Picking optional modules is a key part of any university experience: the right ones will make you fall in love with your subject, and give you a clear path towards success, both academically and as you venture boldly into the modern apocalypse known as the job market. With that said, there are no inherently “wrong” choices, but each choice must be tailored to you, your interests, and plans for the future. To help with this, here are 3 things that help me while deciding which modules to choose:
The first question to ask yourself is “why am I taking this module?”. Do you find the topic fun? Is it a prerequisite for future modules you want to take? Will it help you with concepts from other modules? Does the lecturer have a Wikipedia article about them? All completely valid reasons to take a module. I find what helps me the most is to look at the module overview to get an idea of what it’s about, and then look at a past paper and see if you are interested in seeing what you’ll be able to do by the end. If you read the questions and go “I really couldn’t care less about Jack, Jill, nor the probability that 5 apples land in basket 2” then perhaps the module isn’t for you.
Once you’ve decided that you’re interested in the topic of a certain module, I would recommend asking around to see if you can find someone who’s taking the module currently. Ask them what you think of how it’s taught, what resources are available (lecture notes, textbooks, etc), and how it’s assessed. Sometimes you’ll get different answers: some people love certain lecturers because they teach really well. Other people happen to miss the lectures (tragic I know) and so rely on having well structured notes they can learn from. As such, knowing tactically how much you’ll be missing is also important. How many lectures are there a week? Is it hard enough that I can’t learn it myself in time for my seminars?
Finally, ask your friends what they’re taking. They may be doing things you may never have considered. Importantly, having people you can go to for help on certain harder modules is key to having a healthy academic life. It’s convenient to be able to send a quick message to a friend to help you understand a key concept, and sometimes it really makes a difference as to whether you enjoy a module or wish you dropped out and opened a bakery like you always wanted to when you still had your sanity.
Bonus tip: If you’re feeling like you really know what you want to do in the future it might be worth planning out your whole degree’s modules early on. It will change a lot, but I like being able to see what I’ll be sacrificing if I really want to pick something else up. It helps to label things for what reason you’d like to take them. For example: “fun”, “prerequisite”, “good lecturer”, this way you’ll know what you’re missing out on.