A college education is meant to prepare you for the real world, but does it? College courses in philosophy, Renaissance literature, and precalculus may be required, but they don’t necessarily arm you with practical skills. Don’t get us wrong. We think Renaissance literature is important. We love the classics. But we also love practical life skills that you’ll actually use. In fact, we think it’s kind of weird that some of these essential college courses aren’t mandatory. We may not all find a practical application for functional polynomials or Kant’s categorical imperative, but every one of us must learn to manage a credit rating, keep a healthy diet, and do basic household repairs. Whether you’re taking online college courses, or earning a degree at a traditional campus, we recommend adding some of these classes to your schedule. They may not be mandatory, but they probably should be.
If you’re seeking out online college courses with an emphasis on practical life skills, start with a look at The Best Online Colleges.
Otherwise, read on to find out which absolutely essential college courses should, in our humble opinion, be mandatory:
How well do you understand the labels on the back of your groceries? Do you know how much riboflavin you need in your weekly diet? How can you limit your sodium intake? What in the world is monosodium glutamate and why should you avoid it?
Adolescent obesity and juvenile diabetes have both grown to epidemic proportions. Poor dietary habits during youth often lead to sedentary lifestyles and poor nutritional decisions among adults. And let’s not forget about the dreaded Freshman 15. (It’s a real thing—we checked!) All of this suggests we could gain a lot from some basic education in nutrition. College offers a great opportunity to learn the facts about nutrition before negative lifestyle habits can become ingrained.
Take a course or two in nutrition so you understand how to read food labels, make smart nutritional decisions, and practice positive, sustainable dietary habits.
Suggested Nutrition Guidance:
- Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics | Eat Right
- Nutrition | CDC
- Food & Nutrition | USDA
If this is a field where you’d actually like to earn a degree, check out The Best Online Bachelor’s in Nutritional Sciences Programs.
2. Automobile Maintenance
High schools typically offer driver’s education. This course is aimed at preparing teenage students to get behind the wheel. As such, it provides instruction on the rules of the road and the actual practice of driving. Both are necessary to pass the written and road tests required to earn one’s license.
However, one major aspect of motorist training is largely overlooked. Outside of the auto-shop elective offered in select schools, few students ever enjoy full instruction on automobile maintenance and repair.
Of course, cars aren’t cheap. Learning how to change your own oil, filters, belts, windshield wipers, and battery could save you a ton of money over the lifetime. And learning how to diagnose your own auto problems is perhaps the best way to avoid being the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic.
Achieve greater self-sufficiency, savings, and safety with a few courses in auto maintenance and keep your own wheels rolling.
Suggested Auto Maintenance Guidance:
- The Basics of Auto Mechanics | LiveAbout
- The Preventive Maintenance You Need to Do On Your Car (and When) | Lifehacker
- When Should You Change Your Oil | Edmunds
- 11 Tips to Save Money on Car Repairs | Finance Superhero
- Auto Repair Basics | Consumer Information
If this is a field where you’d like to earn a degree or certificate, check out The 20 Best Auto Mechanic Schools.
Many liberal arts degree programs require students to take one or two economics classes. In most cases, the focus of these courses is on far-reaching economic theories and ideas. But they may not teach you much about balancing your own day-to-day expenses.
Planning and adhering to a budget can be challenging, but it’s also a critical step toward financial security. And there’s evidence that a majority of college students, if given the chance, would take courses in personal budgeting. According to a survey of students ages 16-18 by investment bank Charles Schwab, 86 percent of respondents said they would rather learn about money management in the classroom than make personal financial blunders in the real world.
Find out if your college or university offers a practical budgeting course and graduate with real-world money-management skills.
Suggested Budgeting Guidance:
- Managing My Money: Online Personal Finance Course | Future Learn
- 15 Practical Budgeting Tips | DaveRamsey.com
- Budgeting | Practical Money Skills
- Budgeting 101 Online Course | St. Louis Fed
- Personal Finance 101: Everything You Need to Know | Udemy
If you’re interested in making a career out of helping others keep a budget, check out Accounting Degrees and 25 Notable Online Programs.
It’s simply better for your health and your wallet to cook meals at home. Considering that food is essential to everyday living and physical survival, we should know how to prepare it!
Unfortunately, not everybody learns how to do this in the comfort of the family kitchen. The proliferation of pre-packaged foods and drive-thru restaurants means that for many, knife skills and plating principles are a distant afterthought. Surely, not everyone is meant to become a chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant, but we should know how to do a bit more than boiling water for ramen.
