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Expert Advice: 6 Classes to Take Before You Graduate

Aug. 19, 2014
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When planning class schedules, college students often prioritize completing major and graduation requirements.

But will those required classes help you land a job?

A 2012 report by Millennial Branding, a consulting firm that focuses on Gen-Y employees, revealed that 69% of managers agree that relevant coursework is important when considering job candidates. Recruiters look for students with applicable and versatile job skills, such as management, research and communication.

Many times, these skills are first introduced in business classes that may be open to students from other majors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, business was the leading college major in 2011, accounting for 21% of all bachelor’s degrees. This popularity surely stems in part from the major’s offerings that develop transferrable job skills that ultimately get students hired.

NerdScholar asked the experts which classes students should take — business or otherwise — to develop real-world job skills. Here’s what they had to say.


1. Project Management

A project management class will develop leadership and organization skills, both of which are necessary for success in the business world. Audrey Murrell, associate dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh, says that “planning, organizing, staffing and controlling projects requires traditional management skills as well as an appreciation of the tools, techniques and practices unique to project management.” A project management class provides hands-on training on how to run a business because it “focuses on project planning, estimating, monitoring and controlling,” adds Murrell. “It also covers topics related to being an effective project leader and managing project teams.”


2. Personal Finance

A personal finance class will benefit both the student and the future employer. Shelby Dickson, director of career services at Kansas Wesleyan University, says that a personal finance course “allows students to become more aware of their lifetime financial goals and how they may best achieve those goals in today’s complex environment.” Personal finance will be especially relevant to the student’s life because “no matter the job that they choose, every student will one day have to manage their finances,” says Dickson. Understanding different aspects of finance, such as budgeting and investing, will also be useful when applying for jobs. As Dickinson says, “employers like to see that students can be trusted and successful in terms of finances.”


3. New Media and Communication

A new media and communication class is recommended because students need to know how to communicate in person and online to succeed in today’s competitive job market. “The No. 1 skill set that employers are looking for is the ability to communicate effectively, efficiently and powerfully,” says Dr. John Zavodny, dean of academic services at Unity College. “But, unlike 30 — or even 10 — years ago, it’s not enough to be able to speak and write clearly. Graduates today need to be able to leverage the tools of social media and mobile computing to reach an audience.” New media will continue to change the way people communicate, and students must adapt to the digital era that is impacting all industries. As Zavodny says, “everyone needs to be media savvy.”


4. Marketing Research

A marketing research class will give students a better understanding of customer behavior in the real world. Marketing research is different from general marketing, in that it emphasizes the decision-making process behind effective marketing. “It provides a common analytical framework and set of tools for students to use in analyzing specialized aspects of marketing principles and strategies in depth,” says Murrell. Aspiring businesspeople need to ask themselves what the most effective way to sell a product is, but there are many factors that determine whether a customer will be attracted to a product in the first place. The gathering, recording and analysis of data in a marketing research class will hone business management and communication skills.


5. Statistics

Even if students aren’t quite sure what they want to pursue professionally, a solid background in statistics will impress many potential employers. “Statistics can be applied in so many fields: biomedical research, business, economics, social sciences, and computer sciences,” says Dr. Luz Claudio, professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Students who take statistics will learn how to collect and analyze numerical data and develop an attention to detail and precision. “If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, but you are proficient in statistics, you can get a job in almost any field,” says Claudio.


6. Globalism, Culture and Diversity

A class on globalism and diversity will prepare students to live and work in an increasingly multicultural world. Yi “Jenny” Zhang, associate dean of administration at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics of California State University Fullerton, says that “as the workforce becomes more diverse and the need to interact with global partners increases, a course on global awareness and cultural diversity will help students prepare for their future work environments.” For business students in particular, Murrell recommends a class on international organizational behavior, saying that it helps “develop an understanding of culture and cross-cultural differences along with an awareness of the key skills needed to interact with, manage and lead effectively in cross-cultural settings.” As society becomes more globalized, a class that educates students about different cultures will encourage respectful and tolerant relationships.

Audrey Murrell is the associate dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Shelby Dickson is the director of career services at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas. 

Dr. John Zavodny is the dean of academic services at Unity College in Unity, Maine. He is also director of the center for environmental arts and humanities and professor of philosophy and humanities. 

Dr. Luz Claudio is a tenured professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, New York. 

Yi “Jenny” Zhang is the associate dean of administration at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics of California State University, Fullerton. 

Classroom photo via Shutterstock.