By Jonathan Lopes
An undergraduate education is based upon core, major, general education, prerequisite, and/or free elective courses. Based on the program one selected, that individual is provided a curriculum, description of their degree, the type of degree and a listing of the courses, usually with an encouraged order. Most of the courses are required, but some are listed within a subject and you can pick the specific class and some are labeled as “free elective.”
In both college and high school, elective courses give students the opportunity to enroll within classes outside of a set plan. In turn, this permits students to pursue other potential interests they may have, giving more of a possible “well-rounded” formal education. These electives also let students find subjects that might interest them and either change or establish an academic direction they wish to take with their education.
There are elective courses that students can select that are not connected to their major focus of study. For instance, a student pursuing a degree in Math might have a few classes that can be taken in fields ranging from psychology to biology to philosophy. As a result, it enables students to take classes in subjects such as art history or religious studies, to better expand their education.
Examples of important, interesting, and fun elective courses I know from experience and would highly recommend are public speaking, stress management, ethics, leadership skills, fitness and wellness and financial literacy. These courses may not specifically deal with your program of study, but can and will supplement your learning and allow you to get the most bang for your buck.
The importance of a public speaking course allows students to improve and enhance verbal and nonverbal skills, overcoming fear of speaking in front of groups of people and polish abilities to argue, write and debate. Public speaking has transitioned into a highly valued skill and provides individuals a talent and confidence in the process.
Developing financial literacy is criminally undervalued. It entails the ability understand how one manages to earn or make money, the complexity behind currency, investments, checkbooks and budgeting, portfolios, tax forms, identity fraud and services and resources through work. Holistically, it refers to the set of skills and knowledge that individuals learn and possess to make informed and effective financial decisions. A course of this nature may also be labeled “independent living.” Students, including yours truly, either have no idea on how to do or barely have experience in these financial responsibilities. They tend to rely on their parental guardians on a per need basis.
Leadership skills discusses theories and practices involving traits, situational interactions, leadership/social style, power, vision/mission and forms of intelligence. It enables students the opportunity to learn more, but from outside the traditional textbook with an emphasis on individual and team development. In reference to ethics, moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior, rights, value systems, foundations of morality and more are explored. Ethics and leadership skills are the type of courses that students tend to be very proactive, vocal and interested in. Especially when discussing topics within ethics, everyone has an opinion and, as a result, makes for insightful exchanges of discourse.
Fitness and wellness as well as stress management are designed to teach the student the necessary information to improve well-being by adhering to a healthier lifestyle. Student learn how to assess physical fitness and implement a program based on those results that will enhance their fitness levels. Stress reduction, nutrition and weight management, and management of risk factors for major disease tend to be explored to improve overall quality of life. Furthermore, stress management allows one to maintain a journal and take part in yoga, in order to exercise the mind and body.
Free electives allow students to explore various disciplines they might not otherwise have the chance to study. Electives can be used to further expand on your major and/or serve as the ability to expand your educational horizons. As I reflect back, I’m glad I found these topics intriguing and had advisers reinforce my decisions to enroll. Talk to your professors and advisers, individuals with the most knowledge and experience.
Jonathan Lopes is a graduate of Raritan Valley Community College and Ramapo College of New Jersey and current graduate student/graduate assistant at Rider University.