When you first arrive at college, your initial thought might be to choose the easiest classes you can get an A in or fun classes that won’t bore you to death. As you become an upperclassman, you start to realize that you need to be taking classes that will prepare you for the workplace.
I’d hope every university offers some version of the 5 class types I’ll suggest below.
These 5 suggestions assume that you are a student in a school of business and classes such as accounting, finance, and marketing are already part of your core curriculum.
With that assumption, I won’t recommend those classes, but they are imperative to take.
When choosing classes, you want to get the best bang for your buck in tuition and you want to take classes that can teach you skills you will commonly use in the search for a job and during the job itself.
You want to become a marketable candidate and someone who has the capability to have a positive impact on a firm.
These 5 classes to take in college for your career in business will do that.
1. Business and Professional Communication
Class names can vary between one college and another but look for the curriculum and coursework each class intends to teach on.
A class in business and professional communication goes over topics such as:
- Writing business emails
- Applying for internships and jobs
- Writing cover letters
- Public speaking
- Interviewing skills
- Creating resumes
- Delivering bad news
In my personal opinion, taking a class on business and professional communication is the most useful class you can take for your career. These classes teach you real skills that have a direct impact on your career, especially at the start of it.
Learning how to write resumes, cover letters, and interview for positions is essential in landing those first few internships and full-time positions. You can be an accounting whiz that has the potential to succeed at a Big 4 accounting firm, but you need to get into that firm first.
Without professional skills for submitting applications and interviewing, your accounting skills will never be utilized if you can’t get hired.
Another major focus of this class is public speaking. Everyone knows how public speaking is one of the most feared things to do.
When I first enrolled in a communications class, I had a huge fear of public speaking. It was a self-induced fear that I could not suppress. I knew it was a skill that I needed to have and that I had to take that class to overcome my fear. I’m glad I did. I wrote about overcoming the fear of public speaking at this link here.
In these classes, you learn how to…
- Speak effectively,
- Deliver great presentations,
- Become a captivating storyteller
Classes will usually record all your speeches so you can see your body language and hear your voice. This form of feedback is great for improving because you do not pick up on certain things you say or do while speaking.
Maybe you say “um” a lot or maybe you sway back and forth while you talk. Seeing and hearing a recording of yourself will reveal these things to you and allow you to correct the problem.
2. Microsoft Office Programs
Whether this is part of your mandatory coursework or offered as an elective, try to take any class that teaches you about the Microsoft Office products, mainly including Word, Excel, and Access.
In the workplace, you’ll be working in these three programs for the majority of your day, primarily in Excel if you are in finance or accounting. It’s important to build skills in Excel sooner than later. Going into an internship or your first full-time position with experience in Microsoft Office products will allow you to come in, add value, and get noticed within the firm.
The value in these classes come from two areas:
- Learning the features and functionalities of each program
- Learning to work with speed and efficiency
For me personally, learning to work with speed and efficiency in Word, Excel and Access had the greatest impact for me in the workplace. Learning shortcut keys or “hot keys” will enable you to quickly navigate these programs and increase the speed that you complete tasks.
Once you arrive in the workplace, speed and efficiency are just as important as the work you are being speedy and efficient with.
Your knowledge on how to build an income statement is important, but if you are tasked to build one, format it, summarize it, and send it off to management, you’ll need speed to complete that and get it turned in on time.
So if your university offers a class on Microsoft Office products or at least a class on Excel, I highly recommend you take it.
3. Financial Modeling
Financial modeling is a core skill for business students majoring in finance and accounting. It is a must-have for careers in investment banking and corporate finance. Firms expect incoming graduates to be well-versed in building financial models.
I took a financial modeling elective during my senior year and I am so grateful that I did. I would not have been able to succeed in my first full-time position without it.
Financial modeling is sort of like another class teaching you Excel, but obviously focused on building financial models.
Modeling classes will walk you through the various types of financial models including:
- Construction of financial statements
- Leveraged buyouts
- Stock portfolio construction
- And more as well
The exercises and projects you will work on are nearly real-life examples and expose you to what the real world will be like once you graduate.
Financial modeling combines what you’ve learned in your finance and accounting classes with your Excel skills to solve problems.
If I hadn’t taken this elective in college, my first few weeks into my first job would have been a panic.
I was dropped into some big projects within a hedge fund fresh out of school and was expected to deliver. Due to the small amount of employees in the fund, there was no formal financial modeling training given to me.
The fund manager just expected me to know how to do what he asked. Thankfully, the skills and knowledge I took from my financial modeling classes made the transition much easier.
4. Human Behavior in Organizations
This type of class is related to psychology, but specific to the behavior of people in organizations.
Take a psychology class as well, but a class more specific on behavior in organizations will give you insight on how things work in an organization like a business.
Some of the topics covered in a class like this include:
- Values and attitudes
- What motivates employees
- Individual differences and emotion
- Social perception and diversity
- Groups and teams
- Communication in the digital world
- Conflict and negotiation
These topics are important to be aware of in order to succeed and rise up in an organization through promotions.
You need to be able to work well with others and know what to do when adversity and conflict arise. You need to know how to deal with the different types of people you encounter in a company and how to deal with differences in personality and values.
At some point in your career, you’ll likely manage a team, and knowing what motivates employees and how to communicate to them will be key for effective leadership.
I found this class intriguing and extremely useful.
Once I entered the workplace after graduation, I had an idea of how I needed to behave and what actions I needed to take to fit in and not step on any toes or cross any boundaries.
5. Writing and Grammar
Finally, a class on a writing and grammar should be on your list of classes to take. If you are anything like I was, you might have disliked writing in school. I hated it and now it’s ironic that I run a blog that requires me to write every day.
Writing and grammar are essential for a career in business because you end up writing every day in scenarios including:
- Business emails
- Pitch emails
- Customer/Client service
Take these classes to learn the basics of effective writing. Proper writing and grammar will help you present yourself in the best way possible to your reader.
You may be articulate in conversation with someone in person, but if your writing skills are poor, someone’s perception of you could be inaccurate if they can only judge you off of an email you wrote with poor composition and grammar and spelling mistakes.
The best way to practice writing is to actually write. Taking a writing class will help you do this.
As you grow through your college career, you’ll realize that there are certain classes you should take that would benefit your career. Move towards those classes and the ones we walked through in this blog post.
You want to take advantage of your college credits and professors and enroll in classes that will teach you skills that you will actually use in your everyday work life.
Knowledge and experience in communications, professional skills, software programs, psychology, and financial modeling are certainly applicable for a career in business.
They will get you your first job, get you promoted, and remain useful to you throughout your career.