17 College Courses that Should Be Mandatory

by Evan Thompson

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From how to cook a meal to how to choose health insurance, some of the most useful college courses aren't mandatory (yet). Here are some top classes to add next semester.

Should college teach you how to cook an omelet? Pay your taxes? Kick out hackers? We're going out on a limb to say yes.

Mandatory college classes should teach practical, lifelong skills. Giving first aid, maintaining a proper diet, managing a credit rating — you get the idea.

There's nothing wrong with learning about geological processes or classical literature, but a rundown on how to repair your car in a pinch wouldn't hurt either.

If you're seeking online college courses with an emphasis on practical life skills, start with a look at the best online colleges for 2020. Otherwise, read on for subjects that should be taught in school.

true Nutrition

College is a tricky place for maintaining proper nutrition. Studying, making new friends, attending class — it's almost a recipe for a poor diet.

Students can gain a lot from nutrition education. You'll learn how to read food labels, make smart nutritional decisions, and practice positive and sustainable dietary habits. A bonus: steering clear of the dreaded "Freshman 15."

Suggested Nutrition Guidance

If this is a field where you'd like to earn a degree, check out the best online bachelor's in nutritional sciences programs.
true Automobile Maintenance

Cars aren't cheap, and they're even more expensive when you don't know how to maintain and repair them.

Besides the auto shop electives offered in some high schools, few students ever receive full instruction on car maintenance and repair. And shouldn't that be just as important as learning how to drive?

Automobile maintenance classes will teach you about the inner and outer workings of your car, including the oil, filters, belts, windshield wipers, and battery. Learning how to diagnose your auto problems is also a savvy way to avoid being the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic.

Keep your wheels rolling, save money, and practice automobile safety with a few courses in auto maintenance.

Suggested Auto Maintenance Guidance:

If this is a field where you'd like to earn a degree or certificate, check out the 20 best auto mechanic schools.
true Budgeting

Economics classes are great if you plan to end up on Wall Street someday, but they might not teach you how to balance a checkbook.

Maintaining a budget is a critical step toward financial security, and what better time to practice it than in college?

In a survey of more than 1,000 people by personal finance company Credit Karma, 63% of respondents said they would rather learn about money management in the classroom than make financial blunders in the real world.

Find out if your college or university offers a practical budgeting course. Taking one means you'll graduate with practical money-management skills.

Suggested Budgeting Guidance:

If you're interested in making a career out of helping others keep a budget, check out our ranking of 25 notable online accounting programs.
true Cooking

In the age of microwaves, pre-packaged foods, and drive-thru restaurants, it's easy to neglect cooking. However, cooking meals at home is better for both your health and budget.

Unfortunately, not everybody learns how to do this. While you don't have to become a chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant, you should know how to do more than boil water for ramen.

If your college or university offers basic culinary courses, take advantage of that opportunity. It could result in a healthier lifestyle, lifelong savings, and top-notch dinner parties.

Suggested Cooking Guidance:

If you're interested in cooking like a professional, check out the 30 best culinary schools.
true Credit

According to a 2019 report by EverFi, an education technology company, only 51% of college students plan to pay off their credit card bills in full.

Establishing credit is an essential step toward building financial security and becoming a homeowner, but it can also be dangerous if you don't know how to manage it.

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. College is a great time to learn how to use a credit card, monitor your credit rating, and pay your bills in a timely fashion.

Suggested Credit Guidance:

If you want to learn more about financial planning, check out the best online financial planning programs.
true First Aid

You never know where you'll be — or how far away first-responders will be — when an emergency strikes. Having practical knowledge of first aid could make all the difference.

Whether you're administering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, treating allergic reactions, or stopping bleeding, first-aid techniques can save lives. The people around you, including loved ones, will be better off if you know first aid.

If your college or university provides the opportunity for basic first-aid training, take advantage of this chance to develop essential life-saving skills.

Suggested First Aid Guidance:

If you're interested in a career applying first aid, check out the 50 best online bachelor's in nursing programs.
true Etiquette

First impressions are crucial, especially around peers, professors, and bosses. Unruly or offensive behavior can ruin a chance at an internship or future job.

Etiquette courses help establish basic rules of etiquette, such as being kind, listening before speaking, and maintaining eye contact. It can mean the difference between receiving a promotion or getting a bad review.

Learning how to conduct yourself around peers, professors, and groups will help set you up for success in the classroom and beyond.

Suggested Etiquette Guidance:

Arm yourself with the proper rhetorical knowledge. Check out these 15 logical fallacies you should know before getting into a debate.
true Household Repairs

It may seem like a long way out, but it's never too early to learn about homeownership.

The list of responsibilities for a homeowner is seemingly endless: installing light fixtures, fixing leaky faucets, cleaning the gutters…

Of course, you could call professionals to handle these sorts of things, but learning how to do it yourself will be more rewarding — and cheaper — in the long run.

If you dream of eventual homeownership, consider taking a college course in household repairs. Someday, you'll thank yourself for the effort.

