by Brian Burnsed

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

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.

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."

Legal Skills Program -- William and Mary Law School

Throughout the two-year program, students are not only taught law, but given the chance to practice it. Students take on simulated cases from genesis to conclusion. Along the way, they receive courtroom technology training and have access to an on-campus courtroom where they try their cases. Participation in the program is required of William and Mary law students. "The program provides students opportunities to learn the skills and professional responsibilities of attorneys," says Suzanne Seurattan, a William and Mary spokesperson. "The skills taught in the program provide our law students with training they would otherwise not receive until they were on the job."

Entrepreneurship Minor -- Villanova University

At Villanova University's Center for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship, students take four courses over a year, helping them earn a minor in entrepreneurship. As the year progresses, students form their own ideas for business ventures and present them to peers. After presentations are made, the class selects the most viable ideas and forms groups that work together to analyze and develop the ideas. Each class has two instructors: a full-time faculty member and an entrepreneur who has found success outside of academia. Occasionally, students are given the option to continue their projects beyond the classes if the business plan is well received by investors during a year-end pitch. "More and more, companies are placing a value on these entrepreneurial talents and it is incumbent on us to help our students differentiate themselves in this regard," says Patrick Maggitti, director of the ICE Center. "[By year's end], all are better prepared to face tough questions and make presentations in a way that tells a compelling story with rock solid support."

Speaking to Lead and Influence -- St. Catherine University

This course, offered at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Minn., is designed to make students -- whatever their career aspirations are -- more comfortable with their office communication skills. While traditional speech classes tend to hone in on public speaking, this course attempts to instill confidence in students across an array of forums -- interviews, in meetings, and group presentations, among others. "We're teaching students how to express what they think in a way that's more effective," says the instructor of the class, Elizabeth Otto. "I defy you to name a job where that's not an important part of the job function."

Leadership, Ethics, Accountability and Professionalism (LEAP) -- Arizona State University W. P. Carey School of Business

Oftentimes seniors or graduate students are privy to interaction with corporate leaders, while freshmen toil away in classes more general in nature. At Arizona State University, however, it's the freshmen who get to work closely with seven of the nation's largest accounting firms. All accounting majors participate in the LEAP class, which Clinical Professor Phil Drake, who oversees the class, says has a two-pronged benefit. First, it allows students early in their college career to get a firm grasp on what accounting is and whether or not it's right for them. He claims the class confirms the choice of majors for some students, while others realize they should go in a different direction. Such a change is more easily accomplished as a freshman than later in college. Additionally, it allows students to establish and maintain relationships with employers that may hire them once their diploma is in hand. "It's a win-win for the students as well as the participating firms," he says. "They get a much deeper understanding of accounting early on."

IT Project Management -- Harrisburg Universityof Science and Technology

Offered on both the graduate and undergraduate level, Harrisburg University's IT project management courses prepare students for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. It's a certification that many can't attain without years of IT experience. A decade ago, such classes didn't exist, but are now a near necessity for IT students looking to find meaningful employment immediately after graduation. Students leave school prepared to start their careers as IT management professionals and enjoy the six-figure salary that typically accompanies the title.

Philanthropy and Social Change -- Georgetown University

This is an undergraduate class designed for students who may want to enter the nonprofit world after they graduate. Georgetown teams with nonprofits, for whom students write grant proposals and eventually dole out $15,000 in grants. Instructors say that students who have taken the class laud it for heightening their grant-writing skills, which employers -- particularly in the Washington, D.C., area -- covet.

Education: College Courses That Will Pay Off at Work

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