Electives: Tough & Interesting vs. Easy & Boring

Hi, all — we’re back today answering a great question from a fellow named Sandeep who wants to challenge himself with a tough elective outside his major, but he isn’t sure whether that’s kosher. Read on and see whether your advice for Sandeep is the same as mine.

Hello. I have a question for you.

Let’s hear it.

I am an Economics major in my junior year. As such, I have completed many economics and advanced math classes. I am thinking of taking summer classes this summer and have a choice to make. Even though I am an Economics major and taking Economics classes would make sense, I am thinking of taking a history class. This class doesn’t count towards my major but it is an advanced and challenging class about a topic that I am very much interested in.

Got it. So far, it sounds like a pretty strong case for taking the history class. But tell me more.

I am also taking an accounting class. The choice I have to make is between a management class and the history class. I am hesitant to take the management class (it counts as a major elective) because it is too general and many of my friends who took it say it was ridiculously easy. So even though taking this class would help me finish my major requirements much more quickly, I would much rather take a more challenging history class and then take a more challenging economics elective in the fall or next spring.

Sandeep accepts your challenge and will drive his blade through its heart!

I’ll give you some more spelled-out reasoning below, but so far, I see no case for taking the management class. You’ll be bored and you’ll learn next to nothing. Sure, it’s an elective for your major, but like you just said, you can take a different elective later on to fulfill that same requirement — one that’s challenging and that can teach you something useful, unlike the management class (which of course I have no personal knowledge of, but I’m taking your and your friends’ word for it at this point).

I intend to apply to a Computer information systems program for Graduate school which offers internship opportunities as well. The program doesn’t require applicants to major in any particular field and hence I am thinking of taking the history class as at least I would learn something new and interesting as opposed to getting easy credits from the management class.

The case for taking the history class is only getting stronger here. Honestly, though, I don’t think the choice between the history course and the management course will have any bearing on the CIS grad program you get into or the internships you’ll get. Even if the CIS program doesn’t care what your major is, you’ll still want to perform as well as you can in your major, and this particular decision about which summer elective to take won’t affect that.

My question is: is it preferable to take a challenging class in another discipline rather than taking an easy class within my major.

Sure, as long as it doesn’t derail your program of study in any way, which clearly in this case it does not. I know I say this a lot around here, but don’t discount the unique opportunity that college affords you to study the things you enjoy and are interested in. Later on in life, those opportunities won’t be lying at your feet the way they are now.

Essentially, this boils down to the question of how you want to spend your time. You can spend your time going to a class where you’ll be learning something interesting, or you can go to a class where you will NOT be learning something interesting. There are some reasons to take easy electives sometimes — because you’re too loaded down with hard classes to take yet another one, or because you need to graduate soon because your financial aid or scholarships are running out, etc. But none of these are the case for you.

You seem to be sitting in the proverbial catbird seat, actually — you’re doing well in your major, you’re inclined to challenge yourself, your skills are extremely well-rounded (advanced math and history interest aside, your spelling, grammar and punctuation are impeccable, which is rare), and you’ve got the chance to take a class you’ll actually enjoy.

Relax, my man, and take the class. Sounds like you’ve earned it.

Does it offer any credibility about the adaptability and all-rounded skills of a student or should I simply focus taking classes within my major?

Well, I can’t sit here and say that every person who views the classes you’ve taken will immediately give you silent props for stepping out and taking a history elective (although some will). In an academic environment, such as when you’re applying to grad school, they may take note of such things and find it interesting, but it’s unlikely to be a big enough criterion to tip the scales in your favor (seems like they’ll be tipping in your favor anyway, though).

And if we’re talking about even later on when you’re trying to get a job, most employers will never even know what electives you took, because they don’t look at transcripts.

However, none of these is really the point. The point is, you’ve done well in college and in your major, and you’re well on your way to grad school it sounds like, so it’s well within your rights to reward yourself by taking an elective you want to take.

And it’s definitely nice and all that it’s a class that you think will challenge you academically, but to be honest, I’d have given you the same answer even if you’d said you wanted to take Tae Kwan Do or Pilates or tennis. I know college is a serious endeavor, and you gotta work hard, etc., but you also have to make some time for yourself and your interests; that’s important personal development as well.

Thanks in advance for any guidance.


You bet. That’s the sum total of my sage wisdom today. What about you all — what do you think he should do? What would you do?