Suggested Home Repair Guidance:

If you have an aptitude for handiwork, check out these construction and skilled trade careers.
true Insurance

The insurance business can be complicated and challenging to grasp, but it's part of being an adult. It's best to understand how it works from the get-go with some formal education.

College students and graduates must learn how to navigate various health, car, and renter's or homeowner's insurance policies. Understanding policy premiums, claim settlements, and fundamental rights as a policyholder is necessary.

Find out if your college or university offers courses on insurance and arm yourself with the knowledge to navigate this complex world.

Suggested Insurance Guidance:

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.
true Local Government

Local politics may seem trivial compared to a presidential race, but it matters. It's far more likely to have a significant impact on everyday life in your area.

Basic civics courses discuss the roles of city government, school boards, and state representatives. Each has the power to enact change, both on a small and large scale.

It's your responsibility to know the functions of local government and understand how to participate to change things for the better. That way, you can take an active role in shaping your community.

Suggested Local Government Guidance:

If you're interested in serving your local community, state, or beyond, check out the 19 best online bachelor's in public administration programs.
true Negotiating

Whether it's discussing a pay raise with a boss or haggling over the cost of leasing a space, negotiation is a key life skill. But negotiating requires preparation, sound logic, and artful persuasion — and practice. It also delves into creative and critical thinking when dealing with personal and professional relationships.

It's not always easy to find an accord when parties disagree, but having a knack for compromise helps. 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:

If you have an aptitude for boardroom negotiations, check out the 30 best online bachelor's in business administration programs.
true Social Media Safety

A recent study by Emarsys, one of the largest marketing platform companies in the world, shows that 3.2 billion people use social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. That's 42% of the world's population.

Social media has become ingrained in our lives. It allows us to connect, share, and organize, but it can also compromise our privacy and serve as a platform for bad actors, like those who engage in cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and predatory behavior.

To avoid social oversharing, preserve your public reputation, and protect 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:

If you're interested in protecting others from the dangers lurking in our virtual world, find out what you can do with a cybersecurity degree.
true Stress Management

Harvard Health Publishing reports that 63% of college students felt overwhelmed by stress in 2018 and 2019. It's 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.

Find out if your college or university offers courses in stress management and learn how to curb your anxiety with positive organizational, time-management, and coping strategies. Lifelong skills like these will serve you well in the future.

Suggested Stress Management Guidance:

If you're interested in a career helping others manage their stress more effectively, check out the best online bachelor's in psychology degrees.
true Survival Skills

No, we're not talking about becoming the next Bear Grylls — though you're welcome to try if that's what you want. Rather, survival skills are about enjoying the outdoors responsibly.

You never know when you might face a natural disaster, a hiking accident, or a situation requiring emergency shelter. Should that day come, it's best to be able to perform first aid, find safe sources of food and water, construct temporary structures, and navigate without the benefit of technology.

Courses in wilderness survival teach you how to think quickly, assess your surroundings, and find solutions. Even if you never find yourself in a life-threatening situation, you'll always be the most useful person on a camping trip.

Suggested Survival Skill Guidance:

true Taxes

Ever wondered what to declare on tax forms? Or whether to take a standard or itemized deduction?

Admittedly, there are few subjects that students will find less interesting than taxes, but making a mistake on your taxes could cost you a ton of money. Learning how to fill out and file tax forms correctly is necessary.

If it helps, think of this as paying upfront now for a refund check every year going forward.

Suggested Tax Guidance:

If you're interested in a career helping others navigate their taxes, check out accounting degrees and 25 notable online programs.
true Cybersecurity

If the "Terminator" universe had better cybersecurity, Skynet would have never taken over the grid. Jokes aside, cyberattacks are a threat to anyone who uses the internet — and there's no shortage of users.

About 243 million Americans surf the web as of January 2020 — approximately 87% of the U.S. population. Many are vulnerable to criminals who deploy malware, phishing, and password attacks for their benefit.

Cybersecurity is about protecting networks, systems, hardware, and data from these digital attacks. College degrees in cybersecurity provide graduates with a path to careers in the rapidly growing information and technology industries.

Booting out would-be hackers is also lucrative. The median annual salary for a cybersecurity analyst is $75,000. It's an expanding industry, too; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the occupation to grow by 32% from 2018-2028.

Most importantly, cybersecurity classes could help in everyday life. You can learn how to secure your Wi-Fi networks, protect your computer privacy, and recover lost data.

Suggested Cybersecurity Guidance:

If you're interested in a career helping protect information online, check out the 25 best online bachelor's in network security programs.
true Coding

Coding isn't just useful for programmers and master spies. It has real-world applications, too.

There's a nationwide push for kids to learn how to code, and for a good reason. It trains them on how to think logically and use math to solve problems.

Coding — also called computer programming — is mostly a language for computers. It helps create social networks, apps, and websites, including this one.

Taking college classes in computer programming will provide you with better organizational skills, improve problem-solving abilities, and anticipate mistakes.

Despite its usefulness, only 45% of high schools teach coding. This makes it important to sign up in college.

Suggested Coding Guidance:

If you're interested in a career in computer programming, check out the 10 best online bachelor's in computer programming degrees.
Portrait of Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

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