Which courses should you take (undergrad)?

Here’s a quick post on what kinds of courses you should be taking in college to maximize your chances of being admitted to a top-tier b-school.  The following list comes straight from the Stanford GSB website and is the list I used when making course decisions.  If you can check most or all of the courses off, you’ll be in great shape come application time.  So, regardless of your major, you should take the following:

  • Quantitative Courses
    • Purpose: mathematical exposure
    • Examples:
      • calculus
      • microeconomics
      • statistics
  • Accounting
    • Purpose: understand the language of business
  • Logic Courses
    • Purpose: refine your analytical capabilities
    • Examples:
      • computer programming
      • philosophy
      • physics
  • Writing-intensive Courses
    • Purpose: improve your rhetorical skills
    • Examples:
      • comparative literature
      • expository writing
      • poetry
  • Foreign Language
    • It is advised to become (or work towards becoming) fluent in at least one language beyond your native one

In addition to the above, don’t be afraid to take some courses that are “out there” or just seem interesting to you.  For example, I took a data mining seminar and a course entitled “Hip Hop and Social Issues” just because they both seemed interesting.  The admissions officers are looking for applicants who aren’t afraid to go a little bit off the beaten path and try new things (provided that you already have covered the essentials listed above)

In my course search, I often utilized ratemyprofessors.com.  I have found that the professor is the single most important variable in determining if I will like a course (even above subject matter).  If there are two course sections available to you, and one is taught by a far better professor, but the other is at a much more convenient time for you, always always always choose by professor.  Who cares if you don’t have Tuesday/Thursday classes if your Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes are awful?  My Hip Hop and Social Issues class took place from 7-10 on a Tuesday night…hardly ideal.  However, the professor was so engaging and passionate that I looked forward to class and it flew by.

Lastly, I’d like to share a point that might evade most people when they are selecting classes during their first three years.  It is the fact that if you intend on going right from undergrad to business school, you will apply during the fall semester of your senior year.  This means that not only will the entire spring semester of your senior year not appear on the transcript you send in, but also that neither will your grades for the courses you are enrolled in for that fall semester.  So, that leaves two opportunities for you to take advantage of.  First, if there is a course that is required but is known to be terribly difficult, have a tough professor, etc., you can leave it until fall or spring semester of your senior year and avoid having it adversely affect the GPA on the transcript that you apply with.  Second, since the admissions officers will see the courses that you are enrolled in for your fall semester, but not the grades for those courses, you can enroll in courses that might be a bit more difficult but reflect favorably on your application.

For example, let’s say you still had to take Art 101, Managerial Economics, Basketweaving, Water Polo, Law, Statistics, Data Modeling, and  Symbolic Logic.

You might elect to take these five courses your fall semester (the semester that the admissions officers will see but will not see the grades for):

  • Managerial Economics
  • Law
  • Statistics
  • Data Modeling
  • Symbolic Logic

…and leave the rest for spring.  Or you might even swap out one of the more academically rigorous courses for an off-the-beaten-path course to diversify your application (depending on how your app already looks).

One thing that you must keep in mind, though, is that these schools will eventually see your grades for these courses (once you’re admitted).  So, if you save all of your hardest courses for spring of your senior year just be aware that while Bs across the board will not raise any red flags, Ds will.



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