How to Choose High School Electives

How to Choose High School Electives

Reviewed by: .

High school is such an exciting time in students’ lives, especially if it is their first year in high school. You have more freedom to choose electives and have more options for electives than you did in middle school. However, while it is exciting, all of these options can prove to be daunting, and sometimes you don’t know where to start or which electives are worth taking.

When choosing electives in high school, it is important to pick them based on passion, practicality, and difficulty. High schoolers should pick electives that interest them, but they should also take useful electives. This should be kept in mind while also considering the difficulty of the course.

In this article, we are going to assume that you have at least two class periods open for electives. While this differs between schools, these are the general guidelines that we will follow. You can adapt the tactics to fit with your specific high school schedule.

How to Pick Electives: The Basics

College boards often look at the high school classes you took in your free time. High school electives will give the colleges you apply for an idea of what kind of student you are. While you don’t need to pick your electives based on the major you are planning on going into, choosing electives related to your major will show the admission officers that you are interested in similar college classes.

It is also important to choose electives based on your personal interests. Courses you enjoy will give you a break from the core classes. Everyone has to take English, math, science, and social studies, some students need to have classes that will break that up. Whether it is a “passion elective” or a “practical elective”, you should choose it knowing that it will give you a break in the day from every other class. This will make your schedule easier to handle.

First Strategy: Pick Electives Courses That Interest You

The first kind of electives that you need to include is “passion electives.” Passion electives are classes that you are particularly interested in. “Interested in” means that they are classes that you have a particular passion for, almost like hobbies. Some examples of passion electives are choir, art, P.E., weights, photography, creative writing, and theater.

While passion electives are generally more hobby-like classes, that does not mean that colleges write them off as useless classes. In fact, it is impressive and desirable that you follow your passions in high school because many high school students get too busy to keep up with their other interests.

When picking passion electives, try to choose something that you think you will stick with or a class that has several courses. While you can try new classes and you should try new things during high school, it is especially notable when you keep up with that passion elective for several years in high school, if not all of them. Keeping up with a passion elective shows that you are diligent and tenacious. Colleges really like knowing that you will finish what you started because it shows that you will not mess around looking for a major. Instead, you demonstrate that you will pick something and stick to it.

While all of these aspects of passion electives are important when it comes to applying to colleges, that is not the only reason you should take electives that you are interested in. High school is the time to prepare for college, but it is also the time to figure out what you do and don’t like. You should take electives that you want to take because you want to learn for yourself and for no other reason. Doing this will really help break up a monotonous day of general classes and make you excited to go to school.

Second Strategy: Pick Elective Courses for College Applications

The next category of electives is “practical electives.” Practical electives are classes that you take to learn skills that you can use when you are in college or that will be impressive on college applications. These electives are very impactful to you and your college applications, so it is important to include them when planning out your schedule. Some examples of practical electives are language classes, economics, literature, computer science, and speech and debate.

Practical electives are typically the more serious classes that you can choose to take, but they are not meant to bore you. You should pick practical electives that interest you. Sometimes, practical classes, like language studies, are required by high schools to graduate. Whether they are required or not, you should make a point to add practical electives to your high school schedule.

When deciding which practical electives to take, it is best to consider how much you want to commit to the class. A great idea when picking these kinds of classes is to take at least two years of a foreign language. This can seem tough and like a lot of work, but it will show that you took the time to commit to learning a new language. Colleges love commitment. Learning a foreign language is difficult, so it will also show that you have the patience and study skills necessary to complete those courses.

In other cases, you should take elective courses like economics or computer science. These are typically one class so you don’t have to commit to them, but they really show your dedication to learning useful skills that will help you as a college student in any major.

However, you should find a different practical elective than the ones we mentioned if you think you will really hate the class. Electives are supposed to break up your day, so you shouldn’t pick a class that will just be more grueling work. Pick practical, but personally interesting electives because you are supposed to enjoy the classes that you have control over.

Take Electives’ Difficulty Into Consideration

The final thing to keep in mind when picking electives is the difficulty of the elective. This refers to how difficult the class is, but it also refers to your ability to balance the course with the rest of your schedule. The best way to explain this is to describe how an unbalanced schedule affects your transcripts and your life vs. a balanced schedule.

An unbalanced schedule shows on your transcripts. While you may have taken a bunch of difficult and impressive courses, your grades tend to slide when you take on too much work. This tells colleges that you don’t know how to manage your workload or that you tend to bite off more than you can chew.

A schedule that is too easy shows that all of your classes are simple and easy to get an A in. Unfortunately, this impacts your life outside high school by either giving you no time for work, hobbies, or social events, or you have too much time and waste it doing unproductive activities.

When you have a balanced schedule, your transcripts are much more impressive. They show that you took elective courses that challenged you, but you still made time for what you are passionate about. The challenging courses did not cause your grades to sink, which shows that you know how to manage your time well.

You did not only take passion electives so colleges can see you are serious about your education. In addition to impressive transcripts, your life outside of high school will be more fun because you will have time for extracurriculars, social events, and hobbies, but you won’t have so much time that you waste away these important years.

Figuring out how to balance the difficulty of your schedule is so important. You should never take on more work than you can handle, but you should still challenge yourself. It is up to you to decide what those boundaries are. The skill of balancing your life will benefit you in college because you will have to pick all of your elective courses, and you need to know how much you can handle. Balance your classes and time in high school so that you will be able to enjoy it more.

List of The Most Popular Electives

Figuring out your balance of classes is not something you should spend time worrying about getting perfect. If you don’t know which classes you want to take to fulfill those passion and practical electives, here are some popular ways of doing so. We will assume you have two elective classes that you can take per year.

The Arts Approach

If you are a more artistic person, whether that is in music, visual art, or literature, you can take a blend of electives that will keep you entertained and show colleges your commitment to the arts. To start off, you should pick an art form that you want to take for at least two years, and ideally for all four years. This can be something like taking band for four years, drawing classes for two years, and painting classes for the other two. This art that you are committed to will be your passion class.

For your practical classes, pick foreign language courses to take for at least two years. Many high schools require this anyway, so it is a good idea to include it. Language is still an art, but it is a difficult class that will look impressive. For the other two practical classes, take a personal finance elective such as economics or a marketing class to learn how to make money off of all these arts you are practicing.

The Sciences Approach

For those people that are more geared towards the sciences and excel in math, you will want to take electives that show that you are well-rounded. However, for your passion electives, you should choose those classes that you will enjoy, even if you are not proficient in them. For example, take a music or art class for at least two years to show commitment.

A popular music class is choir because you don’t need to get an instrument, and a popular art class is photography because you do not have to be artistically gifted to excel. You can then experiment with other passion classes like creative writing or journalism.

For practical classes, you may really enjoy your options. To show growth, however, take classes that will get increasingly harder over time. For example, take computer programming and computer science classes or take extra science classes that are harder, like chemistry and anatomy. Additionally, see if you can take honors, AP classes, or international baccalaureate courses to demonstrate that you are looking for a challenge.

High School Electives for Specific Career Choices

Both elective and core courses appear on the high school transcript. This is why it is important to choose the right courses to impress the college board, admission officers and improve your college application.

We have written specific articles on how to choose high school electives for specific career choices: