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The 7 Most Important Classes to Take In College

Somehow you did everything right. After all of the late nights studying Worthless 101 and paper writing for Not Helpful 102, you have some free space in your schedule to take whatever you want! But being the hardworking collegiette™ you are, you don’t want to take any throw-away classes. You’re not in school for the easy A’s. Here are seven classes that are not only fun but can help you down the road as well—no matter what your major is!

Introduction to Statistics

The University of Florida describes Introduction to Statistics as being “graphical and numerical descriptive measures, probability, conditional probability, probability laws, discrete random variables, binomial and normal random variables, sampling distributions, central limit theorem, large and small sample confidence intervals for parameters associated with single population and for comparison of two populations.”

But what does that mean and how can it apply to your life? According to worldwidelearn.com, any professional field that involves doing some research will require knowledge of statistics. This includes many professional vocations from scientists, to financial consultants, even to psychologists. So even though your dream in life does not involve acquiring the title of mathematician, it will nevertheless be useful to have at least a basic understanding of statistics.

Introduction to Psychology

Another course that could be offered as a Gen Ed at your school might be Intro to Psychology. Yale University offers an Intro to Psych classes that is described as “a comprehensive introduction to the study of the human mind.” Don’t worry, this isn’t going to give you “ESPN or something.” Instead you will learn some important lessons about how different people think.

You don’t need a psychology degree to benefit from the advantages that an education in psychology provides. The Psychology Program at the University of Colorado offers a list of the skills you can learn from a psychology course that will be useful in many areas of your life:

  • “understanding of human behavior.”
  • “developing rapport at the group level.”
  • “tolerance for different values and backgrounds.”
  • “writing coherent, well-organized essays.”
  • “collecting, recording, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting data.”
  • “designing and conducting surveys.”
  • “understanding and evaluating research findings.”
  • “using library resources to help solve a problem or answer a question.”

One benefit missing from this list? Being able to psychoanalyze your friends!
Micro and Macro Economics

Caleb McRady, a junior at the University of South Carolina, took both Micro and Macro Economics courses and found them helpful to his overall understanding of today’s economy. “Micro and Macro both gave me a better understanding of America’s market,” Caleb said. “This knowledge will hopefully benefit me later when I’m looking for a job. It can never hurt to have a comprehensive understanding and be able to intellectually converse about national and international economies.”

“Completion of introductory courses in Economics provides individuals with a logical and consistent framework for understanding such basic concepts as inflation, the function of money, and budget deficits,” says the website for the Economics Program at Vassar College. “By providing an introduction to economic analysis, students who take Economics courses are better able to think critically about policy proposals that emerge from Washington and are debated in the mass media. In addition, students gain a working knowledge of how the economy operates and adjusts to changing economic conditions.”

Ever wish you could understand what leaders in Congress are actually arguing about? If you took an Economics class, you probably would.

Basic Design or Art Course

While most schools offer art classes, many students who aren’t in the art major are afraid to take them. Don’t be! Basic art or design classes can help you out down the road or even potentially help you decide to change your major’s focus. Personally I wanted to be a writer and reporter until I got some experience in design. Working with design helped me discover that was where my true passion lay.

James Madison University senior Elizabeth Baugh echoes this sentiment. “I’m currently in a class called History of Design, which encompasses history of graphic design, interior design and architecture,” Baugh said. “I find it to be a nice supplement to my major classes. It has helped cultivate artistic interests of mine, and the professor is the best I’ve had at JMU. It has been incredibly influential on my schooling and life.” 

Introduction to Religion

Religion shapes individuals, societies and culture in general. It would only make sense that having a basic understanding of the numerous religions in the world would be vital to any collegiette™ out there!

Senior Katie Thisdell has found the religion classes she’s taken to be some of the most beneficial to her four years at James Madison University. “Religion classes open you up to many different schools of thoughts that you find in the world, and that I think are essential to understanding other cultures,” Katie said. “After taking the Intro to Religion course, I decided to minor and then actually major in the field just because what you learn is so interesting and will definitely help you, even just in everyday conversations.”

The Department of Religion website at Swarthmore College crystallizes the value of studying religion in today’s society:

“Religious studies enables the development of crucial aptitudes -- critical thinking, communication competence, interpersonal awareness, and intercultural literacy -- necessary for success in a global society.  The aim of liberal education -- healthy, holistic education -- is about gaining wisdom, not the accumulation of knowledge as such.”

Public Speaking or Basic Acting

When interviewing for a job, first impressions are crucial. Being able to carry oneself in a professional manner and speak in a comfortable and intelligent way are important skills to have. According to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) the number one skill that employers are looking for is the ability to communicate. There’s no better way to practice your speaking than in front of a classroom of your peers. This high-pressure situation will help to prepare you for interviewing for your dream job down the road.

eCampusTours.com says that “public speaking courses will help you learn to effectively communicate your knowledge, ideas and concerns. Knowing how to successfully convey your ideas and feelings will be helpful to you both in your professional life and your personal life. To be a valued employee, it’s imperative for you to be a good communicator.”

The same applies to a basic acting class. These don’t have to be just for theatre students. Everyone should have experience with public speaking and what better way to do it than on stage? You’ll get your diva moment and practice communication all while pretending to be someone else!

Basic Research Class

Close to graduating and think you’re done with research forever? Think again. Tons of entry level and even full-time positions require employees to be able to accurately research specific topics. Why not prepare yourself for this and get some help in other classes as well?

Virginia Commonwealth University junior Kathy Northrop took a basic research class her freshman year that has helped her in the years since: “I really enjoyed the class. My professor did everything step by step, starting off with how to come up with a topic that was pertinent to something you were interested in,” Northrop said. “[The professor] talked about the best way to find information for whatever we were researching. Probably in every class I’ve taken I’ve used the skills for researching and paper writing that I learned in that class.” 

Got More Time? Pick a Minor!

“We typically describe minors as ‘electives with a purpose’ because they allow students to identify a set of six to eight courses which involve a specific theme or subject area,” said Mary Morsch, the Associate Director of Career and Academic Planning at James Madison University.

According to Morsch, minors can be used to:

  1. Become more specialized in a topic directly related to a major
  2. Diversify your background by developing an additional area of emphasis and marketable skill
  3. Take something for fun and enjoyment because you always wanted to learn more about a certain subject or because it helps you relieve stress

Whatever you decide, don’t just throw your semester away on Walking 101 or Breathing 102. Pick a class that will help you either in other semesters or in later life.

Mary Morsch, Associate Director, Career and Academic Planning, James Madison University
Elizabeth Baugh, James Madison University, Class of 2011
Caleb McRady, University of South Carolina, Class of 2012

Rachel Dozier is a senior at James Madison University in the School of Media Arts & Design. She currently serves as the Managing Editor for her on-campus newspaper, The Breeze, and last year she started JMU's only student-run magazine, Port&Main, which won first place in the Best Student Magazine category from the Region 2 Society of Professional Journalists. She is interested in design, fashion, film and theatre. In the future she hopes to either be working as an entertainment writer or as a designer with a major fashion magazine.
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