Elective courses are classes that a student can take which are not specifically required to graduate or to fulfill a degree. They are generally seen as the opposite of core requirements, which are classes that all students must take unless they have special dispensation. Some of the most common electives are those that are chosen from a small list, which relate to a student's major focus but allow for some flexibility. There are also electives that can be taken, which have little to do with a student's major, instead allowing him or her to study a different subject.
The Purpose of Electives
In both college and high school, elective courses give students the chance to take classes outside of a prescribed plan of coursework. This lets students pursue other interests they may have, giving them a more "well-rounded" education. These electives also let students find subjects that might interest them and change the direction they wish to take with their education. A student who takes an elective class in drafting, for example, might discover a love of design and engineering that leads to a career he or she might not otherwise have found.
Some elective courses can be chosen based on the core classes a student focuses on for his or her education. Students majoring in linguistics, for example, are typically required to take a number of core classes. These core classes are those specific courses that every student completing a program has to take. They might include classes on the foundations of language, phonetics, and syntax, as well as an analytical class involving a chosen language.
Electives Tied to a Major
In addition to these core requirements, however, students may be asked to take a set number of elective courses within their major. Students more interested in the hard science of linguistics might focus on classes on neurology and linguistics. Those students more interested in cultural anthropology, however, can take elective courses on social aspects of language, cultural language acquisition, and language extinction. Students choose these classes from a pre-approved list, but they have a choice regarding the area of interest they wish to pursue within their field of study.
There are also elective courses that students can choose from that are not connected to their major focus of study. For example, a student pursuing a degree in English might have a few classes that can be taken in any other field. This lets students take classes in subjects like art history or religious studies, to better expand their educations.
Electives in High School
At the high school level, the majority of classes taken are generally core requirements. As a result, any degree of specialization a student wants must be achieved through elective courses. Additionally, these electives tend to be much more free form and entertaining than other classes, and may allow students a chance to "play" while being educated. In this sense, elective courses at high school are often seen as a way to give students a bit of a break, while still keeping them engaged.