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Are “Irrelevent” College Electives Worth the Time and Effort?

By Joseph D’Andrea

For some, the idea of willingly registering for a class outside your comfort zone may not be given the time of day, but just because a course isn’t necessarily in the same vein as one’s major, doesn’t mean it can’t service your skillset in other ways.

Sometimes, going outside the box can lead to even more opportunities. Taking an elective is a risk for some, but can also be surprisingly helpful in many ways.

Throughout high school, you’ve most likely either thought this yourself or heard other students ask “when am I ever going to use this?” dozens of times over. When starting college, another feeling many students have is one of relief for not having to worry about taking, say, an arbitrary algebra course when they’re a journalism major.

Once those gen eds are out of the way, focusing on one’s minor becomes even more important. But even so, even if an elective may not seem “valuable” on its surface, there’s still a good amount that could be learned from pushing your academic safe-spaces.

It’s never a bad thing to compliment your resume with a diverse list of competencies. Even if you’re dead set on your major and what your career will look like once graduating, there are still new perspectives that can be gained from a class that’s not directly related to your area of study.

For some students, they may consider taking an elective related to an already-existing interest of theirs, of which they are not pursuing professionally. In my case, I am a history major, but also very passionate about film. I know from firsthand experience that a lot can be learned from films of different time periods (either made decades ago or a modern period piece), countries, languages, as well as from whoever is behind the camera.

Beyond documentaries, narrative films can also provide a lot of knowledge about a certain era, and can often be as insightful and informative as a traditional primary source found on the shelves of a library. For me, a “History in Film” or “History of Film” class—either of which I hope to take in an upcoming semester—can have the ability to teach me more about context and perspective, which are extremely significant to someone in my field of study.

Another case for students with certain interests is that a student-organized club may not exist for such an interest, so an elective may be able to scratch that itch.

In “Pros and Cons of Taking a ‘Pointless’ Elective,” Stanford University’s Dr. Michael W. Kirst writes: “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.”

Even going beyond becoming friends, there could be a potential colleague in a classroom that I would’ve never imagined myself in, who could teach me about their own, likely different college experience, and fill me in on information about the job scene, internships or anything else that I may have never come across due to being restricted to my “history bubble.” Similarly, you may very well end up in a class with a professor who could give all sorts of advice and open your mind to new topics.

Further, with many students working part-time jobs in addition to the stress that being a full-time student comes with, electives that offer less demanding workloads could relieve some of the pressure that goes along with a 300- or 400-level course. As a result, this can alleviate some anxiety, but also teach you more about whatever it is that interests you in the process.

In order to deepen what you have to offer as both an employee and person as a whole, consider taking one or more electives that may make you aware of something interesting and new to you.

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