10 College Courses That Will Pay Off at Work

What courses should you take to get a jump on your professional life? Here are 10 examples.

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Nearly every college student sits through lengthy lectures and carts around mammoth textbooks. Unfortunately, these methods often do little to prepare students for their lives in the working world. Now, many graduate and undergraduate programs are supplementing their meat and potatoes—lecture-driven classes—with some dessert: career-oriented offerings. In these classes, students will shake hands and share ideas with real-world business leaders, find their own ways to isolate proteins in a lab setting, or make closing arguments in a simulated court case. In the increasingly competitive job market, students who take advantage of such offerings can stand apart from their peers. Here are 10 examples of these courses and their potential benefits:

Research Methods in Cell Biology—Eastern Connecticut State University

This course, taught for more than 20 years by Eastern Connecticut Professor Mike Adams, is a six-hour-a-week investment for students, but an investment that Adams maintains yields a tremendous return. Though the initial portion of the class is driven mainly by traditional instruction, Adams eventually asks students to isolate and identify a protein with no help other than what they've assimilated in earlier lessons. "The overall effect is to simulate as closely as possible the feel of working in a research lab, rather than performing set piece exercises found in most lab courses," Adams says. "I know that employers and graduate schools both rank real hands-on experience at or near the top of their requirements. For employers, it can mean having a productive worker from day one, as opposed to tying up a second person who has to train the new employee for weeks or months."

Education to Business Program—Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management

Companies facing real-world business problems come to Pepperdine for consulting assistance. In each of the consulting classes, students are split into groups that work to solve the various problems facing the company. The arrangement is mutually beneficial. Rather than invest in an expensive consulting firm, businesses save money while gaining access to a team of budding consultants. The students, in turn, are asked not to solve theoretical problems, but offer solutions in real time that a company may implement to help improve its bottom line. In the past, students have worked with companies large and small, ranging from corporate giants like Coca-Cola and Cisco to local auto collision shops and software companies.

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HR on the Ground—Temple University's Fox School of Business

While Temple, like Pepperdine, offers a consulting class to M.B.A. candidates that allows them to solve company's problems in real time, it offers a similar option for undergraduates in its business school. Temple formed a partnership with Target that allows undergrads to offer consulting advice to the retail giant after a thorough analysis of store performance. Their analysis is judged not only by their professor, but also by Target executives, who have a say in the students' grades. And the students' interaction with the firm often doesn't end with that final grade. Since the class's inception in 2005, Target has hired 56 former Temple students to work on the corporate level.

Public Relations Writing—University of Houston Jack J. Valenti School of Communication

Classes that offer tips on crafting a press release or media pitch are ubiquitous at communications schools across the country. What's often overlooked, however, are the nuances of being a professional—in any field—that can set a student apart from their competitors in the job market. While the University of Houston class does have PR-focused elements that are specifically useful to communications majors, many other aspects are universally helpful. The instructor, Mike Emery, teaches simple—yet important—nuances of the professional world like E-mail etiquette, letter writing, and the hazards and benefits of utilizing social media. Emery argues these skills are useful, no matter the profession. "While PR brings up images of flashy publicists or press conferences, it's also something that students in any discipline have to employ within the workplace as they represent themselves, their departments, their organizations, and their products," he says. "Likewise, clear writing is essential in managing relationships in and out of the office."