25 thoughts on “Electives: Tough & Interesting vs. Easy & Boring”

  1. A couple of summers ago I took a few summer classes, none of which helped my major because as a PE major nothing is offered in the summer. I took a Michigan History because I thought it would be more interesting than many others. It was, and I am really glad I took it, in fact because of that I picked up a History minor. I also took a keyboarding class because I thought it would be nice to take an easy elective over the summer rather than two hard classes. Looking back, I wish I had taken something more interesting and worthwhile than the easy class.

    I know the situation is a little different as my easy class didn’t go towards my major. But I think that I would rather take the more challenging classes over the summer when you have more time to spend on them, and then mix the easy ones in with other harder needed classes during the fall/winter semesters. The summer is good time to take the classes that you are interested in but are not required for your major.

  2. Here is my thought, and this is coming from the old goat in the bunch…

    If your planning to work full time this summer, pull the easy course and focus on that “real world” experience. Better to be with mentors in that work environment learning skills that will land you a good job at graduation.

    If your sitting on the beach all summer and hanging out with friends, go for the challenge.

    I am running 6 simlutaneous projects that have me working 10+ hour days and I have burned 4 sick days in the last three weeks to play catch up on classwork. This has not been fun. American Lit professor has mercy and doesn’t know how I am managing to pull quality work earning an A average approaching the mid-way point of the class. The History Professor is aware of my work crisis/situation and I honestly think he is making a concerted effort just to tick me off. I spend 75% of my study time trying to make this professor happy, and no matter what I write he picks a fight and wants me to defend it. At first I thought he was merely challenging my mind, but now he is looking any and every excuse to deduct points from my work.

    Because I am in a critical point on the day job that will make/break my next promotion, this one class has me in a constant state of anxiety that I really don’t need and it is too late to withdraw.

  3. Here’s my thing..
    its Summer.
    Just be careful many students find it entirely hard to focus on school-work in the summer because well it is summer. Your friends are out hanging, its nice out etc finding motivation to do your school work can be difficult. So you’re easy class may be your best bet especially when paired with another class. Unless you think your up for the challenge of a hard course and ready for the things you may miss while studying.
    When it comes to the major or non major..just think. You have your whole life to work after school, so take what you’re interested in while you still can or you may never. =)

  4. I totally agree with you, Josh. If you love, then do it. That’s the whole reason you are in school anyways: to learn more of what you love. =)

  5. It sounds to me like Sandeep should do exactly what he wants to do and take the history class. End of discussion.

  6. Hi Sandeep,

    I’d definately take a look at what you are taking at the same time. Sometimes it is better to take an easy class if you have all other hard classes so you will be less overwhelmed, even if it isn’t that useful, it serves the use of letting you really focus on what you are there for. As far as taking the hard class, I think it really comes down to, “Do you like it enough to decide hours of work every week to it?” and “Can you afford to take another hard class with your other classes?” Ask yourself, “Am I going to regret taking this class when things get the hardest in all of your classes at the same time?” Ah but definately see what all of your options are before deciding on one if you can, sometimes advisors mention other electives that count which normally aren’t listed or are new. Just make sure to check all of the classes out yourself and see if they really qualify for your major, some advisors are misinformed. Your department homepage is a good place to check and you can always show them it is in their own words in writing. Good luck and whatever you choose have fun with it!

  7. I say go for it. Since I took advanced classes in high school, I entered college with 18 credit hours and could have finished my degree in three and a half years. Instead of doing this, however, I chose to add a minor and take a few classes that were unrelated to either my major or my minor. With these added classes, I added a year to the amount of time I would be spending in college, but I feel it was worth it. Don’t go the easy route just because it involves less work and aligns with your major. Take classes that interest you even if they don’t count towards your major. You will be glad you did.

  8. Right on. I’m a PR major but I minored in English literature because I found it interesting, and the case I make to potential employers who question that choice is that I could have stayed close to my major and comfort zone, but I chose to branch out, and keep myself challenged and engaged and thinking in different ways. I think taking electives outside your major keeps you creative, and even if you’re majoring in economics, creativity and independence are two good ‘soft’ skills that employers look for.

  9. I agree that taking something challenging is more more rewarding in this case.

    However, I’ll use my experience as an example of why it’s nice to take an easy elective sometimes.

    Last summer I had a full engineering course load, so I took History of Rock and Roll as my elective. I`m so happy I did too!

    My course load was really technical (all maths, sciences, and programming) so the other course was a great relief. I looked forward to the lectures, and whenever I was tired of studying my engineering courses I just read my music textbook. I actually learned a lot and it`s been invaluable for conversation topics! It was the perfect course for the summer.

    However, a lot of people didn`t do well in the course because they didn`t try. They weren`t interested in the material so they didn`t review or read the text. Some thought it was easy and didn`t bother coming to lectures.

