Ah, college-course enrollment season. So many options. A recent perusal through my alma mater’s course catalog revealed tantalizing options: the history of philosophy I: pre-Socratics to Augustine; the literary history of atrocity; the games people play: psychology of strategic decision-making, to name a few.
As of late, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should have traded all those psych and English lectures for machine learning, digital media and microbiology — courses that can provide in-demand skills and a wealth of knowledge that employers seek for new hires.
“A structured academic approach to learning a new skill or introducing yourself to a new domain is one of the best ways to understand how you want to progress in your career,” said Joe Flanagan, senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, a career matchmaking company that connects jobs to candidates worldwide.
“Colleges are the perfect junction to absorb as much knowledge as you can, without having to tunnel-vision yourself about goals, salary or milestones. What you study in detail can help bolster your chances of success in the future significantly.”
Here, experts weigh in on key classes to add to your enrollment roster. And if you’re a mid-career professional, you may want to consider auditing these courses to get a leg up in the workplace or job market. Plato may not conquer all, but programming sure does.
Computer science: Introduction to programming
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, you should take a coding course.
“Just because you’re not working in computer science doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from this course,” said Grant Aldrich, founder and CEO of Online Degrees.
“Understanding the principles of programming allows you to better converse with the actual developers and better understand what you’re looking at underneath the user interface. Computer science is all about logic; you can improve your thinking skills simply by gaining an understanding of the skill.”
Social media has created a world in which everyone can essentially be their own brand. Getting the formal lay of the land can be a big boon to your potential career, even if you just want to convert your TikTok followers into silky-haired gummy vitamin purchasers. (OK, please don’t do that.)
“Understanding the fundamentals of how marketing, promotion and branding work goes a long way in establishing a thriving career, making the most of opportunities and creating a personal brand,” said Flanagan. “Working professionals can testify to the fact that promoting oneself is essential to succeeding in the business world and getting the hang of marketing is the perfect starting point for the same.”
Yes, you should learn Photoshop, too.
“Having specific design expertise sets candidates apart as design skills are needed for content creation, all digital and print communication and marketing channels, and both external and internal communications,” said Amanda Ponzar, a communications executive and hiring manager at CHCimpact.org. “This valuable skill is always needed.”
Intro to statistics
This past year we’ve seen the importance of statistics and balancing risk come into our everyday lives. Do yourself and your future a favor and take a stats class.
“[We] are inundated with data. We see percentages on food items, bar graphs on the news and data tables in doctors’ offices,” said Lindsey Wander, founder and CEO of WorldWise Tutoring. “Not only does understanding the implications of statistics give you a better understanding of how our world operates, but it requires you to explore beyond the surface to form more informed conclusions. Employers want to know that you are not quick to just blindly accept information, and that you are not easily fooled by information presented in a certain way.”
She also noted that learning about statistics helps students build upon essential skills such as inquiry, analysis and deduction.
Much like the famed Yale “Happiness” course, this curriculum is all about improving your life, with a focus on getting unstuck, decision-making, unlocking your creativity, building a better future and more. A popular class taught at Stanford, it’s now been translated into a book and online course.
“This is the No. 1 course I recommend to any college student,” said Joyce Bao, a purpose strategist and career transformation coach who hosts the “Permission to Become” podcast. She suggests this course to people of all ages, whether you’re a college grad, in career transition or someone wanting to find more balance in life.
“What I love about this class is how it distilled the key design principles, such as curiosity, bias toward action and embracing failures into practical tools,” she said.
“Anyone without prior design experience can design their own lives. By prototyping multiple paths before committing to a particular path, the process presents the possibilities for an effervescent life.”
So it’s not a course per se, but valuable advice for the future workforce nonetheless.
“Go long and deep in any subject that relates to [your chosen] career,” said Baron Christopher Hanson, owner of RedBaronUSA, a niche recruiting firm. “For example, don’t just take accounting 101 and think you’re done. Take forensic accounting 201, corporate financial reporting 301 and advanced valuation and strategy 401 to master being able to detect fraud, answer to boards of directors or be able to sell a company.”
Why? Employers want to hire students committed to their educational track. Course selection offers evidence of how devotedly a student will apply themselves. If you can, try to take these courses in a row.
“What I look for as a career coach and hiring manager are the students who took finance I, II and III; Chinese I, II and III; business law I, II and III, etc. Students who just skate by and take the bare minimum are immediately at a disadvantage.”
“Regardless of the career the student wants to pursue, the most important thing they can study is English,” said Bruce Hurwitz, Ph.D., president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “Without being able to communicate well orally and in writing, they will not advance in their career, not to mention secure a job offer.”
“This was one of the most valuable courses I took in college,” said Bao. “It’s important to learn the basics of saving, investing, credit cards and taxes in order to be set up for financial stability and independence in real life.”