Typical college degree programs include both required and elective courses. Students must typically earn a specified amount of credits to graduate. Each program has a set of program-specific required courses that all students must complete. Elective courses allow students to develop a more customized or focused program to meet their interests.

Required Courses

In degree programs, such as business, education or science, students normally complete several general-education requirements. These are classes that fall within the humanities, sciences, social studies, language and math areas. Additionally, students have required courses specific to their selected programs. For instance, a marketing student probably would have to take classes like principles of marketing, advertising and business-to-business marketing. A liberal arts or general education student would have more required courses in the general-education areas and more flexibility with electives.

Purpose

Colleges require general-education classes for important purposes. The schools want students to get a basic foundation of knowledge, which improves career flexibility and gives students a broader skill set within their fields. Career-specific requirements are necessary to help fine tune a student's education and justify awarding him a particular degree. Additionally, students garner skills and knowledge that meet basic requirements for entry-level positions in their fields.

Elective Course Basics

Elective courses, sometimes referred to as options, allow students more flexibility in picking classes they want. General electives are common in most degree programs. Students may select preferred classes to meet certain credit requirements in the various general categories. Degree programs also commonly offer electives, meaning students select certain classes in their field from a pool of options. For instance, a student may elect to take a market research course to complete a marketing degree elective.

Purpose

General-education electives allow students to pick classes of more interest and to somewhat customize their experience while still getting a broad educational foundation. Major-specific electives allow students to develop sub-specialty areas or to focus on developing skills they plan to use in their careers. A marketing student who opts for research-related classes might seek a marketing or market research career, whereas someone interested in advertising may take classes in ad planning and design.