Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — am an early admit to the University of Chicago, but I want to be sure and take classes as a freshmen and sophomore that will help me, no matter what my future course of study is.
Since I have not chosen a major, what classes would you suggest I take as a freshman and sophomore? — Undecided Major Google+
Dear Undecided Major — You are wise to start thinking about your academic direction before signing up for classes in the fall.
Your course selection is serious business, and a decision should not be left until you arrive on campus.
Unlike high school, college offers a bewildering array of classes from which to choose, and the course catalog reads like an encyclopedia of world knowledge. Each class sounds exciting and interesting, and it is always tempting to dip into the cookie jar without thinking.
Although college is not all about preparing for a career, you cannot ignore the fact that at the end of four years, you will need to have learned something of substance and certain basic skills that will enhance your marketability, regardless of the field in which you work.
I have compiled a list of four classes I believe are must-haves on your college transcripts.
† The first is an introduction to economics. Wall Street, government, international relations, immigration and poverty in the Third World all affect us as never before. We live in an ever-increasing state of global interconnectivity, and a basic understanding of this relationship can be found studying economics.
† The second is a course in basic statistics.
At Harvard this spring, Statistics 104 has usurped Economics 10 as the most popular course on campus. This is, in part, because statistics is a basic tool used in studying economics.
When asked about the popularity of the class, the professor said the increasing use of statistics in the private sector also drives the enrollment.
A statistics course will stand out on your transcripts and give you a marked advantage when interviewing with a potential employer. Both of you will speak the same language.
Many job interviews require a candidate to use a white board to show competency in statistics when solving a case study.
† My third suggestion is an introductory course in computer science.
We no longer can pretend to be educated people without a basic understanding of computers. At Harvard, enrollment jumped in the intro class from 192 last spring to 240 this semester.
Computers will continue playing important roles in every aspect of intellectual life, regardless of one’s vocation.
† Finally, I recommend a course in sociology. In a sense, sociology ties everything together — much like economics, but with a flair for the historical, and slightly less rigorous analytics.
Academicians still debate whether Karl Marx was a sociologist or an economist. And, although Marx might be less relevant today after the fall of the Soviet Union, one cannot deny his analysis of the French Revolution, which still stands as an important contribution to political and economic history.
And, lest we forget, the People’s Republic of China reveres Marx second only to Mao in its political pantheon.
These classes may prove challenging and are not meant to be taken for an easy A.
If there is such a thing as power in knowledge, I can think of no more important courses to take than the four mentioned here.
Students who want to jump-start their college careers by taking a class by a famous professor will find this an exciting way to learn.
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