Electives-The Choosiest of them All
Almost all universities/post-secondary institutes will require completion of a specific
number of course credits to obtain your degree. These course credits can often be split up into
two sections: Core Courses and Electives. Core courses, as the name suggest, are courses that
you must successfully complete in order to obtain your degree. Electives however, are courses
whose topics are outside the student’s main area of study. Taking electives is an essential way to
broaden the scope of the student and to provide him/her with a basic understanding of topics
outside their field of study, such that upon graduation, they will not just be educated in one
specific topic. This breadth of knowledge is so important that often times, the number of
electives required will be equal or greater than the number of core courses.
However, I often find that many students try to take the easiest electives offered with the
reason being that if they take an easy elective, they can obtain a higher grade with minimal work
and increase their GPA at the same time. This results in many students asking the same questions
each subsequent year: “What electives should I take?” or “Which elective is the easiest?” With
the upcoming September 2014 academic year, I thought I’d share my take on it.
In my personal experience, I have found that choosing an elective because someone
“said” it was easy is not a smart methodology. Every student is unique in his/her own way with
his/her own strengths. As such, what your friend said was easy may not necessarily be easy for
you. For example, I once took a course entitled “The Technical Terms of Medicine and
Biological Sciences”. The aim of this course was for students to recognize Latin or
Greek scientific prefixes, roots and suffixes modern scientific terms. (Eg.
The prefix ‘card-‘ would refer to heart and the suffix ‘-itis’ would refer to inflammation). As one
can imagine, this course involved lots of memorization, as we had to know the definitions of
over 700 Latin and Greek terms! A few of my friends took it and said it was easy because it
involved almost pure memorization. However, because my personal style of studying was not
based on pure memorization, I found this class to be more difficult than my friends had let on.
My advice to younger students who ask me what electives to take is to choose electives that they are genuinely interested in!! This is a much better use of your university time, money and experience than taking a course simply for a supposedly high grade. Additionally, since you are interested in the course material, your intrinsic curiosity becomes a great motivator when it comes to studying, since it will feel like less of a chore to you. Ultimately, this could very likely result in the high grade that you wanted in the first place! (Keep in mind though that this interest alone does not automatically translate to a high grade. You still need to put in hard work and dedication!) In comparison to my earlier example, one of my electives this year was a third year computer science class. While many students questioned my choice due to its difficulty, my genuine interest in learning how to program helped me learn lots, have fun AND achieve a high grade, the latter of which some students may argue is the most important aspect.
Of course, you may be wondering if there is a way to get a taste of your electives prior to
enrolling in them. YES YOU CAN! Many universities post the class schedules online and have a
course registration deadline after school starts. As such, in the first week of school, feel free to sit
in on the electives of your choosing to see if they match up to your expectations prior to
enrolling. But don’t dawdle either – most classes have restrictions on class size, and once it’s full,
the only way to get a spot is if someone already registered drops the class.
Another way is to take the elective as Pass/Fail. This way, there is no mark attributed to
the class, but instead, a simple ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ is assigned depending on whether you achieve the
passing grade (Usually 50% or 60% for most Canadian universities). Be aware though that this
Pass/Fail system may be called differently amongst universities (Eg. Audit, Credit/D/Fail) and
that some programs have requirements on whether or not you can take courses for Pass/Fail.
Make sure you do your research and always think ahead!
The years you spend in university may be short but they are by no means a method to
“pass the time”. University is a place where you can really discover your passions and interests,develop your character, and mould yourself into the individual you want to become. Taking electives you love is also a great way to meet new people who have the same interests as you. Who knows? Perhaps the elective you choose will spark a new-found drive and passion in you and guide you towards your dream career!
While you think over what electives to take for this upcoming academic year, feel free to take a
look at some of the bizarre electives offered at other universities across the continent!