Don’t get me wrong – my intention is not to shade anyone, especially those whom I have taken my electives with. I simply want to author a comprehensive guide on how to choose your electives based on my own experience. Below I have included a list of decision factors I wish I had considered before taking certain electives. I hope you find this guide helpful in one form or another, or perhaps find something to look back at and laugh at, agreeing or disagreeing to the points made based on your own elective experience.


1. Satisfying Minor (or Certificate) and degree requirements

The most obvious reason to take a certain elective is to satisfy degree requirements. Elective requirements differ based on discipline, which is why, for example, a third year Chem student won’t have the opportunity to take  the same number of electives as a third year ECE. As you may already know, we can choose a Minor (six courses)  and/or a Certificate (three courses) from a selection of various diverse Minors and Certificates. But how do we know whether a list of potential electives meets degree and Minor/Certificate requirements? For non-ECEs this is where U of T’s Degree Planner, accessible from your Acorn account, comes in. With this incredible tool, you can map out what semester you plan on taking specific courses and see whether degree and Minor/Certificate requirements will be fulfilled by the time you plan on graduating. ECEs can plan their semesters and check degree requirements through Magellan, but for Minors and Certificates you’ll just have to keep count manually.

2. Categories of Electives

There are four different types of electives that you might see on your program requirements, and different courses fulfill each of those requirements. Free electives are the easiest to explain, they’re ‘free’ so any course outside of some very few exceptions can fulfill them. These are the rarest, usually only one for your four years here, so use these wisely. Technical electives are exactly what they sound like. Technical courses cover topics directly related to your discipline, other engineering departments, or even some Arts and Sciences courses that are deemed mathematical/scientific enough. On the other end of the spectrum there are Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) electives, which are meant to give you some more breadth to your degree, and are usually more writing focused. If you search it up, you can find a list of approved HSS courses, and the Engineering Faculty offers a few of its own HSS electives like several TEP courses. There are also Complementary Studies (CS) electives, which all HSS courses also fall under, but there are more courses that count for these if you look it up.

3. Individual vs. Group assignments

While some electives are completely team based, others only mark solo deliverables. I’ve taken a CS elective and a technical elective, and both had group projects. However, I have also taken a technical elective that didn’t have group projects. This depends on your comfort level with group work – some individuals are very comfortable working in groups whereas others may prefer individual projects over group projects.

4. Class size

I have had the chance to take an elective with several lecture sections, while on the other end of the spectrum I’ve also taken an elective with less than twelve undergraduate students. The nice thing about taking a popular elective is knowing others that might be taking the elective – this comes in handy if required to make groups or for discussing course concepts. However, something I found nice about taking a smaller elective is that I was more participative in it than I ever was in a large elective class. This might just be specific to me, but I found participating in smaller classes to be more comfortable than in larger ones, specifically for in-person classes. Another perk – I always had the chance to sit at the front of the class, no matter how late I was running.

5. Course Delivery Method

Of course both online and in-person have their perks and drawbacks, but it’s really up to you on which you prefer. I personally love the idea of physically sitting in a classroom and writing concise notes knowing that even if the lecture were to be recorded, I would probably not rewatch it simply because I’m attending it in person. However, I also like how I don’t need to commute and can watch lectures whenever convenient for me, and that I can replay them if needed. Of course some online courses are also run synchronously via platforms like Zoom, while others operate asynchronously so that might be another thing to double check on the syllabus for those courses.

6. Marking Scheme

These vary greatly elective-to-elective. Some may have two midterms, an assignment, and a final. Others may only have a single midterm, but multiple assignments, and a final. Furthermore, some may not have midterms at all but may have take-home assessments instead. You might want to consider which works best for you when making your elective choices.

7. Offering Time

Now this is something you should definitely consider before choosing an elective. Certain electives are available year-round (i.e. every semester including the summer). Others, on the other hand, are only available once a year. Something else to consider is that courses available year-round often span four months during the Fall and Winter semesters, but only two months during the Summer. They will still cover about the same amount of content even if they are being taught for half the duration; this just means you’ll have longer lectures/more asynchronous videos a week, and less time between assignments/assessments compared to the same elective being offered in the Fall or Winter. A useful tool to determine the semesters in which specific electives are offered is U of T’s CourseFinder. More generally, course codes ending in ‘F’ signify that they are taught in the ‘first’ semester, ‘S’ signifies that they are taught in the ‘second’ semester, and ‘Y’ signifies that they are taught yearlong. Fall/Winter are first/second, but Summer is also divided into two semesters of two months each which are first/second. On the other hand, many summer courses are also offered for the full four months, and are labeled ‘Y’, but taught exactly as they would be Fall/Winter and still only count for that same amount of credits. Additionally, CourseFinder provides the different sections’ exact days and times for courses. Of course if certain electives conflict with your core courses you probably shouldn’t be enrolling in them.

8. Personal Interests

Although I mentioned at the very beginning that degree and Minor/Certificate requirements usually are the underlying reason for choosing specific electives, it is also important to take your own personal interests into account. Even though all the electives I have taken so far have been to satisfy my Minor and Certificate requirements, I still had the flexibility of choosing from a list of electives within those Minors/Certificates – and the electives I chose were very strongly influenced by my personal interest in the course content. I have found myself to do better in a course which I actually enjoy rather than one I don’t enjoy. You’ll have to stick with your elective choice for an entire semester (unless of course you drop the course during the semester) so you should see yourself enjoying it for the duration of the semester. Oftentimes “bird courses” can go poorly if you just don’t care about the content, while you might do exceptional in difficult courses you are passionate about.

9. Career Prospects

This connects with the first point I mentioned as well. Often, students pursue Minors/Certificates based on which field they want to go into after graduation. For instance, if a student wants to work in the Energy sector, the Sustainable Energy Minor might be a Minor they may consider pursuing, as many of the courses offered as part of this Minor directly cover content on the Energy sector. But additionally, many disciplines offer different ‘streams’ of recommended technical electives to take for certain specializations. Or alternatively, you might see a job posting for a position which requires knowledge gained from a certain course, in which case you might want to enroll in that course if you would like to apply to the position.


“But how do I find out this information?”, you might ask. Well, I feel like the best way to learn about an elective is to ask someone who has already taken the elective. If I were asked about my experience with a certain elective by an interested peer, I would try to give them my honest opinion and experience with it, so that they have a clearer idea of what it’s like and whether they should take it. I hope you may find this guide useful and I wish you all the very best with your electives!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *