Hawkeye_electivesSince 2008, a focus of higher education has understandably been jobs, jobs, jobs. Providing technical training and marketable skills is a core mission of community colleges, and when the economy is sour, their roles assume critical importance.

But college offers more than just job training. Beyond the program-specific courses in a given major, a college student is required to take about an equal number of general education classes in subjects like math and communications.

Students may also take “elective” classes of their own choosing, rounding out the number of credit hours they need to graduate, which may not be directly related to their degree programs.

These “extra” classes are far from filler material. In fact, electives are among the most important in shaping students’ college experiences and their direction after school.

Exploring options, discovering passion

Some students start college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives, and their studies are shaped around their career goals. But what if you’re unsure of what to major in, or the career path you’re on isn’t working out?

This isn’t unusual. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 80 percent of students change their majors at least once, and on average, college students change their majors at least three times.

This dilemma of self-discovery can tack on years – and thousands of dollars – to the college process.
Self-discovery doesn’t have to become a substantial delay in college completion. Many students remain “undecided” while completing their general education requirements.

An advisor can help determine which area of study best suits your abilities and interests.

Say you already know what you don’t like, but you don’t yet know what suits you well. Maybe you like helping people, but you don’t have the stomach for a profession like nursing or paramedic.

Electives can play a pivotal role in discovering your true calling. Medical care might be too intense, while a course in child development or social work might be the entryway to a fulfilling new career path.

Honing soft skills

Many electives complement program-required courses, or help hone skills that are coveted in the workplace. Speech, writing, foreign languages, business management, and math classes are all directly applicable to most professional fields. Art, music, history, and other humanities classes are no less valuable to developing “the whole person.”

The most frequent complaint managers have about young employees is not that they lack education, but that they need to improve their “soft skills” including the ability to communicate and work well with others. A survey by job site CareerBuilder.com found that 77 percent of employers consider soft skills just as important as the “hard skills” their workforce was trained to perform.

This is exactly where those “extra” classes come in. Electives help to broaden your worldview, hone critical thinking skills, and encourage better communication and collaboration.

Naomi Sheehan

Chart your course

Speak with a Hawkeye Community College Admissions representative about your options. Schedule an appointment by calling 319-296-4000 or stop by the Admissions Office in Hawkeye Center on Hawkeye’s Main Campus, 1501 East Orange Road, Waterloo, Iowa.