One of my favorite things to do with the blog is to be able to answer frequently asked questions, squash widely-held myths on subject and spotlight ordinary people doing remarkable things.

Last week, we looked at the theory and inherent value of general education courses. Today, we consider another requirement to earn your accredited online degree: Electives.

When I was in college, many of my friends viewed elective courses as “blow-off classes” only to realize that they still involved participation and homework. Don’t be fooled, music appreciation doesn’t mean you just get to listen to Pandora and get an A.

Before we begin looking at these online college courses more in depth, let’s establish a baseline to make sure we’re all on the same page.

What are electives?

American collegiate degrees differ from European college degrees. Degrees earned in American college and universities generally include three categories of courses: required general education, required courses for specific majors and electives, which allow students some latitude of choice.

At Grantham, you have program electives and general electives. That is, you’ll have the freedom to choose a variety of courses that are directly related to your major and others that aren’t necessarily tied to your focus.

Why do they matter?

  • Electives can help you create a niche for yourself. When you’re better able to focus your skills, it makes you more competitive in the job search. I was a communications major in college. My dad told me that wasn’t enough. He said, “People won’t just pay you to talk. What are you going to be the best at talking about?”
  • Electives can be used to balance your class schedule. I can’t tell you how many times my friends ended up in a random course because it “sorta fit their schedule.” With 100% online college classes, you don’t have to worry about that. You have an advantage with electives. You can choose to take course built around a topic you enjoy to help balance your workload when you have to take more challenging, higher level courses.
  • Electives help expose  you to subjects you might not otherwise encounter. Earlier this year, we introduced you to Mark Smith, a Grantham alum, veteran service member and art history adjunct instructor. He made a case for taking art electives. Smith recounted the escape these courses provided while he was guarding war-torn countries.

How should you choose your electives?

The University Catalog provides a holistic view of all the programs, procedures and courses offered at Grantham. Dr. Margareta Smith Knopik, dean of Grantham’s school of arts and sciences, suggests looking for courses that don’t list any prerequisites.

She remembers what it was like to be a working mother and trying to find classes to fit her schedule. While she acknowledges that students in online degree programs don’t necessarily have to worry about fit, they should consider how their courses balance one another.

Smith Knopik cautions students in thinking electives don’t come with their fair share of work. “Easy isn’t a quantifiable term,” she said. “Choosing courses that you are interested in means that they [the courses] might provide a bit of breathing room. There will likely be less time spent preparing and researching and more time spent reading and discussing.”

It goes back to what we talked about last National Cheese Pizza Day. Electives really are the toppings that transform a degree program from a plain ole cheese pie to a one-of-a-kind experience!

Not sure that online is right for you? Check out answers to some of the most frequently asked questions and a comprehensive list of the pros and pitfalls some encounter. What are you waiting for?

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