For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Apr 11 2016
by Olivia Ray Laskowski

9 Life Skills You Can Learn from a Business Class

By Olivia Ray Laskowski - Apr 11 2016

Being a business major is not always a walk in the park. Between programs, different business focuses, and universities, there is a huge span of things you might learn in your classes. Business itself ranges from highly creative and people-oriented work in fields like marketing and management, to very complicated mathematics and technical knowledge in finance and information systems. In a well-rounded business program, you'll hopefully get some of both. Although it seems apparent what business is all about, there are a lot of surprising pieces of knowledge and even life lessons to be learned from the courses whether you're interested in dance, corporate finance, or engineering. 

1. Calculating interest 

Your first accounting class in business is basically the most important thing to set you up for success in the field. However, although I realize how important this class is for my field, it is even more important for me as a student with loans and an adult who will soon take on debt, credit cards, and payments. It is so easy to take out a loan because you need the money, but too often people forget how much they really end up paying and how often. Student loans for example can save you money if they don't earn interest until after college, but if yours are compounding (calculating extra interest) bi-annually while you're still in college, that is not good. It is important to know when to start paying to avoid high fees. I'd encourage you to contact your financial aid office, or check out resources on Accounting Coach or Khan Academy. 

2. Opportunity Cost

Economics is a crucial part of most business programs, and because I chose Economics as my minor I love connecting it to it. One of the first things you'll come across in either micro or macroeconomics is the concept of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is defined on Investopedia as "An opportunity cost is the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action." Essentially, it is the cost of what you choose not to do, by doing what you actually chose to do. For example, the opportunity cost of missing your 8AM is missing the information. The opportunity cost of studying is possibly forgoing social time with friends. Although I don't want to send you into a reel of panic by making you think of all the things you could be doing with your life besides reading this article, it is really valuable to sit back sometimes to consider if you're doing the best thing with your time. 

3. Branding

The concept of branding is hugely important to businesses. You can't sell anything if nobody knows about it, or if it has a bad connotation associated with it. This is also true for you as a person. Your brand is what people imagine when they think of you, or as one of my professors put it, it is "what people say about you when you're not in the room." It's impossible to avoid 100% of negative things that could be said behind your back, but it is really important that you try to put your best foot forward, and act in a way that you'd want people to know you for. When it comes to branding your work, it's important to make your papers look consistent, follow formatting guidelines, and make your Powerpoint look better than your average template. Little improvements can really make you stand out, regardless of whether it is introducing yourself to a professor, going the extra mile on a project, or trying new style's in an art class. 

4. Importance of Social Media

Piggybacking off of branding, I want to state how crucial your social media presence is to your life going forward. The generation above us didn't grow up with it, so we're only just beginning to see what negative effects it can have on someone's career or future. Depending on your field, social media can make or break your job search. For example, a professor explained to us during a presentation that for business, marketing people should show their skills through their social media, and students in finance should be particularly conservative. Regardless of your field, you want your social media to be something you'd be proud to show your parents, professors, or strangers. Think of it this way, if you have a really adorable old grandma, and you wouldn't want her to see it, it isn't worth posting. OR, just make it private. You can also use services like Rep'n Up that will scan your profiles for things that you may want to remove. 

5. High risk, high reward

Preface: if you're going to make a high risk choice, make sure it is also highly researched. When talking about investments, it is pretty standard to hear people talk about the higher payoff for investing in high risk stocks or companies. However, there is a much greater risk associated with doing so. It is worth noting that it is a perfectly respectable choice to play things safe and make conservative choices regarding your major, classes you may take, adventures you may go on, but you could miss out on some big things. Sometimes taking that crazy study abroad, approaching a terrifying professor, or even asking that out-of-your-league person out can pay off. The worst thing that can happen, mostly, is that you get rejected, or lost, or maybe have a lesson learned for next time. My rule of thumb is to go big or go home, but do it within reason. 

6. Reconcile your bank statements

More accounting knowledge coming your way. Businesses, when looking through their financials to finalize them, always take the time to reconcile their bank statements to make sure they're accurate, find out if the bank has anything recorded that they don't, and to make sure there's nothing wonky going on with their balance or anyone else accessing accounts. Many young college students are managing accounts on their own for the first time, and if you don't have a parent monitoring them, it's important to make sure you go through your transactions every week to make sure they were all done by you, that you didn't get over/double charged, that the shirt you returned actually got refunded, and most of all, to make sure you aren't going to overdraw your account because you forgot that your Netflix bill will charge you whether you have the money in your account or not. 

7. Seek out mentorship

I definitely don't think this is unique to a business education but is something that I feel has been really emphasized during my freshman year. Approaching professors, whether you have a class with them or not, is hugely important. Those connections can help you be way more successful in a course, or make stronger connections in your department. Also seek out mentorship from older students in your field or clubs you're in! They can help you find classes, rally around you for studying, or help you win leadership positions as you grow into their organization. If you can find a professional mentor, or at least build some professional relationships, that is crucial to getting yourself ahead later. Also, life advice, fun conversations during office hours, and people to look up to and inspire you can make your time in college so much more fulfilling than if you don't seek them out. 

8. Know your numbers

If you are in a class for your field, specifically a math class, wondering "when will I ever use this?" that is bad. Always seek out the real world applications for your classes, regardless of whether they go towards your major or not. My statistics professors prefaces a solid half of his sentences with "when you go out into industry.." followed by a connection between our material and real world business. I think business programs in general do a really good job of emphasizing the practical uses of your classes, and also provide you with classes that will directly impact your skills in the future. It is so important to actively look for those connections in your classes, and to ask your professor what they are if you aren't seeing them. There's something to learn from everyone, especially from people teaching your classes, so even in random electives or required core classes keep your eyes peeled for things to remember. 

9. Listening is more important than talking

Business students love to hear themselves speak, myself included. We are largely opinionated, outspoken, and keen to contribute in classes and clubs. However, in that drone, we can end up talking over each other, getting frustrated, or missing valuable things that others have to say. As a first step, never talk over your professor. Everyone will thank you for it. Contribute, but also listen carefully to what other students are saying, even if you think you'll disagree. People are coming from all sorts of perspectives, and they are likely to bring up something you hadn't yet considered. If you want to go above and beyond, try to solicit knowledge from others too. 

Lead Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons \\ University of Minnesota Duluth

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Olivia Ray Laskowski - Northeastern University

Olivia Laskowski is a rising Sophomore at Northeastern University majoring in International Business and German, minoring in Economics and Global Fashion Studies. She is the editor in chief and founder of Fresh U Northeastern. In high school, she was an exchange student in Frankfurt, and she is currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics. She enjoys drinking coffee, walking aimlessly through cities and owning too many tote bags. Follow her on Instagram @o.ray or check out her website!

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