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How to Utilize Your Elective Courses More Effectively

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By Loren Germann-McClain
Senior Academic Advisor II, School of STEM

Many programs, especially at the undergraduate level, have courses that are designated as “general electives.” During the transfer credit evaluation process, academic credits that cannot be applied toward your general education, major/core, or concentration requirements will be placed among the general electives until you have fulfilled the required semester hours for your program’s available space for elective courses.

Understanding which courses can be used as general elective credits can be a useful guide for what classes to take in order to achieve your educational and personal goals. Here are five tips to help you make more effective use of your elective courses.

#1: Take Courses from a Different Academic Program

Don’t be afraid to take courses that may seem unrelated to your field of study. Different subjects entail different learning strategies and can broaden your viewpoint on topics that are not familiar to you.

Brandon Johnson, an advisor for the School of Health Sciences, encourages students to “take something outside of your comfort zone or something that is generally the opposite of your major.” For instance, are you in a business program? Consider taking a course on public speaking (COMM200) or a course on threat analysis (INTL434).

In addition, Brandon suggests that when you’re looking for courses to take outside of your program, “Look for topics that you can benefit from. You never know when you’re going to find something that changes your life!”

#2: Take Courses That Align with Your Interests and Strengths

Courses that align with your interests and strengths contribute to a better learning experience for you. Consider taking classes to help you improve a skill you already have or courses in areas where you would like to enhance your knowledge.

For instance, look at the soft skills that are required in your academic program and build on those skills. Communication courses, for instance, will provide you with the chance to develop and fine-tune the soft skills that can be applied to multiple industries or career paths.

#3: Review Classes from Different Concentrations

Any course can be used to fulfill your general elective requirements. However, not every course can be used for your general education, major/core or concentration requirements.

Does your program offer other concentration options? If you want to enhance your knowledge of an industry field and related areas of specialization, review courses that are available in other concentrations and use those classes toward your general elective requirements.

While you cannot declare more than one concentration in your academic program, the other concentration options could inspire the choices you make for your general elective courses. For example, if you are in the online bachelor of science in space studies with an astronomy concentration, you must take the five required courses in that concentration.

But if a class such as SPST304 – National Space Organization in the space policy concentration piques your interest and you have available space among your general electives, go ahead and take it! You never know when you will find a new interest or passion.

#4: Add a Certificate or Minor

Consider adding a certificate or minor to your academic program if you have at least 18 semester hours available in your general elective requirement. Not sure if you can apply a certificate or minor to your program? Don’t worry! Check out this great resource in the Success Center.

If you have any questions regarding how a certificate or minor will affect your academic program credits, we can help. Please reach out to Academic Advising before submitting the degree change request form.

Related link: Adding Certificates and Minors: What You Need to Know

#5: Consult Academic Advising for Help in Choosing Elective Courses

You have more options for general elective requirements than you may think. Are you looking to bolster your grade point average (GPA) to meet pre-admission requirements for a program at another institution? Consider taking 100-200 level courses (PSYC101 and STEM100 are great courses!) to help raise your GPA, as these courses are often entry level.

Do you need a class to pair with the harder courses in your program? Choose a class that you find interesting.

Having a strong interest in the courses you take help you to remain motivated and engaged. It will also aid you in finishing your academic program.

Your academic advisor can help you understand the options for completing your degree and provide course recommendations as you’re fulfilling your general elective requirements. Your advisor is here to provide clear guidance, answers and resources to help you achieve academic success.  

Be sure to contact us when you need help. A quick call, email, or chat can help you more easily determine the best courses to take, as well as save you time and money.  

About the Author

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as a Senior Academic Advisor II with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University.

Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world.

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