fail

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