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A Guide to Choosing Electives in High School

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As you build your course schedule, some classes are a given. Most students have to take the core subjects of language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, and many choose to include a foreign language. However, choosing classes beyond these central courses may prove a daunting task, especially when there are many options from which to choose. Deciding what electives are best for you and your high school courseload can feel like a difficult undertaking. In this blog post, we’ll go over the ins and outs of high school electives in order to help you decide what’s right for you.


What’s the difference between an elective and another class?

To start, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of what an elective course actually is. To put it simply, electives are any classes that aren’t one of the “core” subjects. The core classes, as we mentioned above, are language arts/English, math, science, foreign language, and social studies/history. Most classes within those fields wouldn’t be considered an elective. For instance, both Honors English and AP English Literature are core classes, and generally wouldn’t be considered electives.


Electives provide an opportunity for students to pursue more specialized interests outside the core, and explore a variety of different academic pursuits. For instance, students may be able to further pursue the arts by taking an elective course in photography, ceramics, or drama. Similarly, a student may be able to explore their passion for writing from a different angle by enrolling in a journalism or creative writing class. Electives are a way to either try something completely new, or to further develop an interest.


Should I take elective if it isn’t weighted?

Although there are many benefits to enrolling in an elective course, one reason students may be wary of doing so is that electives are typically not weighted—that is, on a 4.0 scale, an A in an elective is typically worth 4 points, rather than the 4.5 or 5 points that honors, AP, and IB classes are sometimes worth. Thus, choosing to take an elective class may adversely impact a student’s GPA or class rank.


However, not all electives are unweighted. For instance, the College Board offers a number of weighted Advanced Placement elective classes, including AP Art History, AP Music Theory, AP Studio Art: 2-D Design, AP Studio Art: 3-D Design, and AP Studio Art: Drawing. These courses are generally weighted by high schools, and still allow students to pursue co curricular interests and add an exciting dimension to their high school courseload.


Additionally, GPA and class rank should not be the only factors you consider when developing your class schedule. Focusing solely on these considerations when choosing classes can take a lot of the joy out of school, and prevent you from pursuing true interests. You should note that college admissions officers consider the context of your GPA/class rank when evaluating this component of your application. If the reason your GPA is slightly lower than it could’ve been is because you took classes you were genuinely passionate about and enjoyed, colleges are unlikely to hold it against you in the admissions process.

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How can I choose which electives to take?

Now that you know a little more about what electives are, you may be wondering which you should to choose to enroll in. If you are specialized in a certain academic region, or have a particular passion for a specific field, one option is to take electives that supplement that interest.


For instance, if you are passionate about history, you may opt to take AP Art History. This can help you more fully round out your knowledge of history, and deepen your understanding of a specific niche in the field. AP Art History provides a more specialized curriculum than, say, AP World History, and choosing to take this class can demonstrate to colleges just how interested you are in the subject.


You can also choose to take additional academic classes as electives. For example, if your high school requires that all seniors take economics, you can choose to also take a government class in order to get a more rounded understanding of government and fiscal policy. This method can be especially effective if you are interested in the broader field of social studies, and take economics alongside with government allows you to more thoroughly explore the different facets of social studies as a discipline.


Additionally, you can also take electives that provide you with a break from an otherwise rigorous schedule, to pursue interests you otherwise wouldn’t. Even if you don’t plan to pursue a career as a dancer, taking a dance a dance class in high school can be an enjoyable and enriching experience nonetheless. This option is particularly suited to students in freshmen and sophomore years, as taking these kinds of electives early on can help students discover a new interests that may continue to pursue.


Which looks better, an elective or an academic class?

When faced with the decision of enrolling in either an elective course or an academic class, there are a couple considerations to keep in mind. This decision largely depends on a student’s specific career goals, interests, and skills.


For example, taking an art class may seem frivolous to someone who plans on pursuing a major in biology. However, such a class would be extremely important for someone planning on a visual arts major to take. Indeed, college admissions officers would likely take pause if such a student had a course load completely devoid of arts classes.


As a general rule of thumb, you should always take all the core classes during your four years in high school. After all, many colleges have requirements for admission regarding how many years of core classes you must complete in order to be eligible for admission, and taking four years of these classes prepares you to meet such requirements.


However, beyond your core classes, you should otherwise explore different interests and try to find a subject field you are potentially passionate about. High school is a great time to try new things, and you should try to take advantage of the exciting opportunities for exploration afforded by high school electives.


We hope that this blog post has helped you determine what courses are right for you. Want more information on how to build a strong high school course load? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.