An education is only as good as the effort put into it, so logically the more we take an active role in our education the better it will be. But just as important as academic effort are the skills gained in pursuit of a degree. Many employers today are looking for “T-shaped” candidates; job seekers who have a broad range of knowledge in multiple fields and a depth of knowledge in their main field. Becoming a T-shaped candidate and increasing your competitive edge is as easy as taking a multidisciplinary approach to your education by enrolling in a variety of classes outside of your major.
A very recent study published by The Association Of American Colleges And Universities (AACU) outlines many of the skills and knowledge that make for T-shaped employees and their importance in the job industry. In fact, the study states that 93 percent of employers say critical thinking, clear communication, and the ability to solve complex problems are more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major. Detailed below are eight of the most important interdisciplinary classes you can take and how they are more beneficial than the specialty classes for your major:
1. Interpersonal Communication
The AACU study found that more than 9 out of 10 employers say it is important for new hires to be able to communicate effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Also important is a candidate’s ability to work as part of a team, maintain a professional attitude, and embody ethical judgment and integrity. Interpersonal communication classes teach you how to do all of those things and overcome the pitfalls in communication, such as ambiguous messages and cultural barriers. In addition, you’ll learn about the inner workings of people that have a large impact on our personalities and attitudes toward the world. With that information you’ll be able to understand where individuals are coming from and effectively communicate with all kinds of people in order to achieve goals. Think of this class as a blend of communication, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and leadership courses that teaches you everything from improving your body language to understanding how beliefs are formed and how they effect every action and decision we make. So not only will you be able to collaborate with a culturally diverse team to solve complex problems, you will also be able to lead that team to success despite differences in beliefs and opinions by learning the arts of compromising, negotiation, and effective communication. Definitely a course you will want to take if you plan on pursuing a professional career.
2. Intro to Psychology
Many majors require this course and for a good reason: it teaches you how the mind works. Whether you’re majoring in business or English, you need to know how your market or audience thinks in order to be successful. With a psychology course under your belt you’ll be able to understand people and their behaviors better, which can be used to resolve workplace arguments or even convince your boss to give you that raise. In other words it enhances the skills you gained in interpersonal communication class, which helps you work in teams and communicate effectively– skills that the AACU study says employers find highly valuable. In addition, this class relies fairly heavily on research which prepares you for future college courses and a myriad of careers by sharpening your data analysis and computational thinking skills — which are also highly sought after. And who knows, you may pick up a Jedi mind trick or two.
The AACU study points to analytical reasoning and data interpretation as important skills for potential candidates. Taking a statistics course will improve those skills and help you work with data and numbers better. Nearly every career out there deals with data, charts, and graphs in some fashion so having a basic understanding of statistics is a MUST for any college student — even if you only end up using this knowledge for a couple classes and not for a career. Knowing statistics will also help you decide whether or not to trust an advertisement or a product: If a drug company claimed its medicine was 75 percent effective at treating an illness but had a 10 percent chance of side effects with a standard deviation of 5 percent from a sample size of 50, wouldn’t you be more comfortable buying their medicine if you knew what those numbers meant and how they came up with them? Or, to take a positive spin, how do you think your chances of landing a marketing job will be if you tell employers you can create advertisements that you know are effective by drawing and interpreting data about your target audience’s shopping habits?
Yes, another math oriented course but on the upside this one teaches you about money. The AACU study did not mention financial understanding as a skill that employers are looking for, but it is a skill that everyone should have (especially in this economy). Unless you received a scholarship, by the time you graduate college you’re going to be in debt. Knowing the economy and how to manage your money will be a huge help in the real world and may make it easier for you to get hired at an office. If you plan on investing in anything, taking out a loan, or starting your own business then experience with economics or finance will be necessary…unless you want to go broke or hire an accountant, which often go hand in hand.
5. Creative Writing or Advanced Composition
Written and verbal communication (along with interpersonal communication) are frequently rated among the most sought after skills in employees, and in many cases they are rated higher than skills in data analysis, statistics, or knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math). According to the AACU study, 80 percent of employers say it is important for graduates to have a broad knowledge of the sciences AND the liberal arts regardless of their major — 94 percent say it is important for colleges to offer liberal arts education. Additionally, 74 percent of employers would recommend a liberal arts education to someone they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy, and one of the best ways to receive a liberal arts education is to take writing and literature courses. So it is in your best interest to take additional writing and/or literature courses while you’re in college, and English 101 doesn’t count (sorry!).
