When I look back at my college experience, I realize that almost all of the classes directly tied to my major had almost nothing to do with what I ended up doing with my life. Instead, they mostly served to show that I was adaptable and could repeatedly apply basic ideas – which is fine, but it didn’t serve me well on a broader scale.
On the other hand, there were a handful of classes that wound up helping me a lot in my life throughout all of my jobs. I didn’t take some of them as seriously as I should have (if only I had known…) but the skills that I picked up in these classes have come up time and time again. In short, no matter what you’re doing in college, try to fit at least some of these courses into your educational plan.
Here are the five courses that were really helpful to me in adult professional life.
Basic English and composition At the college I attended, all students had to take a two semester sequence on basic written English – something I later discovered was fairly standard. The first semester was grammar, which was rather boring but managed to ingrain some basic tenets of written English into me. The second semester was composition. They were basically a continuation and reinforcement of what I had learned in high school, but I still find them to be a big part of the foundation of my current life success.
Technical writing The part of this class that stuck with me were the repeated exercises we did. We had some piece of technical writing due twice a week, and larger pieces due every other week. This basically forced me to actually practice my technical writing, which has served me over and over again. If you take a technical writing class, don’t bemoan frequent assignments – instead, realize that this repetition is forcing you to learn skills that will serve you forever.
Public speaking The public speaking course that I took was mostly useful in helping me to learn to handle nervousness while speaking in front of others. I learned several little techniques to get over it, and also learned the best tip that anyone has ever given me for life in general: speak slower. If you have to communicate to a room full of people, you’ll lose a lot of them if you talk fast.
Survey of American history “How is this possibly applicable or useful?” you might ask. I found that looking at American history at a college level presented a very clear view of the chain of events that led to modern America and explained the reason behind many things we take for granted: income tax, highways, and the reliance on the federal government, for example. It was very interesting in that the two semester sequence I took was taught in tandem by an individual with a liberal perspective and one with a conservative perspective. If you want to self-educate yourself in the same way, try reading A People’s History of the United States and A Patriot’s History of the United States side by side, though you’ll miss out on the wonderful conversation that a college class can have. The clean view you get of the United States from this will serve you well throughout life.
An applicable foreign language Many college majors require a certain amount of a foreign language. Choose a language that could potentially be of use to you in your life – a heritage language or a language spoken by people that you associate with or may associate with in the future. In the United States, a solid default choice here is Spanish. I chose Latin and, while it was entertaining and actually a bit useful here and there, I would have found either Spanish or French to be much more applicable to my life.
Most colleges make room in the curriculum for these courses; if you have a chance to take them, fit these classes in and don’t blow them off – they will serve you time and time again throughout your life.