    I ended up acing the course because whenever my dad would pick me up, I`d spend the better part of the two hour drive home telling him everything that happened in the course. Sharing all these stories were reinforcing concepts for me. Teaching someone else is the best of learning concepts for yourself and none of it felt like work because I was so excited about the topic!

    Whether or not they`re considered “academically rigourous”, courses that you`re passionate about will always be more valuable in the longrun. The point is to give yourself opportunities to grow by trying something new!

    Good luck Sandeep! You`ll make the right choice.

  10. I think that he should take the history class because I have just graduated with an interdisciplinary degree and I think that you need to challenge yourself. With this situation the person is not worried as much about meeting requirments for his degree as he is in learning something new. Sure, we all take easy courses at times but that should be reserved for your last semester in your senior year when you are so tired of writing papers and studying for exams. Take it from me, I took easy classes my last semester and am waiting to hear from my graduate school. I took many philosophy classes, not because I had to but because I found them to be interesting. You have to sometimes take classes that you enjoy. If you only study those things in your major, you are missing out on classes and a world of interesting things in college. Sure, we all go in with an idea of what we would like to do when we graduate, but what if you don’t take a class and it could have changed your entire goal. Sometimes you have to face the challenges. Summer school is not as hard or at least I thought it was easier, no mid terms in summer school because the classes are shortened. If a person wants to explore and you can count your credits towards graduation go ahead and explore the humanities. You never know what you will find. For the easy classes were so boring I did poorly because I did not take them seriously. I like a challenge and if I suggest that he takes the class, but don’t over do in the summer or your will burn out. Taking two classes is fine but don’t school yourself to death. Why not get a job or something to put on your resume. Your going to need more than a GPA to get into graduate school.

  11. If you are at all concerned about the challenging history class negatively impacting your gpa, suggest you take it pass/fail. Then you get the fun of the class without the extreme pressure.

  12. Well you said that you would much rather take the more challenging history course so take it. If taking the history course would really satisfy you and you don’t care about finishing up courses for your major quickly, then take the history course. You will eventually finish up your course work for your major, there is no rush. Personally, I would skip the history class and finish up taking the courses that I need for my major first.

  13. Hello. I think you should take the history class, because it will be rewarding to enhance your world perspective. I am in my senior year and decided to take things that are not necessarily related to my major, but found them beneficial in other ways that will help socially and personally with communicating with other people.

  14. Given my experiences (which is now two completed years of college), taking a class outside of your major is very rewarding and relaxing. At the University of Kentucky, we are required to take a certain number of classes in certain field areas as a part of a program called University Studies Program or USP. This said, even though they are “required” to graduate, I have taken several classes outside of my major which were interesting and challenging while taking challenging courses for Mechanical Engineering. In fact, I took a Pilates course one semester to help alleviate stress that I knew I would have while taking calculus 2 and other highly difficult Engineering courses.
    So, my advice is the same as Josh’s here. Take something interesting and outside of your major, you’ll be happy later on in life that you did.
    Good luck Sandeep!

  15. Hi Sandeep,

    Seems like you’re asking a question that we can all give feedback on…however it’s ultimately your choice. You obviously have personal pulls towards History. Maybe you’re even at school with a scholarship, in which case it is always positive to broaden your horizons. However, if you’re like a majority of college students in this economy, I’d pick up a history book, and take the classes I need to graduate sooner. There’s no rule that you can’t be self-taught history and show the world your talented mental capacities in the same way you would have if you took a history elective. Perhaps the history class will help with a grad school so you can show several interests. You have to decide what it is you want people on the outside to know and what’s important to yourself. I’d recommend and pros and cons list. Who knows, maybe in the end you’ll choose to do something impulsive instead of calculated. That’s perfectly ok by the way. It’s your life and you’re the one who needs to decide what you want to make of it. Good luck!

  16. Hi Sandeep.

    I am a fourth year BSc in Nursing student. For one of the general electives, I had to take for my degree, I enrolled in Children’s Literature. Not because I was looking for an easy course. But because I wanted something different then another nursing course. I had already taken a health and wellness in first nations communities elective and a understanding addictions elective. I had a lot of fun in children’s lit. I got to meet some great friends from outside of my program. It was a great decision.

    Now, with all that being said. I am going to echo what Jennifer May 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm said. If you are planning on working during the summer. I would go for an easier elective and focus on working. While classroom studies can be very rewarding – they are no match for real world experience.

    However, I also do not think there is a “right” or “correct” choice in this situation. I feel you should go to where you are passionate. If you have a passion for the history course, then you will find it worth-while. If you have a passion for the summer job – then you will find it worth-while. Go in the direction of your passion and you will make the best choice for you.