If your college or university offers access to some basic culinary courses, take advantage of the opportunity. It could result in a healthier lifestyle, lifelong savings, and more than a few top-notch dinner parties.
Suggested Cooking Guidance:
- Learn to Cook Online | The Culinary Cook
- Free: The 4-Hour Chef Audiobook | Mashable
- Learn to Cook | NYT Cooking
- 11 Skills Every Amateur Chef Should Know | MyDomaine
- 25 Skills Every Cook Should Know | BBC Good Food
- How Food Works | HowStuffWorks
If you’re interested in cooking as a professional, check out The 30 Best Culinary Schools.
Establishing credit is an important step as you build financial security and save toward big goals like home ownership. But credit can also be dangerous if you don’t know how to manage it. College is a great time to start learning how to use a credit card, monitor your credit rating, and train yourself to pay your bills in a timely fashion. It’s also a time at which you may be vulnerable to building debt and falling short of your repayment objectives.
The good news, according to current research, is that most college students are actually using credit cards to make smart purchasing decisions, to prepare for unseen financial challenges, and perhaps most importantly, to begin building healthy credit right away. But for a great many other college students, credit cards can be dangerous. Predatory lending companies have a history of vicitmizing college students.
Some business schools offer courses on credit risk and credit management, but these are truly subjects that every student should understand, regardless of your major. If you have an opportunity to take a course that provides a basic understanding of credit, interest rates, and the general credit rating infrastructure, it could be a tremendous benefit to your long-term financial outlook.
Suggested Credit Guidance:
- How Revolving Credit Works | HowStuffWorks
- Credit & Loans: Consumer Information | Federal Trade Commission
- Managing Your Credit Card Account | Money Advice Service
- How to Use a Credit Card Responsibly | Money Under 30
- Using Credit Wisely | Capital One Financial Education
- 50 Personal Finance Tips That Will Change the Way You Think About Money | The Muse
To learn more about building and managing your credit, check out Credit Cards for College Students—9 Things You Should Know.
6. First Aid
It is vital to have practical knowledge of first aid.
You never know where you’ll be — or how far away from first-responders — when emergency strikes. Creating a citizenry with the ability to provide basic and emergency first aid should be a top priority for our schools. From administering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver to treating allergic reactions and stopping profuse bleeding, first-aid techniques can save lives.
If your college or university provides the opportunity for some basic first-aid training, take advantage of this chance to develop some essential life-saving skills.
Suggested First Aid Guidance:
- Learn How to Perform First Aid | Red Cross
- CPR Basics | CPR & First Aid
- First Aid | Mayo Clinic
- First Aid | MedlinePlus
- First Aid Kit Checklist | REI Expert Advice
If you’re interested in a career applying first aid, check out The 50 Best Online Bachelor’s in Nursing Programs.
We know it sounds old-fashioned, but bear with us on this. In a perfect world, home would be the best place for teaching manners. Of course, not everybody learns the proper rules of social order in the home. It may seem like a small matter, but we could perhaps go a great distance to reduce the vitriol in our collective midst if we all learned the parameters of dignity and respect implied by proper etiquette. Indeed, the current tenor of public discourse—and by extension, online discourse—is so harsh and hostile that one wonders if isn’t time to resurrect the concept of the mandatory elementary school etiquette class.
Until that happens, make yourself an ambassador for a more civil type of social engagement by taking a college course on etiquette.
Suggested Etiquette Guidance:
- Proper Etiquette for All Occasions | The Spruce
- 25 Manners Every Kid Should Know by Age Nine | Parents.com
- 27 Etiquette Rules for Our Times | Forbes
- Learning & Practicing Good Manners, Grades K–5 | NEA
- Essential Etiquette for Young Men | The Art of Manliness
- How has the Internet changed rules of etiquette? | HowStuffWorks
If you’re interested in helping improve the general tenor of public discourse, arm yourself with the proper rhetorical knowlege. Check out these 15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Getting Into a Debate.
8. Household Repairs
For all the joys that come with home ownership, the list of headaches — from installing light fixtures to fixing leaky faucets — is never-ending. If you ever aspire to own your own home, you would do well to learn how to manage these headaches.
