The word “electives” calls to mind breezy afternoons spent sanding paper towel holders to a smooth oblivion in my Grade 9 woodworking class.
While I strangely miss finding bits of sawdust in my hair and teeth, I admit that electives in university serve a different purpose than the ones in high school. Many faculties require you to fulfill a certain number of credits outside of your major specialization(s) and it can be tough to know exactly how to fill that space.
There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to take some courses that seem “fun” or “easy” if you’re looking to boost your GPA or lighten your workload.
However, choosing a course in a subject you don’t care about just because it seems low-commitment can be a waste of your time and money.
That being said, there may be fewer elective options than usual this summer and beyond due to adjustments being made for online learning amidst the coronavirus outbreak. That may be disappointing, but some of my favourite courses were actually second and third choices I had to take when I couldn’t get into my first choice!
You can also hold off on electives and focus on your core courses for now if it’s difficult to get into the right classes or you’re concerned about potential grading policies—there’s nothing wrong with taking electives in your upper years.
Use these tips to help you think creatively about your electives:
- Get the most twang for your toonie by choosing electives that interest you and challenge you
- Taking an elective course solely because you’ve heard it’s a GPA booster can be risky—some courses are a lot more work than you’d expect!
- Electives can help you develop useful skills outside your major—choose electives that open up your future career
Now that you’re thinking about how your electives can impact you, you can work on how to structure them in your schedule.
Figure out which elective option is right for you, your goals, and the requirements of your faculty!
A minor usually involves taking around 30 credits in a specific subject over the course of your degree. You can officially add it on the Student Service Centre (SSC). A minor is good if you’re passionate about a certain subject and want to explore several different areas of that subject in depth.
- Delve extensively into a subject, getting a lot of breadth and opportunity for practice and research
- Looks good on a resume and easy to explain to employers
- Provides time to integrate into a faculty outside your major, build relationships, and network with other professors and students
- Significant time commitment over the course of your degree
- Restricts range of electives you can take
- Not always viable with faculty requirements
You can’t add this on the SSC because I invented it.
A “mini-minor” would involve taking a limited stream of courses (say 3 to 5) in a particular subject. This might be good if there’s a certain area of a subject you’re really interested in.
For example, say woodworking was a subject at UBC (I sigh wistfully, tasting sawdust). Maybe you really want to take WOWO 310: Topics in Bird Feeders, but you have to take 2 pre-reqs first—WOWO 100: Introduction to Woodworking and WOWO 232: Using Wood for Good.
Those 3 classes all together might form a “mini-minor”. You could do 2 or 3 of these to fulfill your electives requirements depending on your degree requirements.
- Explore a topic in depth, since you can take a course with some pre-reqs
- Gives flexibility to study a few different subjects within your electives
- Doesn’t give the same breadth and extensive study of a subject as a minor
- More difficult to put on a resume
Taking multiple courses in a subject might be the most surefire way to develop skills, but you can learn a lot in even one course! This method involves just taking 1 or 2 courses in a department, making up a kind of smorgasbord of electives.
Studying even 1 course in a different area can challenge your perspective and help you pick up a new skill. If there’s a professor you’ve always wanted to take a course with or you come across an interesting syllabus, this might be a good option for you!
- Gives a lot of flexibility, allowing you to try out courses in a range of subjects
- No pressure to continue on in a subject if you didn’t enjoy a course
- Likely prevents you from taking upper-level courses that have pre-requisites
- More difficult to put on a resume and explain to employers
Depending on the requirements for your degree, you could also mix 2 or all 3 of these options.
Electives are an important part of your degree, so think them through and make sure you’re getting as much out of them as you can.
And, at the end of the day, this is only my advice—talk to your faculty’s advising office if you want more info from the experts, especially as courses are adjusted during this time.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ask my mom where she put that paper-towel holder so I can clutch its silky-smooth grain and reminisce about the good ol’ days.