Classes like creative writing, advanced composition, intro to rhetoric, and writing with style will help you make your resume’ more attractive to potential employers by teaching you how to write clearly, concisely, and effectively. Knowing which words leap from a page and highlight your abilities in neon lights will also give your resume’ and cover letter a competitive edge amongst thousands of other job applicants. A course like technical writing will help you construct more professional e-mails with less spelling and grammatical errors and will teach you the proper way to write reports and proposals. Intro to rhetoric teaches effective communication, argumentation, and how to motivate all kinds of people to action using a wide variety of techniques. Furthermore, literature classes teach students how to read closely and draw meanings from texts, which enhances analytical reasoning abilities. But the bottom line is once you enter the job market with a college degree you are expected to be able to write well, so you might as well invest some time (and electives) cultivating your writing ability.
6. International Affairs
The world is becoming more and more connected thanks to the internet, social media, and trade relations with other countries. In recent years we have seen a shift from a national economy to a global economy, and most companies, corporations, and employers are ready to do business on a global level. The AACU study found that 55 percent of employers say knowledge about global cultures, histories, values, religions, and social systems are important traits for job seekers to have. Knowledge about international affairs will help out greatly when dealing with a global economy, especially in situations where you have to meet with business partners and executives from other countries. Additionally, understanding the relations between different nations will help you make predictions about the direction businesses, products, and services will take and how a certain country’s history can effect business practices (how would Germany’s history effect it’s relationship with Israel or how will the relations between the U.S. and China effect the global economy and international business?). The corners of the world are coming closer together, which is changing the way we do business and live our everyday lives so a global knowledge will be invaluable in the years to come.
7. Intro to Philosophy
The AACU study cites critical thinking, analytical reasoning, complex problem solving, and innovation as very important traits in the eyes of employers. Philosophy classes foster these traits and challenge students to think logically and use analytical reasoning to solve complex problems. “How can you prove existence is real if perceptions are also present in dreams and hallucinations?” “How can you tell that the barn in the field is a barn and not just a giant painting of a barn?” “What is the difference between knowing something is the case and believing something is the case?” “How do you know that you know something and what can you do to ensure you really do know what you know?” While philosophy sometimes catches a bad rap for overthinking the things we take for granted, becoming accustomed to this type of thinking will enhance your critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and complex problem solving skills. Furthermore, thinking in this way leads to developing creative answers and innovative solutions that can be transferred to everyday work situations (the AACU study found that 94 percent of employers say they give hiring preference to college graduates that are innovative, due to innovation being very important to their company’s success).
For instance, I believe you are reading this because you are interested in taking classes that will help you in the long run, but that may not be the case. Perhaps you are just reading this out of sheer boredom or maybe you already graduated from college and want to see if the classes you took end up on this list. So instead of writing too formally, writing too casually, writing for a high school/college freshman audience, or writing for a college graduate audience, I should blend all of that together and write in a way that appeals to all four demographics while adding in pictures and bits of humor in case you really are just reading this out of boredom. Taking an intro to philosophy, intro to logic, or critical thinking class (or intro to rhetoric, which specializes in this area) will help you make similar decisions based off similar insights, which can then be applied to almost every area of your life: whether you’re trying to prove that your whole life hasn’t just been a hallucination, or if you’re trying to determine if something the media claimed is true or false based on the knowledge you already have and the information you believe the media isn’t giving you.
8. Effective Public Speaking
Without a doubt this is the most important class you can take in college. Period. Regardless of what your degree is or where you want to work you’re going to have to talk to people, which explains why the AACU study found that effective communication skills ranked among the top three skills employers seek in college graduates (the other two being critical thinking and problem solving). Public speaking gives you the confidence to speak in front of a crowd of people and the skills necessary to do so, such as speech construction and proper timing. By the time you’re finished with this class you’ll be comfortable speaking in nearly any situation with nearly anyone about nearly any topic. Furthermore, this class teaches you how to analyze an audience, clarify what you’re saying, and how to persuade or motivate people to do something. Public speaking will aid you with presentations at school or work and it will help you talk to your friends, family, and strangers skillfully. At the very least it will boost your charisma, which in turn can land you a great job and makes networking that much easier.
Are there any classes that should have made the list but didn’t? Share your thoughts below!