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Education is important. It opens up opportunities that help you to secure a brighter future. Perhaps the most important part of your academic journey is your college career. In college, what coursework you have to take is mostly decided by the area of study requirements for your degree program, in addition to general education requirements.
You will also have a number of free credits, which you can use to take up any classes you like, whether these are related to your degree or not. Some students use these free credits to pursue their interests, others use them as a way to easily get good grades by taking easy classes with less practical benefits.
In this article, we offer some advice for you to make the best use of your opportunity to personalize your college career.
Types of College Courses
In freshman year and sophomore year, students should focus on completing their area of study and their general education requirements. College students should consider what classes to take as free electives after satisfying their required courses. But, that doesn't mean that they aren't important; when chosen with care, these courses can greatly complement your degree and improve your GPA.
Free electives are courses outside of your required courses and area of study and include any credits that are not needed for your degree program. Different degree programs will require different amounts of credits taken as free electives to complete your degree. When choosing these, you can take almost any course to earn those credits.
Students, even first-year students, should plan for and consider taking these six classes as each of them will help to develop skills and knowledge that will enhance those learned in their required courses and even beyond.
Our Top Picks for College Classes
Physical Education Class
With the ubiquity of online college now, our first choice is a class that likely won't directly complement most of your area of study courses. Instead, it's our first choice because it will provide an important foundation for physical competence, fitness, self-responsibility so that you can be physically active for a lifetime.
Physical education facilitates the development of self-discipline and personal responsibility for health and fitness. Beyond enhancing physical fitness, this class can be an effective outlet for releasing stress and anxiety. By instilling students with a stronger sense of self-worth, PE simultaneously facilitates long-term emotional and mental health to help them become more confident, assertive, independent, and self-controlled.
Computer Science Class
Computer science and programming classes are an excellent way to enhance your skillset, whether for business, entrepreneurship, or making job applications. Even if your major isn't related to information technology or information systems, taking this class can still be highly beneficial. Programming classes will teach you how to think systematically, which is helpful in almost every field.
When you learn how to program, you learn how to be very specific in what you are asking a computer to do. You need to be practice extreme specificity in providing the computer with details and instructions to execute. This class will also ingrain in you the importance of checking your work since one tiny error, even just a misplaced semi-colon or quotation mark, could completely crash your program.
English Composition or Creative Writing Class
These days most businesses get things done by communicating to people without speaking to them. No one in your future company is going to take you seriously if your emails are full of typos. And you're chances of actually landing a job are very low if even your resume is full of grammatical errors.
Writing skills are important - written communication is important - and every time something we write is unclear or difficult to understand, we waste others' time and embarrass ourselves.
Political Science Class
"We live in a society" - political science classes give you a better understanding of society. You'll learn about government, laws, and politics - three things that have remained as central elements of society for pretty much the entirety of human history. You'll also gain a more nuanced understanding of U.S. History and the most politically influential U.S court cases and how these have influenced the development of society.
Taking this class also typically involves learning how to debate, which is another skill that will pretty much always be useful when dealing with other people.
Personal Finance Class
Being able to properly manage personal finances is becoming more and more important. Understanding the costs of retirement, making a down payment for a house, applying for a car loan, addressing substantial amounts of student loan debt load, and making good investments - these are just a few of the many situations that graduating students are going to have to grapple with throughout their lives and future careers.
Rather than waiting until after you've graduated to learn these things by trial and error, consider taking a few college credits in personal finance so you can save yourself the trouble by saving your money.
Public Speaking Class
Public speaking is the #1 most commonly stated fear in the world. Despite this - or maybe because of it - employers consistently say that what they look for most when hiring from among new grads are effective communication skills. We went over this a little bit already in the segment above for classes to improve your writing skills, but just because you can write well doesn't mean you can get away without knowing how to speak effectively.
Of the many things you'll need to do to get through college that you'll probably never have to do again after you graduate, making is probably not among them. So, unless you want to embarrass yourself by speaking at a wedding, an awards ceremony, on live television, or wherever you end up after college, you're should probably take a class in public speaking.
Even if you will only ever need it for a job interview, a public speaking course will improve your ability to effectively and efficiently communicate with your listeners.
Bonus: Foreign Language Classes
If English is your native tongue, you could probably go your whole life without needing to say anything in another language - particularly if you don't plan on visiting another country. But the benefits of knowing how to speak a different language can are more than just "getting by" in a different country.
Being able to speak a foreign language can boost your career; in today's global economy, business-savvy employers who see the trend are prioritizing bilingual and multilingual applicants. After English speakers, the next biggest markets in the U.S. are Spanish and Chinese speakers, so employers will often prefer candidates who can speak English as well as Spanish and/or Chinese to serve all these markets equally.
Advice to High School Students
High school classes are often less technically demanding than college-level classes. But, if you are a high school student preparing to graduate and start your first semester of college, you can still do a lot now to improve your grades and develop your skills.
Talk to your advisor about available high school electives you can take to best improve your chances of college admission. If you plan on taking up a science degree, consider taking extra classes in math. Contact the offices of admission at colleges that interest you about the courses they offer to get a better picture of where you want to take your college career in the future.
Achieving your aspirations and getting into your dream college will be challenging, but you don't have to do it on your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether that involves getting better grades or sending in a stellar college admission essay.
It's never too soon to prepare, and if you're here reading this, you are on the right track.