How To Pick Optional Modules At University?

Some degrees allow you to pick optional modules as a part of your degree, and these are brilliant for students for various reasons. However, some students struggle to figure out how to pick them or are nervous about taking the freedom that they can provide you with. Therefore, the point of this blog post is to help you understand what they are, why they’re great and how to pick optional modules. This is going to be great fun!

What Are Optional Modules?

In your degree, you will always have compulsory modules that will form the backbone of your degree. Sometimes however, the core modules do not make up your entire required credits for the year, meaning that the course will allow you to make up the remaining number of credits by taking optional modules. For example, in my first year of university, my compulsory modules took up nearly all of my credits, but left room for one extra module, so I needed to take one optional module to make up my credits. On the other hand, some years in your degree you might not have any optional modules.

This is especially true if your degree needs to be accredited (approved) by a professional body. For example, in psychology, our accrediting body requires us to be taught certain topics so we have a large breadth and depth of understanding. Now, most of this compulsory teaching happens in second year so I didn’t have any optional modules that year.

All in all, optional modules are modules you get to choose what the topic is and then you take these on top of your compulsory modules.

Why Are Optional Modules Great?

Sometimes I think optional modules are better than compulsory ones, because optional modules give you the ability to explore whatever you want and they allow you to tailor your degree to your interests to some extent. For example, my degree is psychology with clinical psychology (mental health), so my degree naturally skews in one direction because I wanted the more specialised undergraduate degree.

However, this meant I couldn’t explore beyond that too much. Yet, optional modules allowed me to explore forensic psychology as part of my degree because I was really interested in that, but my degree didn’t explicitly allow exploration of that.

How To Pick Them?

Building upon the last section, we’re now moving onto the area that puzzles or confuses a lot of students because they either don’t want to take advantage of the freedom that optional modules give you or they don’t know how to. What I mean by freedom in terms of optional modules is simple: within reason you can pick any optional module you want from any topic, subject or degree. I will mention that there isn’t complete freedom because some modules are prerequisites and other modules will clash with your compulsory ones, so you can’t take them. But you will find plenty of modules that you can pick.

Leading us to the question: how do you pick them?

I really think this all comes down to you as a person and what you want from university. So, for the sake of ease, I’m going to tell you my ways of thinking about optional modules. 

Firstly, you could just pick other topics within your degree that you find interesting. This is what almost everyone does and I did this in my first year, as I chose forensic psychology. Not only is this a great way to explore your degree subject in more depth and expand your knowledge, but you might find a new passionate area for yourself in the process. That happened to me with forensic psychology.

Secondly, you would use university and its education to explore passionate areas or interests you have that have nothing to do with your degree. For instance, I work as a Student Ambassador, and my mentor used optional modules to customise her degree into a philosophy degree. Therefore, whilst philosophy had nothing to do with her “actual” degree, she still took advantage of these modules to explore an interest she had.

You can do the same if you want.

For me, I have seriously looked into accounting, tax, company law and some other modules at university but the only modules I have found that match what I want are either for first years (not third years) or they have prerequisites that I don’t have. Then again, I have found an optional module that is akin to Entertainment Law that a person I have a working relationship with in America is doing at the moment. Therefore, I might try that in addition to the other psychology optional modules I’ll be choosing.

The point of this section is to say, at the end of the day, it is your degree and you need to do what is right for you. But you should always properly explore your options.


As I mentioned in the paragraph above, you need to do what is right for you. You might hate the idea of exploring topics outside of your degree, that’s fine. It might excite you to explore things outside of your degree subject, that’s fine too. For me, it feels right to explore certain topics outside of psychology, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

If anything, the entire point of this blog post has been awareness. Awareness is critical in all aspects of life, but especially when it comes to university so we can make the most of this time in our lives.

I still think optional modules are great, and whatever optional modules you decide on picking I hope you have fun and enjoy them.

Just remember, to make the most of your university time in both the social and learning aspects.

Connor Whiteley
Connor Whiteley

Psychology Student, Podcaster, Author