How to pick elective courses

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Advanced course registration opened this past Tuesday morning and I, like many of us, had been feverishly thinking for a week or more about what courses I’d want to fill next year (which is my last year!). I’m the epitome of the indecisive liberal arts student running around like a chicken with her head cut off having switched from a double degree to just my BA and with majors moving between English, Religious Studies, Music Education, Music Theory and ideations of many other majors and self-designing. In my schedule scheming, I’ve run into so many crises of identity and career path as I’ve racked my brain tender and cried myself senseless to figure out what the best decisions for class selection are. If anything, window-shopping for coursework is my ideal of capitalism. 

I’m going to walk through a ton of different thought processes. Some may ring true or feel relatable, some won’t at all. Feel free to browse and walk with me through these different ponderings! The important thing to center your coursework shopping around is what you actually find useful or enriching. For some of us, electives might be an opportunity to make our skillset versatile, or open up new knowledge pathways in our brains. For some of us, the learning aspect is really what’s most valuable; we’re going to college for the knowledge first and foremost. 

Some of us are interested in the most unique group experience you can have, creating lasting memories of camaraderie in provocative classes. You might consider scheming with your close friends about what courses you could have fun taking. Also to think about is the group experience that professors can often create through their particular courses which can promote a passionate environment of creative collaboration. These courses you kind of just have to pick up on through campus discourse and word-of-mouth interactions.  You also might consider if there are particular professors you want to form deeper connections with. This could lead to research positions, tutoring opportunities, or other projects that professors lead with students. 

Another important question that many of us might honestly think about is how much work we honestly want to do. Courses are leveled from 100-600 levels for a reason: lower levels are generally less work as they are entry-level or “gateway” courses for subjects. The reality is that sometimes, we just want a relaxed time with our elective space and that’s okay, even recommended in most cases! 

There are so many things to do with a college experience, for many people investing hours of hard work into extracurriculars, activism, a social life or part-time jobs is what makes the experience meaningful. I beg you not to overload (literally or figuratively) on difficult classes unless this is really what strikes passion in you above all else. The “Lawrence Busy” and famed “Lawrence Stress Olympics” are not your friend or mine.

Especially when thinking about gateway courses, I recommend taking courses of interest outside of your major as early as possible. You’ll never know if a casual interest could bloom into a career path or lifelong passion and taking things as early as possible gives you room to take more coursework if you do spark a new passion. 

Always be on the lookout for courses that both spark interest and fulfill general education or degree requirements! These courses, in my opinion, are the lifeblood of a liberal arts education. A bit cringe, I know, but I try to embrace the spirit of liberal arts even though I do have extremely mixed feelings about it. I recognize that some people come to college and just know what they want to do and don’t need to sift around, but in any case the random requirements we have can make us choose classes with intrigue that intersect with other topics we’d never even consider learning about, but end up loving! 

To circle back around, I think it’s really important to think deeply about what you sincerely want and not what your social anxieties want. Unless it’s going to be crucial for your career, I recommend strongly to go light on your degree makeup. Don’t double degree, major, or minor just for the ego boost or because you think it will look impressive on paper. All any of these signify is that you’ve taken a specific set of classes. The impressiveness of anything written on your degree will, in my opinion, undeniably be superseded by the experiences you gain at college. We all generally take 3 full classes per term, and each class can be impressive on its own and spark new opportunities or be valuable experience. Stressing yourself out and contorting your schedule, potentially missing out on experiences just to write an extra word or two next to “B.A.” is not worth it. 

Take the courses and make the experiences that you will be happy to feel at the core of your person; things you can bring with you in your toolbox everywhere you go. The words on your diploma will come up minimally in your life, but the things you learn and the experiences you make stick with you for a lifetime if you make them count.