Pros and Cons of Taking a “Pointless” Elective
By Scott Hawksworth
You have the ultimate say in the value of your education. No class is inherently pointless, but let’s be real, we’ve all taken classes where a semester’s worth of knowledge seems to evaporate into thin air after finals. Or maybe you remember everything, but resent having taken the class. Ideally, you’ve enjoyed the majority of your courses, and you know they’ll stick with you for a lifetime.
College, especially your undergrad, is meant to help you become a more well-rounded individual, which why you’re required to take several types of classes to graduate. Undoubtedly you look forward to taking elective classes, and why shouldn’t you? It’s your chance to take virtually whatever you want, and it doesn’t always have to relate to your major. However, just because you can take almost any class you like, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
With a multitude of electives at your disposal, how can you know which ones are “pointless,” which ones will have a lasting impact, or, at the very least, fall somewhere in between?
Really any class, elective or otherwise, could ultimately be “pointless,” and that largely depends on you. However, you have a bit more control over the electives you take. So here are a few points to consider before signing up for a class that can help you determine whether or not you’ll see it as an amazing or wasted experience.
Electives come in all shapes and sizes, from ones that relates to your Communication major (for example) like “Media Psychology,” to something off-the-wall like “Philosophy of Mind” or the “Lindy Hop 101” dance class.
To graduate, you need to take electives from your department. Once that requirement is fulfilled, you can usually choose to either take more department electives and have them count as outside/not degree-related electives, or you can choose to take “pointless” electives (ones from outside of your major). Here are a few reasons why those classes aren’t pointless, and why you should take advantage of the opportunity to take electives outside of your major:
- To Learn More About Yourself:
How do you know if you like are interested in something if you never learn about it? You don’t. College is the perfect time to get to find out more about your interests and what you excel in. Students have even switched majors because they connected with that elective subject far more than their original intended major.
- To Expand Your World:
Sticking to classes within your department keeps you in the same circle and with the same types of people. Engineering majors will likely have the same interests as other engineering majors, and thus, don’t really have the chance to be exposed to other viewpoints. However, if an engineering student decides to take an Acting 101 class as an elective, they are opening themselves up to the world of theatre.
By taking a course outside of your major you have the chance to learn about a new subject, and you’re also getting a taste of that culture. Who knows? You could end up making a lasting friendship from an elective class who you would’ve otherwise never met, or find that you can apply skills learned from an elective class to your current major.
- To Keep Those Full-Time Benefits:
Sometimes taking an elective course is purely practical. This is a more common issue for seniors who’ve already taken several classes from within their department, there aren’t any new ones being offered that semester, and/or they have fulfilled most of their other requirements and really only need to take a couple more classes.
So of course it just makes sense to take an outside elective and keep the benefits, like tuition assistance, that come with being a full-time student. Some schools even offer health insurance and public transit passes to full-time students, and no one wants to lose those. All the better if you can take an easier, 101-type of elective during your last semester (hello senioritis) too.
Yes, what you get out of a class is your choice, but making a hasty decision could be setting yourself up for failure. Outside electives can quickly become pointless classes if you’re not careful, and here’s why:
- Waste of Time:
Plan, plan, plan, and plan. Meet with your academic advisor at least once a semester. Don’t get to your last semester only to find out that the class you need to take to graduate is only offered every other semester, and you spent last semester taking a yoga class instead of taking that one. Now you’ll need to wait until the next semester, for just one class, in order to actually be done with your degree.
- Waste of Money:
Saying that school is expensive is like saying there are seven days in a week – everyone knows it. That’s why it’s important to not fail the elective class you decide to take. It may seem like an obvious point, but students often forget to apply it to electives because it can feel like they don’t matter. It’s still money, it still affects your GPA, and it still matters.
- Unnecessary Stress:
You can take an elective, pass it, have it not interfere with your graduation date, and it can still be pointless. Just because it’s an elective, even if it is an intro class, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Do some research; ask the professor or other students who have taken that class what the workload is like. As with any class, it’s important to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to know your limits. If you’re already taking 18 credit hours of classes, maybe hold off on the elective until you have a lighter semester.
Taking an elective outside your major is a great way to explore something completely new, just make sure you do your research, think it through, and make the most of it.
—————————About the Author
Scott Hawksworth is the CEO of Best Online Universities LLC, and he maintains a variety of websites that focus on connecting students with prospective colleges. Having been in the eLearning and edtech business since 2009, Scott remains convinced that a quality college education is the best way to have a career that is both fulfilling and financially rewarding.