What is an Elective Class in High School?

teens gathered around laptop sitting on campus fountain

There are few things in high school academics that students truly get excited about, right? Sure, you have some students who absolutely love to learn, but you also have others who tolerate class, and some as well who are just there to check a box. 

Most of this stems from the fact that students must take certain courses and are pretty much required to complete their high school careers in a way that both satisfies graduation requirements and those requirements of the colleges they hope to soon find themselves attending. 

So when something like the word “elective” comes up, all eyes get a little wider, and brains start buzzing with an excitement perhaps never felt in connection with school. 

What is an elective class in high school?

An elective is a course outside of a school’s core curriculum that a student can select to take by personal choice. This is opposed to a required course that a student must take in order to graduate. To clarify, electives as a whole are also required for graduation, but the specific course under that elective umbrella can vary. 

Why take an elective?

Aside from being required, an elective course allows students to select coursework in an area of interest. Meaning, while many might not see themselves using much math or science throughout their lives or within their future careers, an elective course might check that box and can at least offer the opportunity for students to discover a passion, or learn that a previous passion isn’t right for them in the long run. 

Benefits of elective courses

As mentioned above, one benefit of an elective course is that it offers the opportunity for students to expand knowledge into new and different areas. 

Demonstrate Interest

Electives can help students show an interest in a particular topic area like STEM for example. Beyond that, some colleges might really want to see a number of classes in a particular area, and while amazing academic records are great, those “scores” might be brought down if there isn’t any relevant demonstrated interest. 

Build a Network

In addition, an elective course can also be a way for students to connect with new peers, and like-minded peers at that. It makes sense, right? Give students the opportunity to choose a course of their liking, and there is a high-probability that students start to easily connect with others who did the same based on their own interests. 

Experience Independence

Another important benefit is that students who crave freedom can now have the opportunity to flex independence and choose a course they actually want to take…and also maybe show their parents and advisors that they can excel in courses they actually want to take, which might be something they’ve been preaching to this point!

Have Fun

Last, let’s not also forget that while students are striving to be the best they can be, an elective can offer a time to “relax” from the stresses of mandatory coursework. An elective can still be rigorous and demanding, but such demands make a unique, positive impact when students are surrounded by a topic they’re interested in. 

What are the different types of elective courses?

Each high school’s available elective courses will vary. So, while this isn’t an exhaustive list and one that certainly won’t apply to every student, they are some ideas to begin thinking about. 

Have your student check with their guidance counselor for available options and to chat through the different pros and cons of the many offerings.

Again, every high school is different, and it would be impossible to list every elective course out there: think of these ideas as starting points to discuss with your child! 

Yearbook

If your child loves photography and thrives through creative projects, yearbook could be the perfect outlet for them. Most high schools offer some sort of yearbook elective, and as visual storytelling evolves to incorporate more digital elements and innovative techniques, they could develop some valuable tech skills along the way. 

Band and orchestra

There is so much involved in pursuing an instrument: working together as a team, mastering new techniques, and (of course) practice, practice, practice. A musical elective will help build a multitude of lifelong skills in perfect harmony. 

Coding

Take it from our 23 years of experience, coding is best learned in a collaborative, encouraging environment. And if your child’s school offers that environment, so much the better! Not only could a coding elective pave the way to AP Computer Science® and many more opportunities to build a valuable repertoire.   

Game dev

Gamers rejoice! If your child’s school offers a game development elective, we highly recommend jumping in feet first. Game designers with multifaceted experience in game art, coding, and everything else that goes into a great video game can see many doors open to them down the road.  

Entrepreneurship, business, and finance

It’s never too early to learn what it takes to launch a business, balance a budget, and all the lessons that go into financial literacy. And yes, kids can be amazing entrepreneurs

Student government

From leadership to activism to community organizing, student government goes beyond planning the prom. If your child is interested in pursuing politics or other leadership-oriented roles, student government is the perfect place to start. 

Home economics

This elective encompasses a multitude of life skills: cooking, nutrition, managing the ins and outs of independent living and much more. Often, this course teaches kids skills they may wish they learned in school, so why not make space in their schedule for those? 

Public speaking 

Ok, so we know that public speaking is one of the most common fears, but kids who are confident and kids who might be nervous can all benefit from a public speaking elective. Plus speech and debate, mock trial, or even model UN can all combine students’ interests in ways that enrich more than one area of study. Consider that a bonus!

Writing

Whether it’s poetry, journalism, screenwriting, or all the above, a love of writing class can go well beyond English class. Encourage your budding author to pursue their passion in a genre that piques their interest, and their creativity and self-expression can really shine. 

Trigonometry and math electives

Subjects like trigonometry or statistics might not be required, but if your student really loves math, why not let them explore more complex equations and real-world applications. And if they’re really eager to show off their skills, they could use a math elective to prepare for a stimulating math competition

Performing arts

Onstage or behind the scenes, the performing arts have so much to offer kids. As they prepare to showcase their work, kids will develop their confidence, collaboration, and planning abilities.

3D printing

When STEM becomes STEAM, amazing things happen! By learning how to use the latest 3D printing software and tools, kids can see engineering in action and learn about the amazing ways 3D printing is changing the world

Get involved & get inspired

The sooner your child gets started, the more opportunities there will be to enrich their high school experience. So, encourage them to jump in their freshman year, if possible, because you never know where one great experience might lead! 

After all, inspiration for future college majors, careers, and other exciting, life-changing experiences don’t just stem from standard high school curriculum. Of course not, right? Cheer on your child as they think outside the box. And if you’re looking for some more inspiration and options, check out these STEM competitions for kids and teens, this guide on how to start a coding club, and these ways to spark a love of STEM.  

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!