Your guide to general education and elective courses

Written by Deea Deb

Hey Lions! If you are wondering what general education and elective courses are, you’ve come to the right place. We know selecting these courses can sometimes be overwhelming, so we’re here to help! 

General education (gen. ed.) courses

These are foundational courses in Humanities (HUMA), Social Science (SOSC) and Natural Science (NATS) that can help you develop strong writing, research and presentation skills. All students must take these courses to complete their degrees at York.  

Ideally, students will complete gen. ed. courses in their first and second year; however, you can also take them in upper years of study. 

Certain programs may have Faculty-specific or even program-specific gen. ed. requirements. Usually, the guidelines for enrolling in these courses will be mentioned in your program checklist. If you don’t have a program checklist, connect with your Faculty’s academic advising office

The easiest way to find the courses you are eligible to take is by logging in to York’s course website with your Passport York account and selecting “General Education Courses” from the left sidebar.  


Electives are a great way to explore interests outside of your program.  

The number of electives you’ll need to take is program-specific. Check out the Academic Calendar and/or speak with an academic advisor in your Faculty about what counts as an elective.  

You will find all course offerings on the course website, and it’s also a great idea to speak with fellow students, a faculty member or an academic advisor to discuss possible elective courses.  

If you need help narrowing down your options, try picking courses that will provide the skills you need to succeed, e.g. writing, research, business skills, presentation skills etc. 

You can also take your electives at one of York’s partner universities outside of Canada! This is called an academic exchange. Check out York International’s Go Global website to learn more.  

How I approach gen. ed and elective courses

I approach gen. ed. and elective courses in two ways: 

Take courses that are totally different from your majors and minors in a field that you are passionate about.

For example, I love learning about astronomy. So, I took NATS 1745 6.00 History of Astronomy for my NATS requirement. 

I did the same thing for electives, and I loved it! Here are some recommendations: 

  • AP/HUMA 1780 6.00 Stories in Diverse Media  
  • AP/HIST 3135 3.00 Spectacle and Society in Ancient Rome 
  • AP/HUMA 3908 3.00 The Arts and the Law of Copyright 

Take courses that supplement your majors and minors.

I am an English and Professional Writing major and took HUMA 1170 9.00 The Modern Age: Shapers and Definers, which beautifully supplemented EN 1001 3.00, An Introduction to Literary Study and EN 1002 3.00 Intertextualities (two of my major courses). 

For my SOSC requirement, I took WRIT 1703 Writing Process: Invention, Originality and Ethics (no longer available). This course really complemented WRIT 2004 Writing in Digital Cultures, which is one of my Professional Writing major courses. 

Keep an eye out for courses with prerequisites, which require you to take specific courses first. You may be unable to take those if you haven’t completed the prerequisites. 

Whichever approach you choose, make sure that you select courses that you will enjoy – the grades that you receive in these courses go toward your overall degree scores!  

If you are taking a course that you are not enjoying, remember that you can drop it and take something else. Check the course add/drop deadlines and refund tables before adding or dropping courses.