Your first taste of maintenance and upkeep can be overwhelming. While there are instructional videos all over the web to provide you with remote assistance, this is really the kind of education that is best delivered by an expert. Some repairs demand tools, techniques, and technicalities that truly require guidance. Find that expert guidance in an educational setting. There is measurable financial value in being able to create, construct, and repair with your own two hands, and virtue in knowing which renovations are best left to the professionals.
If you dream of eventual home ownership, consider taking a college course in household repairs.
Suggested Home Repair Guidance:
- Home-Repair Tools: a Primer | HowStuffWorks
- 100 Home Repairs You Can Do Yourself | The Family Handyman
- The Most Common Home Repairs You Can Easily Do Yourself | Lifehacker
- 5 Home Repairs You Really Should Know How to Do Yourself | HowStuffWorks
- 15 Quick DIYHousehold Repairs | Real Simple
- What Are the Most Common Home Repairs? | Quora
If you find that you truly have an aptitude for handywork, check out these Construction and Skilled Trade Careers.
Even the most knowledgeable and educated adults have trouble parsing through the obfuscating language used in the world of insurance. From claims to deductibles to coverage networks, the insurance business is ridden with complexity.
As you enter into personal independence, you may need to begin shopping for various health, car, and renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policies. You should have a basic understanding of policy premiums, your rights as a policyholder, and how to select a plan that covers your basic needs at a cost you can handle. Equally important is knowing how to dispute unfavorable claim settlements, how to defend your rights as a consumer, and how to protect yourself from less-than-reputable insurers.
Find out if your college or university offers courses on insurance, and arm youself with the knowledge to navigate this complex world.
Suggested Insurance Guidance:
- How Car Insurance Works | HowStuffWorks
- 10 Tips to Save on Car Insurance | Consumer Reports
- Cutting Car Insurance Costs | Investopedia
- Homeowner’s Insurance Guide: a Beginner's Overview | Investopedia
- Top 5 Tips for Buying Renters Insurance | SmartAsset
- The Only Guide to Buying Health Insurance You'll Need This Year | Forbes
- The Truth About Life Insurance | DaveRamsey.com
- How Life Insurance Works | HowStuffWorks
If you’re interested in a career providing insurance or helping others navigate its complexities, check out The 30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration Degree Programs.
10. Local Government
How many people can you name in your local government? Who represents you on the town council or school board or in the House of Representatives? How have they voted on the issues that matter to you?
Sure, you know who’s running for president? But what about those who make decisions that effect your everyday life? The old phrase “change begins at home” rings true.
We learn all about the three branches of government, checks and balances, the Electoral College, and George Washington in social studies. But how well do we understand our local government? Take some basic civics courses in college and learn all about the process of applying for a zoning permit, seeking the placement of a new “Stop” sign, or participating in local city council meetings. Gain an intimate understanding of the functions of local government so that you can take an active part in shaping your community.
Suggested Local Government Guidance:
- Lessons on Local Government
- Local Governments | USA.Gov
- Local & State Governments Lesson Plans & Lesson Ideas | BrainPOP Educators
- Local Politics | HowStuffWorks
- What Does a City Council Do? | HowStuffWorks
If you’re interested in serving your local community, state, or beyond, check out The 19 Best Online Bachelor’s in Public Administration Programs.
Apart from joining the debate team, students currently have little opportunity to learn and practice the art of negotiation. More than mere arguing, negotiation is a skill in which cogent logic, artful persuasion, and effective compromise are essential.
Learning how to negotiate isn’t just an important skill for getting a good deal on big-ticket purchases (e.g. houses, cars) or making a case for a salary increase. Negotiation centers on conflict resolution and problem solving, and is a prime platform for delving into creative and critical thinking, for managing personal relationships, and for strengthening professional partnerships. Negotiation is an art that must be taught and practiced in order to be mastered.
Find out if your college or university offers courses in negotiation or conflict resolution, and gain skills that will benefit you wherever your career leads.
Suggested Negotiation Guidance:
- How Negotiation Works | HowStuffWorks
- Talks to help you negotiate | TED Talks
- 10 Tips for Negotiating in 2018 | Brodow
- Negotiation Tactics | Nick Kolenda
- The Art & Science of Negotiation | IMD
If you have an aptitude for boardroom negotiations, check out The 30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree Programs.
12. Social Media Safety
Recent studies from the Pew Research Center show that 71 percent of teens use at least one, if not more, of the following social networks: Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, and Tumblr.
