When it comes to choosing which courses to take each semester, most students rely on brief descriptions in course catalogs and suggestions from student advisers. There are some courses, however, that deserve a better sales pitch.
Even though many classes may be general education requirements or prerequisites, it is still up to the student to decide which courses to take first. Without a big-picture glimpse of how these courses can have a positive impact on the rest of your life, you might miss out.
The following are some course offerings, available at most colleges and universities, that deserve special emphasis. What they teach you will take you much further than just the completion of your degree. If you take these classes seriously, you’ll learn valuable information and ways of thinking that will contribute to your lifelong success in work, society and family.
● Study skills: Working smarter, not harder, is the purpose of this course. You’ll learn how to focus your attention, read, memorize, prepare for tests and take notes more efficiently. In addition, you’ll explore how you learn best, what motivates you, organizational strategies and time management, how to work together in groups, the resources available to you through the school and community and ways to conduct effective online and library research.
Overall, a course in study skills will identify your strengths and weaknesses in managing the details and pressures of daily life and show you how to fill in the gaps.
● Logic/critical thinking: The catalog description of this course may seem vague and uninviting, but learning how to think with analytical and logical tools will give you many an advantage in your school, work and social lives.
Critical thinking will challenge you to look past what you’ve been taught, or assumptions you make, to dig deeper and discover what you truly believe about a given topic, and what others may believe. With logic, you then are able to defend what you believe. You’ll gain essential ammunition to play (and win) the game of life — whether you’re trying to argue a point, defend your credibility, negotiate in a conflict, get others to support you or identify manipulations and lies.
Most importantly for college students, logic and critical thinking will give you the skills to write college-level papers that are substantial and persuasive, especially as you get into harder courses or go on to pursue post-graduate degrees.
● Grammar, spelling and punctuation: Very few of us have learned (or remember) enough grammar, spelling and punctuation to be prepared for college-level grading or to meet business-world standards. Knowing how to word, structure and punctuate what you write may seem tedious, but it’s better than having a smart, well-supported paper get graded down for silly things like word choice or semicolons.
There’s no better place to nail down grammar than college — you’ll have the rest of your life to be confident in your emails, business letters, love letters, memos, white papers, proposals, speeches, blog posts, website content, instructions, marketing fliers and everything else you write.
● English composition: More than just learning how to write papers for college, English comp will teach you how to look more deeply at issues and concepts, read academic papers to gain understanding, research topics in order to support your own perspectives or ideas, organize your thoughts into a well-thought-out discussion or argument and write in a style and structure that is acceptable by academic standards. Combined with logic/critical thinking and grammar, spelling and punctuation, you’ll be well-equipped to write A+ papers.
● Consumer math: Unlike other math classes, which teach math principles that build one on the other for use in careers like accounting and engineering, consumer math teaches the kind of math that every person needs to know to get by in life.
You’ll learn the basics of financial planning, including how interest rates are calculated for financial assets such as bank accounts, credit cards and loans. You’ll be better equipped to negotiate a pay rate, barter for a fair price on a product, keep up with taxes and invest for greater wealth later in life.
More importantly, you’ll learn how numbers play a role in your success at work and home, and you’ll feel more confident communicating with others in financial situations.
● Introduction to humanities: No course of study will teach you more about the human condition than the humanities. In an introductory class, you’ll get an overview of where we’ve come from and who we are now through the eyes of language, literature, philosophy, religion, history and the performing arts.
Having this context will give you a better sense of what being human has meant to others throughout history and what it means to you. You’ll develop an appreciation for all those who have come before you — their sacrifices and contributions.
When you seek to find meaning in your life, or want to have big-picture discussions with friends, family and colleagues, you’ll be glad you got this broad exposure to the humanities. Plus, you’ll be able to impress others through your well-rounded knowledge of human culture and history, and enjoy recognizing the many references to our human journey that come up in the media and arts.
● Art history or mythology: Art has been pivotal throughout human history as a form of expression, communication, religious and spiritual affirmation, political oppression and rebellion, documentation, illustration and decoration. In an art-history course, you learn about many aspects of culture through understanding the development of paintings, sculpture, architecture, furniture design and more.
Mythology is the study of traditional stories, handed down since ancient times. Myths are often used to teach important life lessons. For example, this summer’s movie Prometheus features a starship named after a Greek titan who championed mankind by stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humans, only to be harshly punished for it. Knowing the meaning of this mythological reference makes the movie title instantly more intriguing.
Both art history and mythology give deeper meaning to common references on TV, in movies and books and in common conversations — as well as to your additional college studies. They will inspire in you a deeper appreciation for the rich history, epic struggles and artistic contributions of your fellow humans.
● Introduction to social sciences: Ever wish you could understand or predict human behavior? The social sciences strive to do just that. An introductory class provides an overview of the many fields that make up the social sciences, including political science, economics, international relations, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, law, criminology, geography, history and linguistics.
You’ll learn a great deal in this class about why people do what they do and how it has impacted their lives over time. You’ll gain insight into different cultures, both ancient and modern, and how they have related to each other.
Once you have a deeper understanding of how conflict brings about important social change, you’ll see how seemingly negative events such as economic downturns, war, crime, political battles and disasters are truly opportunities for improving the quality of life for ourselves and others.
● Criminology/criminal justice/deviance: Understanding how we, as a society, define and address crime is an important social science. You’ll learn how and why definitions of crime change over time, as do punishments. You’ll study the impact and prevalence of crime and get an inside look at law enforcement, court systems and forms of punishment or rehabilitation.
Not only will this course help you understand why crime happens, it will prepare you for interactions with the court system, whether they be major or minor (like parking tickets). More importantly, it will challenge you to see crime, criminals and social norms differently.
● Biology/human anatomy/human development: Biology is the study of all living organisms and the ways they relate. An introductory course will give you a wide overview of the many commonalities and differences between humans, animals, insects, reptiles and plants — from their molecules and anatomy to their genetics and development.
In addition to satisfying your curiosity and opening your eyes to the amazing diversity of this planet, biology courses will come in handy whenever you interact with nature.
Human anatomy gets more specific, delving into the systems, processes and relationships within our bodies. Whether you are competing in sports, having a first child or facing an illness, you will be glad to have a solid understanding of anatomy.
Human development takes anatomy and biology one step further, studying how human bodies and minds change over time. You’ll gain insight into early childhood development, adolescent development, middle age and aging.
The more knowledge you have about how humans can and will change physically and mentally over time, the less life events can come as unpleasant surprises. It will make you a more conscious and more informed athlete, patient, parent, child to your parents and aging adult.
Additional courses of special importance include:
● Gender studies, women’s studies, men’s studies, LGBT studies
● Race and ethnic studies
● Disability studies
● Foreign languages
● Public speaking
● Computer-literacy courses, including Microsoft Office
● Applied creativity classes, such as art, photography, creative writing, music, drama
Taking as many of the above courses as possible in college will provide a broader exposure to the many facets of human societies and the world we live in, as well as equipping you with essential, practical knowledge you can begin using right away in school and in life.
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