Education is important, but it takes more than course work for career success

Q: Which college courses would you take right now in order to get a high paying job when you graduate?

A. Successful careers are achieved through a combination of education, experience, ambition, skill, and personal attributes, not just one course.

Consider using The Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is the federal government’s source of career guidance. You can browse occupations by categories including highest paying and fastest growing. The occupation finder can help you narrow your search and add criteria like ­entry-level education and on-the-job training, including apprenticeships.


The handbook shows that fields such as civil engineering, computer systems, information technology security, and biochemistry lead the way in projected job growth and compensation. Taking courses in any of these fields can help you determine if you have the interest, aptitude, and desire to continue with additional course work in the field.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Most college counselors will encourage you to broaden your education by taking courses outside your major. Courses considered valuable by most employers include public speaking and writing.

Courses that develop analytic and quantitative skills, whether in business, math, or science, are highly valued. Develop the skills to read the financials of your company and the global marketplace.

You will be at a disadvantage if you do not develop computer proficiency. Courses exposing you to information technology and technology management can be valuable, as can a psychology course that teaches a general understanding of what motivates people. Make sure your course work includes project-based work so you develop team and leadership skills. Etiquette courses may no longer be offered, but find a way to gain this knowledge.

All of these can be enhanced greatly by related work experience. School activities, internships, and summer jobs showcase how education and experience can make you a valuable part of any organization.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.