    Happy Trails.

  17. Ok, here is my outlook on it. If the class doesn’t help your major/minor why take it now. If you are bored this summer try getting a job to fill in those extra hours. If you already have a job, try to get more hours in. This will help you later on when you graduate to not have so many student loans to pay back. If this history class had anything to do with accounting, say the European Monarchy Financial structure of the 1800’s I would sure why not. But if you don’t need the class why take a seat in it that some other student may need for their major and now can’t get. This is just my opinion I know, but this has been happening to me. I can’t get into classes I need because people who “want to see what”…”is all about” have taken up the seats that those of us majoring in that field can’t get. If you want to take a History class, try just watching the History channel. Good Luck with your descision whatever it may be.

  18. Curtis Gilbert

    Hi Sandeep,
    I am a Junior, obtaining my BS in Psychology. I have taken an education and history courses that are not required for my major and I enjoyed them a great deal (electives). Besides the fact that I love history, I would pursue what interests you, no matter if it’s easy or hard – do what you think is enjoyable. If you have subjects you’ve taken that are unique and different than what’s required for your major/degree plan – that will stand out.

    I Wish you the best!

  19. I would take the History class. I believe that a student should avoid burnout, therefore, it does not hurt to throw in a “fun” class every now-and-then.

  20. I think that the history class should be taken. I think the more you learn, the more better off you will be. Plus, it gives you a chance to break up the monotony of taking classes mainly in one subject. Taking the class might be helpful to you someday, like for example, if you are in a trivia challenge or if you were to become a news anchor later in life, to help provide the viewers with perspective on a story. I have a somewhat similar situation. I am currently pursuing an associate’s degree in health information management, but when I go to a four-year school, I will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology. Because of that situation, some of the classes I have taken or will take will not be useful for me or transfer to my four-year school, even though both schools are public colleges in the same state and all of the public, non-technical schools are part of the same system, which ensures transferability of courses, on account of the fact that few schools offer the classes, and the school I will transfer to is not one of them, but regardless, I am glad for the knowledge that I will or have learned.

  21. Having graduated in Education, where work on the job means constantly demonstrating knowledge in diverse topics and subject areas, I say take mostly interesting hard courses. Then the next summer pick up some volunteer work or an internship which impress employers more than GPAs and transcripts. Jennifer had a lot of good points.

    PS Jennifer: Re: “If your sitting on the beach all summer…”
    The “your” you used has “our” in it. If you say a sentence and “our” can be substituted and still make sense, use this “your”. The word you should have been typing is “you are” which is used only in informal writing and is spelled “you’re”. Have a good speller/student proofread your work before submitting it to the history prof. As losing your job at this point is a non-option I hope that you are taping and replaying lectures and will ace the final exam. And reread all that Josh has to say about employers and GPAs. He’ll tell you that the lessons learned by having had a job are more important to emploers than the marks.

  22. Brittany Roberts

    I would take the history class!

    Sure, we are all going to college to learn skills, so we can get a degree, which will in turn get us more job opportunities with better pay. But I think many times students miss out on the self-discovery part of the college experience! I take every opportunity to expand my knowledge and challenge myself!

    Besides, history can be applicable to economics! What was valuable to a certain group of people in a certain time period (currency)? What did people do to make their businesses thrive before the introduction of marketing, media and worldwide communication? What are the conditions that provide for a thriving or hurting economic climate? How do peoples’ attitudes affect (or get affected) by the economic climate?

    Ok, so that may be a mix of several disciplines – but they’re interesting research questions, aren’t they? =)

    And by the way – who says you have to take this class to learn about history?! You can buy books on history – heck, you don’t even have to buy them, you can go to a library. Or just look up certain figures and/or time periods on the internet! We live in a global age, my friend! Of course, taking the class with others would be a great opportunity for discussion and networking (depending on the classroom setup).

    Best of luck to you in your decision!

  23. Go for it challenges are part of life and to me history is an interesting subject. It will to have an impact on your major indirectly or directly as economics to has some element of history good choice for the summer class.

  24. As an economics student you should consider the marginal benefit of taking the easy class that completes your major faster or the harder class that you enjoy. Also note that some classes are really easy for some people and very difficult for others. My recommendation would be to take the easy class and more work hours as they will put you on a better financial course for later, but if you have the rare full ride scholarship(s) then I see no harm in taking a challenging course so long as you know it won’t affect your delicate scholarship situation. Boredom in a class is your worst enemy for maintaining a good GPA as you will be more inclined to ignore the class.

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