Jul 5, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Sure, taking all of the course requirements for your major is a must-do. But if you want to stand out in the workforce, acquiring additional knowledge and skills can help you get ahead -- not only when you’re on the job hunt, but also when you’re preparing to ask for a raise. Here’s a closer look at six courses to consider to give yourself the inside edge.

1. Actuary Coursework

“An actuary is someone who uses statistics to determine the probability of risks and the financial consequences of those risks; it’s the perfect position for someone who loves numbers,” says career matching platform Sokanu. Using a combination of math, statistics, business and finance, actuaries calculate risk factors for a variety of occurrences, and then work alongside accountants and underwriters to set insurance rates informed by the likelihood of what would happen to businesses and insurance companies when catastrophes and other undesirable events happen.

Not all actuaries are created equal -- at least when it comes to salaries. Reveals Monster.com in including actuary on its roundup of best certifications for boosting your salary, when the median pay for actuaries without certification is $85,700, the median pay for actuaries with certifications from the Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) is $150,000. Not only that, but the typical pay increase associated with getting certified is 75 percent!

2. Health and Safety Studies

There were more than 5,000 fatal work injuries and exponentially more non-fatal injuries in 2016 alone in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Health and safety coordinators are responsible for breadth and depth of tasks pertaining to workplace safety, including advising on how to minimize safety risks; developing and enforcing office safety policies and practices; and directing accident investigation procedures.

As with actuaries, health and safety coordinators with certifications come out ahead. According to Monster.com, becoming a Certified Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) comes with a typical pay increase of 35 percent: Health and safety coordinators with certifications earn a median pay of $64,600 compared to $47,900 for their uncertified counterparts.

3. Social Media Studies

If your goal is to be a social media manager, social media certifications can lead to career -- and salary -- progression.

However, even if you’re not a social media manager, social media skills are valuable. Jodi Rubino Berkshire, a college assistant director of career services, told Monster.com, “More than 50 percent of the job orders we see end with this phrase, “...and handle our social media marketing….This sounds like something you can teach yourself, but if you have the opportunity to take a class this is based on good marketing principles, you will do well to take it. And make sure you list the skill on your resume, in your cover letter, and that you mention it in an interview. And don’t forget to clean up your own Facebook page while you’re at it.”

Plus, says Wise Bread, which included digital communication and electronic marketing on its list of college courses that will boost your career, “Nonprofessional social media experts can still use social media to locate jobs, engage in social networking, and promote their own work online.”

4. Statistics

We already addressed how actuary certification can be a major career booster for actuaries. But the study of statistics has general -- and lucrative -- applications, as well.

Professor of preventive medicine Luz Claudio told Monster.com, “I know it may sound boring to some, but statistics can be applied in so many fields: biomedical research, business, economics, social sciences and computer sciences. If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, but you are proficient in statistics, you can get a job in almost any field until you find a path that better suits your passions.”

5. Business Writing

There’s no denying that the ability to write well will take you far in your career. And yet a staggering number of today’s graduates lack writing skills.

Says Wise Bread, “Not all business writing classes include the same curriculum, but this type of course typically teaches students how to write memos, professional emails, reports, grant applications, presentations, cover letters, and resumes. These classes occasionally also focus on utilizing word processing software, creating technical graphics, and developing a professional online portfolio….This elective should leave you with a large collection of sample writing for your online portfolio, a few more writing skills to add to your resume, and an enhanced ability to communicate non-verbally.”

Even if your skills are there, is your comfort level? Coursework in this are can help you not only acquire critical skills, but also to learn to apply them with confidence.

6. Programming

Think only programmers can benefit from programming skills? Think again. In fact, programming skills can be a significant differentiating factor for job candidates.

“While not all office jobs require programming skills, basic knowledge of web development can be a useful career enhancer. Editors, web managers, writers, and various other positions prefer to hire candidates that already know the ins and outs of creating or at least maintaining a website,” reveals Wise Bread.

A programming certificate, meanwhile, can be an even more promising investment. “ Getting certified can ease your resume past the initial HR screening and bolster your credibility with hiring managers...If you’re looking to work in a large enterprise or organization, or working with established technologies (particularly Microsoft), a programming certification will be a strong asset. Employers also look favorably upon certifications in newer technologies like big data processing.

And while employers don’t necessarily always filter out those who lack certifications, new research shows certifications can add a considerable boost to your salary,” reveals TEKsystems.

Have you found that a particular class or certificate has helped you get ahead? Please share your experience in the comments section below.



Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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