As millions of college students return to school, they will be confronted with the dizzying prospect of selecting classes. For some, the choices will be limited, but there are always a couple of electives. Instead of telling you what I would recommend, I contacted some of my go-to resources, to learn what they thought every college student should take. All of them are seasoned professionals from diverse backgrounds and are ages 40-70.
A physician told me that her growth in college came “not only from the classroom, but from being on my own, in the time before my parents could be at my fingertips with a smart phone. I learned how to take care of myself, figure out how to solve my own problems, find my way around physically and emotionally. I learned that I wasn’t the smartest or the best or the most qualified because I was surrounded by students that were my equal or perhaps were even sharper or more motivated than I was.” After pressing her on a specific class, this science whiz surprised me and said, “my creative writing class was an important way of forcing myself to be self aware.”
Three people from three vastly different fields (television producer, lobbyist and hedge funds) all said that classes where you have to read, write and think critically (i.e. English, History) would serve students well. As one noted, “If you can’t write an email, document, power-point, social media post or signage correctly and with proper spelling, you’re DONE!”
One former-corporate finance professional turned non-profit strategist went beyond the general “learn how to write” advice. She said college students need to “hone the basic ‘three paragraph’ essay,” rather than master the 20 page research paper, replete with “a endless narrative thesis to support/prove your notion. While the process of researching is certainly beneficial, in today’s world of limited attention spans, I have found that it is more important to communicate your ideas in 300 words or less.”
A marketing executive said every college student “should take an Introduction to Psychology course. It's critical to have insight and empathy for others, whether they're customers or colleagues.” Separately, a tech pro thought that her background in neuroscience, which taught her “how our brains work, has had endless benefits for understanding my own health, learning, and capabilities.” It also may help you differentiate yourself when robots, algorithms or artificial intelligence enter your field and eliminate various jobs.
Many suggested a class in public speaking or even better, improvisation, which “can help you think on your feet” and better prepare you for life, “the ultimate improvisation.”
I know that at this point, you might be thinking, “What about the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) stuff?" Almost to a person, regardless of field, most said that a basic understanding of accounting was imperative. So many people I meet are ‘numbers’ phobic. It’s not ok - you have to understand the basics to even make personal financial decisions. One lawyer turned entrepreneur said, “Although I hated it at the time, my accounting class has turned out to be critical in the day to day management of my business.”
Others chimed in with statistics (“relevant in so many professional areas: business, social sciences, hard sciences or any market research driven pursuit”), economics or behavioral economics and coding.
Finally, a number of my friends recommend playing sports (intramural counts too!), being part of the student newspaper or government and in general, being as social as possible. “Teamwork and a network of relationships are two of the most important things you can take away from college.”