The Cornell Class that Taught me the Most (And it has Little to do with the Course Material!)

As a Cornell senior who has taken 5-6 classes a semester, and holds a few mentoring positions, I’ve been asked a few times (by particularly business-minded students) to recommend a course that has taught me a lot, or prepared me for x internship or job.

Let me take a different approach to answering that question, which might be helpful. Why? Because this is Cornell, and it’s fairly safe to assume that any course title that connotes practical applications will be rigorous and at least of some use to you. AEM 2210: Financial Accounting will teach you accounting well, AEM 2100: Statistics will give you a useful overview of statistical methods, and the like.

Here’s one course, though, which has undoubtedly prepared me exceptionally well for the real world: AEM 2240/3240, Finance.
Widely regarded on the Ag Quad as the most rigorous course in the AEM major for years, Bloomberg Businessweek did an article on the class in 2006. Sure, the hundreds (thousands?) of pages of mandatory reading and 4.5 hours of lecture weekly, combined with difficult multiple choice exams, have forever drilled in my head firm valuation techniques, debt-for-equity substitutions and capital structure theories…but it’s the excellent, yet demanding, teaching style of the instructor that has prepared me for the real world.

Want to know some applicable career skills I’ve practiced, when I took it last semester?
  • Be exactly on time…and not a minute late. In Finance, the professor could lock the lecture hall doors 1 minute into his lecture–and straggling students might be able to enter later on.  In the real world, I’m sure having a knack for being timely–which you can bet I was–will pay off in interviews, meetings and the like.
  • Know your stuff. This class definitely taught me the value of preparation. Certain days, students in the ~200 person class were randomly called from a list to answer a specific question about the required reading assigned. If you didn’t have the exact answer off the top of your head, or weren’t there, you would be marked down a point off your grade in front of everyone. There was no room for fluff, or time to check your notes. It sounds strict, but hey…if I’m in a client meeting 10 years from now and haven’t done adequate preparation, there’d be a lot more severe consequences.
  • Master time management. On exams, if you dropped your pencil 1-60 seconds after the time is called, you lost 2 points off your test grade. 61-120 seconds later, it’d be -4. Working under pressure and time management are super important things to learn, so I’m certain the skills reinforced in this class will come in handy.
  • Be determined. With instructor-led review sessions before exams that often ran until 3am, I definitely learned the importance of determination. I also now know what it’s like to give something your all–attend TA office hours, spend days studying in Mann library–and get an outcome that’s not always 100% pleasing.
  • Put your cell phone away. If your cell phone was so much as seen at any point during class throughout the semester, it counted against your grade. Again, this is excellent preparation for the real world, where you have to be receptive to how interviewers, clients, or bosses will respond to technology. (For tech addicts like me, this one continues to be the most difficult to master.)
In sum, lots of people have told me that the point of college isn’t just to absorb academic material; it’s also where you learn how to think like an adult and develop a work ethic. I’d say that classes like this at Cornell exemplify this notion–while I might not always remember the Modigliani-Miller no-tax capital structure theorem off the bat, rigorous courses like AEM Finance instill in students practical skills that will last with them for a lifetime.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *