By JULIA DUNN
Many students who are particularly focused on their chosen field of study forget that there are other classes out there that could be useful in different ways.
For some history majors, an engineering class may never have crossed their minds as useful or worth their time. Film or digital-media majors may find that they’d like to improve their problem-solving skills through an unexpected route: a chemistry class. Universities offer hundreds of classes in all sorts of topics; why limit yourself to just one field?
Regardless of your proposed or declared major, there are several types of classes that will really benefit you in life:
1. Fundamental Biology
You want to know how the world works, right? Even if you’re a business management/economics major, it’s important for life to have a basic understanding of biology. Knowing only that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell isn’t enough!
Enrolling in the most introductory biology class offered at your university will ideally provide you with useful information about how your body works and how the plants/animals around you function. You don’t have to love cells or be fascinated by photosynthesis (although you should be!) to take a biology class. Learning about living things will help you understand life overall, and knowing basics about science is important to daily life.
Statistics can sound scary to some students, mainly because it’s typically offered under the math department. However, it really has very little to do with math. It’s more of a logic class than a math class, and it’s quite easy — even for those who have an aversion to the idea of math. The course material is nearly entirely based on real-life situations and application questions that make you think about all the statistics you hear in the mainstream media all the time. (You may even start questioning their validity!)
It is critical that students be able to read graphs and understand concepts like percentages and probability because these can apply to any subject. A graph can be used to describe most if not all scenarios that could come up in your field of study, and being able to construct an effective graph can be powerful in certain contexts.
A deductive logic or reasoning class is great for sharpening critical thinking skills. You’ll learn to focus on a particular problem and reason your way through it — a necessary life skill. These classes are usually required of philosophy majors, but a lower-division logic class may satisfy a general education requirement. (Check your university’s class search to find out.)
4. Introduction to Psychology
Even visual arts majors have to deal with other humans from time to time. If you’re an astrophysics major wondering how to understand human behavior, a psychology class may be a great place to gain a better understanding of yourself and those around you. Typically, introductory psychology classes will cover social, personality and cognitive psychology, which provides a useful survey-approach to understanding how humans function emotionally, along with the impact emotions have on behavior.
Students from every major are eventually going to need to work with others, either for group work or in other team-oriented settings, so a basic understanding of psychology could be relevant.
5. Independent Study
Any university position or activity that is related to academics or takes place on campus could give you course units in the form of an “independent study” course. For most student leadership positions associated with independent study credit, students work in exchange for credit units rather than money. This usually entails working for a campus organization or even serving as a course assistant in a classroom under a professor.
All students should at some point hold a position that teaches them leadership and communication skills relevant to any future career. Many such opportunities count as “independent study” along the lines of an internship/supplementary activity to your usual course load.
As far as jobs go, employers like knowing that an applicant took time to explore a few classes outside the scope of their major field.
Many classes like the ones described above teach life skills that you can use to search for a first full-time job, get along with co-workers, and resolve unanticipated problems in the workplace. If you take a class outside your major requirements, you will gain useful information and skills for success in life — and you may even discover a new interest!
Julia Dunn is a Literature and Biology double major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a national columnist for Uloop.
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