Colleges have different policies for when students are allowed to declare their majors, but often it’s not until sophomore year. This gives you plenty of time to take electives, get prerequisite classes out of the way, and explore topics you wouldn’t otherwise consider before you get bogged down in the classes that are required for your major. Depending on what you choose to major in, you may have some time to take elective classes as a junior or senior too.
I like to think that I used my electives well when I was an undergraduate student. I majored in geology, but I took a handful of art history classes, tried my hand at philosophy (can’t say it was my strongest subject), and enjoyed learning about the psychology of gender. Yoga and modern dance gave me a couple of physical education credits and got my blood flowing.
Your school is bound to offer dozens if not hundred of courses that you could take as electives. Here are seven that you should seriously consider:
1. Communication or Public Speaking: Having the skills to communicate effectively, whether you’re talking to one person or leading a board meeting, is crucial, and it’s something that recruiters often look for in new hires. You may have a flawless résumé and an eloquent cover letter, but if you bomb the interview because you’re speaking skills leave something to be desired, chances are you’re walking away without a job offer. Being nervous about, or even afraid of, public speaking is normal. If the idea of giving a 15-minute presentation to a room full of people is downright terrifying, though, a communication class can help you overcome your fear, gain confidence, and clearly articulate your message.
2. History: It’s a cliché, but understanding the past is the key to navigating the future. Any form of history (even art history!) will teach you about events of the past, why they occurred, and how to prevent them (the bad ones) from reoccurring. But it’s not all battles and former presidents; history gives you insight into a culture at a particular time, and from there you can learn how today’s society was formed. Knowing some history may also help you take an active part in conversations about current events. Plus, you'll understand everything that happens when you finally get tickets to see Hamilton.
3. Computer Science: Whether you take a programming class or web design, having computer skills will give your résumé a boost. Employers want to hire tech-savvy individuals who don’t need a Google Docs tutorial and know how to use programs relevant to their line of work. Think about it: If you were hiring someone to run a website, would you rather have someone who is proficient in Microsoft Word or someone who knows a bit of HTML? You don’t have to study to become a coding pro, but taking one or two computer science classes will help you approach problems in new and innovative ways, teach you to troubleshoot without heading straight for Google, and give you a leg up over the competition. The more computer skills, languages, and programs you learn, the stronger your résumé becomes.
4. Personal Finance: If your college offers a personal finance class, it’s worth your time to take it. Chances are, sometime in your future (if not already) you’ll be earning money and living off your income. In a personal finance class, you’ll learn how to write a check, balance a checkbook, and do your taxes. You’ll learn about student loans, bankruptcy, and how to create a budget. Whether or not you end up going into accounting or finance, having some knowledge about personal banking will help you in the future. It may even save you money!
5. Writing or Composition: You don’t have to take a comparative literature class to learn how to write well; an introductory composition or creative writing course is just as useful. Being able to express yourself with written words is crucial for your success in your education and in the workforce. Term papers and assignments need to be well written if you want to get high scores, no matter what class they’re for. After graduation, you may write less than you did in school, but written communication is still used frequently, if not every day. You’ll be writing in your future job regardless of what field you eventually go into, and you’ll need to have decent writing skills to get yourself a job in the first place. Résumés, cover letters, and other application materials all need to be carefully constructed and written in such a way to get you to the point when you’re invited back for an interview. Emails to bosses and subordinates need to be polite and free of mistakes. Letters to your grandmother should be written with real words, not slang. You get what I’m saying.
6. Psychology: Taking a psychology class can give you a lot of insight into the human mind and how people behave. You’ll learn about social awareness, memory, personality, and everyone’s favorite: psychiatric disorders. Aside from the science, psychology also teaches empathy and can up your emotional intelligence—making it easier to respond to stressful interactions. Now you shouldn’t take everything you learn and use it to diagnose all of your friends and family members with various psychiatric illnesses, but do use your knowledge of psychology and human behavior to improve relationships with your family, friends, and professors .
7. Physical Education: Never again will you be able to take step aerobics or yoga for free, so take advantage of free exercise classes while you’re in college! Physical education classes often meet only once or twice a week for an hour, so the time commitment isn’t going to prevent you from doing homework or eating dinner with your friends. Plus, the health benefits that you’ll get by staying active are too many to discuss. Throw in stress relief and the fact that you might earn a credit or two, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a physical education class each semester!