How to pick the perfect elective

Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that it’s the one for you


 

Are you looking through all the course listings and feeling completely lost? Korean 101, Ethics 105, Anthropology 201. With all of the options available, it’s easy to find yourself with a serious case of D.E.S.S. — Dysfunctional Elective Selection Syndrome.

Knowing your priorities is the most important aspect of picking electives. An elective has to make it through my personal screening system in order to make the cut. Grades. Interest. Time.

Or: G.I.T.

Last week I enrolled for my next semester at Waterloo. I had to choose three electives. Thanks to G.I.T., I have a filter to help me make selections that are a perfect fit.

My first stage of screening: Grades. Will this course help me get a good mark? For me, this is one of the most important criterion for an elective to have. Yes, I admit it. I choose electives for their GPA-boosting abilities. Something to offset organic chem when it inevitably suffocates me.

So if I find History and Film while trolling for an elective, and find out from birdcourses.com or ratemyprofessors.com that a 90 percent is easily achievable, it goes straight to the top of my list. But it still has two more stages to get through.

Stage two: Interest. Will I find the course interesting and engaging? When I started first year, I underestimated how critical this could be. Four months of lectures about Socrates, Plato and early political movements left me knowing I did not want to take any more political science courses. Ever.

I finally get why it’s important to find the subject matter interesting. My anthropology elective last year was unexpectedly fabulous. I discovered, thanks to a professor who was also an engaging lecturer, that mitochondrial DNA and 10,000 year old neanderthal skeletons are really interesting. In a cool but kinda icky way.

I now know that taking an anthropology course with this professor guarantees me a course that I’ll enjoy. And that really helps you to do better in a course. You can’t help but absorb and retain everything the textbook and professor says.

Pros of History and Film: All I have to do is watch boring old history films.
Cons of History and Film: All I have to do is watch boring old history films.

It won’t matter if a course is being touted as an easy grade if it becomes your post-cram nap hour.

Stage three: Time. The time you have to put into a course. If an elective, for all it’s GPA boosting power, is going to require more time that your core courses, then something is seriously wrong. I’ll get my fill of 24-hours-a-day-studying from my core courses. You don’t want to end up swamped under a course that just doesn’t mesh in the work input/grade output machine. I’m more than willing to put in the work. If I’ll get the mark to show for it.

If I take History and Film, I watch old history movies once a week for three hours.

What’s great about electives is that you have the complete freedom to pick what you study. But you’re also responsible if you end up in a course that you absolutely hate. Knowing what you want from an elective makes choosing one a lot easier. And helps to cut down on course drops later due to complete course loathing. Don’t enroll in Creative Writing if you don’t like writing essays. Period.

So if I take History and Film, I’ll probably get a good mark. If I can stand watching old war movies once a week for three very long hours.

Then again, maybe some things just aren’t worth it.


 

How to pick the perfect elective

  1. Hey Jenny,
    I wish their had been people like you when i was going to school 20 years ago…Great article!

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one suffering at the hands of organic chemistry. It not only dragged my gpa down when I failed, I had to switch from forensics to biology. That turned out well, because I like bio much more than chem. Finding electives is particularly difficult when you attend a small school where it seems your only electives are someone else’s core. I took most of my electives through the other university that offers courses on our campus, and chose ones that I had been interested in when I was in high school, but were not something that was going to get me a job. So far I have taken 2 semesters of latin and a course on ancient greek women, and I’m taking Spanish in september.
    Good luck with your choices!