From the February 2015 issue

Electives 101 for High School Students

Algebra. Earth science. English. Civics.

High school core curriculum classes are intense. And, to teens, they can feel tedious too. They’re often what students dread as they wake up each weekday.

But TV production, film literature or music tech? Now that sounds more palatable.

Electives offer something different. Troy Glasser, a guidance counselor at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms, says these courses are “an opportunity to explore different career paths.” They also expand interests and break up the monotony of a school day. “These are fabulous courses that, when taken after high school, you’ll have to pay for. It is a good time to try it out.”

Options may vary from district to district but typically include “art, marketing, orchestra, metals, auto shop and computer science,” Glasser says. They’re also built into an overarching curriculum; starting as freshmen, students must choose one or two electives each year or on a semester basis.
Picking can be tricky, though. While some students jump at the opportunity, they may not always know what’s a good fit. Parents should make an effort to be active in the process. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Find a balance

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Keep in mind how much coursework will be required. “There are elective courses that are lab courses, where most of the work is done in school,” Glasser says. “There are others that require additional work outside of school.”

If a syllabus is provided, this can act as a solid blueprint. Knowing what’s expected is hugely helpful for managing a student’s time. Glasser adds, “You want to find a balance with your core academics and to make sure workload is manageable.”

Focus on interests

A big question guidance counselors ask when helping students with electives is, basically, “What are you into?”

Kids can use electives to feel out career or college major choices, Glasser says. “If students want to look at business as a possible career choice, you start taking some of those courses. If they are interested in engineering, there are options there, too.”

Electives can be very positive experiences, so students should sign up for courses they want to take. That often ensures they’ll make effort to embrace what’s being taught. It can also encourage kids to get involved with extracurricular activities or apply ideas presented in the classroom outside of school. And those kinds of activities are hugely beneficial to students, both academically and personally.

Know the benefits

Glasser emphasizes that electives do not directly impact how colleges view your application. Instead, he says, colleges often “look more for consistency in extracurricular activities,” such as service groups. Remember: Electives often dovetail with after-school activities.

So, to get the full benefit, Glasser suggests parents and students ask, “How might some of these electives work with potential career choices?” From there, teens should look into clubs or after-school activities that meet their goals for the future – or simply align with something they love. Those are what really help boost a student’s resume and increase the odds of getting into a good college, Glasser says.

Career potential aside, electives let students try a variety of subjects they may not otherwise encounter. Perks can range from discovering a hidden talent to meeting new people – and just becoming a more well-rounded student.

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