Social media outlets have become ingrained in our lives. This means it is absolutely critical that we learn how to conduct and protect ourselves when using these platforms. Social media allows us to connect, share, and organize, but it also compromises our privacy and serves as a platform for bad actors, those who would use the web for illicit activities like cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, and predatory behavior.
From avoiding social oversharing and preserving your public reputation to protecting your passwords and wireless networks, you must learn how to live safely in a digital world. Take a course on web safety or privacy issues in social media, and learn how to use these platforms wisely.
Suggested Online Safety Guidance:
- 10 Tips to Stay Safe Online | McAfee
- How Mobile Security Works | HowStuffWorks
- 50+ Internet Security Tips & Tricks from Top Experts | Heimdal Security
- 8 Tips to Make Your Passwords as Strong as Possible | Mental Floss
If you’re interested in protecting others from the real dangers lurking in our virtual world, find out What You Can Do With a Cyber Security Degree.
13. Stress Management
Harvard Health Publishing notes that 63% of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by stress in the past year. This is an epidemic of anxiety. As a student, you may not be able to avoid the pressures and practical challenges of a college education, but you can learn how to manage these things more effectively.
Given that school itself is a leading source of stress for students, it seems reasonable to argue that schools should play a central role in helping students manage and cope with that stress. Find out if your college or university offers courses in stress management and learn how to channel your anxiety into positive organizational, time-management, and coping strategies. Gain lifelong skills that will serve you well in your future education and career.
Suggested Stress Management Guidance:
- Stress | HowStuffWorks
- Stress Symptoms, Signs, & Causes: Improving Your Ability to Handle Stress | Help Guide
- What Happens to Your Body When You're Stressed? | Neuroscience News
- Stress: Why does it happen & how can we manage it? | Medical News Today
- 62 Stress Management Techniques & Tips To Prevent A Burnout | Positive Psychology Program
If you’re interested in a career helping others manage their stress more effectively, check out The Best Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Degree Programs.
14. Survival Skills
People usually cite “connecting with nature” as one of their top reasons for enjoying the wilderness. But what happens when something goes wrong in the great outdoors?
You may not decide to burn your social security card and venture into the wilderness for a life of off-the-grid survival but you never know when you might be faced with a natural disaster, a hiking accident, or a situation requiring emergency shelter. Should that day come, be armed with the skills to apply first aid, find safe sources of food and water, construct temporary structures, and navigate without the benefit of technology.
Take courses in wilderness survival and learn how to think quickly, assess your surroundings, and create solutions. Even if you never find youself in a life-threatening situation, you’ll always be the most useful person on a camping trip.
Suggested Survival Skill Guidance:
- The Only 4 Things You Need to Survive in the Wild | Primal Survivor
- Homeless Survival Tips | Survival Life
- How to Survive In The Wild With Nothing | Nature Mentor
- Killer Urban Survival Tips | Survival Sullivan
As long as we’re on the topic of survival, check out Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: The Savvy Student’s Guide.
Admittedly, there are few subjects that students will find less interesting. But a little boredom may be necessary in this case. After all, few adults find taxes enjoyable either, but they still have to be done. Like insurance, this is a subject that almost seems intentionally designed to trip up us common folk.
What do I declare? Where do my taxes go? How do I properly file? Should I take a standard or itemized deduction? What if I’ve earned money from my part-time job, but my parents still claim me as a dependent?
And what happens if I make a mistake?!?
We won’t sugarcoat this one. Making a mistake on your taxes could cost you a ton of money. Learning how to fill out and file basic income tax forms correctly could save you a lot of future money and stress. Everybody has to file taxes every single year. It seems only appropriate that every young student should learn the basic ins and outs of accurate and legal filing.
We know this probably sounds like a tough way to spend a bunch of hours during your college education, but it’ll be worth it when you have the skills to breeze through your taxes every year. If it helps, try to think of it as paying now for hours that you’ll get back in the form of a refund every year going forward.
Suggested Tax Guidance:
- Filing Income Taxes | HowStuffWorks
- Understanding how income taxes work | IRS
- How Income Taxes Work | HowStuffWorks
- Students | IRS
- Tax policy: States with the Highest & Lowest Taxes | USA Today
If you’re interested in a career helping others navigate their taxes, check out Accounting Degrees and 25 Notable Online Programs.
Now that you’ve had a chance to consider some absolutely essential college courses, here are 50 Weird College Classes that probably aren’t at all essential, but could be a whole lot of fun.