The September ritual of selecting classes usually takes place in a fog of bad criteria: uninformed friends, overly invested parents, and the never-ending quest for no early morning classes. I have some advice to add to the mix: If you plan on going into business, take courses that typically aren't listed among the traditional requirements like accounting and marketing. Even if you don't want a business career, give my suggestions some thought, because you'll have to work at some point, so you might as well make a little money at it. And besides, these courses will help not only your career, but your life.

This class will be a terrible ordeal for non-theatrical types, because they'll feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. But acting class is one of the fastest ways to learn how to convey what you mean. Successful people can do this by using verbal and non-verbal cues.

We each feel many emotions simultaneously. Leaders manage their emotions so they convey the appropriate one at the appropriate time. Acting class will help you to understand if you're doing this well, and if not, how to improve. I'm not implying that all business people are actors. In fact, I mean the opposite: business requires honesty, and a good actor must tap into his or her true emotions to act honestly. Most incompetent leaders try to lead with emotion that isn't genuine. You will avoid this by taking an acting class.

Intro to Psychology
Somewhere among the textbook pages of theories and statistics you'll find invaluable nuggets of information on how people perceive each other in the workplace. The most interesting lessons are about how people make judgments about others and try to control the judgments that others make about them.

You will learn that visual perception is everything and first impressions are hard to overcome. Once you understand why, you'll be able to make a better first impression. You'll also learn why people remember negative traits more than positive traits; if you divulge weaknesses during job interviews, hiring managers will remember them more clearly than your strengths.

Emotional intelligence is an ability to understand other people, and many pundits believe that emotional intelligence is more important than business skills when it comes to success in the corporate world. A literature course teaches you to empathize with characters and understand other peoples' values. So your best business text might be a novel.

People who work out regularly are more likely to impress interviewers and get promoted than people who don't. Knowing how to work out correctly is a big factor in whether you'll keep it up once you're working. However, it's a learned skill that takes time and a good teacher. At college you've got tons of time (compared to when you have a job, a mortgage, kids and a dog) plus use of the gym is free.

Take a bunch of classes — swimming, pilates, karate. Something is bound to stick. And it's easier to learn them now than when you're 35 and bored with the your gym routine.

What you love
Having a balanced life and making time to do what you enjoy becomes harder after college. Use this time to figure out what excites you, not what excites your parents or grad schools. Growing up doesn't mean getting drunk on a school night. It means ceasing to worry about or rebelling against what others want you to do and starting to figure out what makes you tick. This isn't easy. But if you continue taking classes that you think you SHOULD take, you'll be unprepared for work.

Review the course catalogue honestly for what really interests you. Ask yourself what you'd take if you could choose anything. Then take it. You'll learn about yourself. The class may be boring or it might be a great topic that you love learning. This is the same process you'll use to find a career. You will probably do it two or three times in your life. So get good at it now, while someone else is paying your rent.

Most cover letters are addressed to people you don't know, so let's just stop referring to them as cover letters since what they really are is sales letters. You are trying to sell yourself to a stranger.

The best way to think about this letter is in terms of direct mail, so pay attention to the well-funded, unsolicited offers you find at your doorstep. Many of those envelopes have been created by the finest writers in the direct mail business.

Here are eight rules from the direct mail experts that should guide your cover letter writing:

1. Open with a bang.
This is the line I used to write: “I am writing to apply for the position you advertised blah blah blah.” But DUH, of course you are writing to get a job. Why else does anyone write a cover letter? So use your first line to sell yourself and make yourself stand out. For example, “I think your company can use my exceptional sales skills and ten years of experience in your industry.”

2. Be clear about your purpose.
Your cover letter is the introduction to your resume. If your cover letter is longer than a page then it is likely longer than your resume, and who ever heard of an introduction that is longer than the main event? Also, write a separate letter for each job, because each sentence of your cover letter should be specifically relevant to the job at hand.

3. Use your time wisely.
A hiring manager spends ten seconds on a resume to decide if she'll reject it or not. This ten seconds includes your cover letter. Don't let your cover letter waste your ten seconds. The rule of a resume is that every single line of the resume sells you. This is true of the cover letter, too. In fact, it's shorter, so it should sell with more punch. Every sentence of the cover letter should give a specific reason for hiring you because you never know which sentence will catch the reader's eye during your precious ten seconds.

4. Format strategically.
Bullets work well in a cover letter to highlight your relevant achievements immediately. Odd numbers of bullets are proven to be easier to read than even numbers, so use either three or five. Seven is too many — the list will look so long that people will skip it.

5. Tell the reader the next step.
A cover letter introduces a resume and the point of the resume is to get an interview. So in the cover letter say flat out that you want a phone call or an email, because that's how someone sets up an interview. This call to action makes a nice last paragraph.

6. Say it, and then say it again.
Put your email address and phone number at the top of the letter, and on the bottom, too. The hiring manager should not have to hunt for your contact info because each second of that hunt is a second the person could change her mind about calling.

7. Come back to it.
If you copy and pasted and have the wrong company name in your opening sentence Spellcheck won't catch it and probably neither will you because it's very hard to catch errors when you've been rewriting the same letter for an hour. So come back to the letter in two hours, proofread, and then send. You'll be amazed and grateful at the errors you catch.

8. Follow up
You have to. I know it is a discouraging call to make because the odds are that you won't get through to a real person. And if you do get through to a real person he will give you no information. But there is a very slim chance that you will get someone on the phone who will take a good look at your resume just because you called, and that will get you the interview. That's why you need to make the call — because it just might work. Besides, picking up the phone is a lot easier than finding another job opening and writing another cover letter.

The fact that good-looking people make more money is truer for women than men, which is especially unfair, because it is very hard to not gain a million pounds when you're pregnant; I gained sixty. This column is about my two-month quest to lose that weight, and the importance of making a plan for any large and difficult goal.

I happen to have a book deal that is predicated on a grand speaking tour, and the speaking tour is predicated on me not being overweight, and the bookings need to start in September. If I can't line up speaking gigs, I can't promote my book, and if I don't promote my book, it won't sell and I won't get another contract. So losing weight became my number one job.

This is what my agent said three days after I delivered the baby: “I don't mean to be harsh, but you look terrible.”

This is what my husband said two days later: “The stress of you having to lose so much weight so quickly will kill us both. Give back the money you got for the book.”

I did what works best for me when I'm in trouble: I wrote lists and schedules. I wrote a schedule for two visits a day to the gym and lists for what I would do there each day. I wrote a schedule for the babysitter, who had to come to the gym with me because the baby is not on a bottle. (Yes, I got off the treadmill to breastfeed.) I wrote a list of food — what to carry with me each day, and when to go food shopping, because if I'm starving in front of a bakery with no food in my backpack I'll do the bakery. Finally, I scheduled the date I would go to my agent's office to show her that I lost the weight.

It worked. I lost twenty pounds just by delivering the baby. But I lost forty pounds in two months. People are shocked to see me, and they ask me how I did it. First I tell them that if you had to lose weight in order to earn a living, you'd be able to do it, too. I gained insight into ultra-thin Hollywood; not being able to work if you take too many bites of cookie gives you a lot of self-discipline.

But the bigger factor here is that I came up with a schedule and followed it. And I realized that I could do this for any goal, not just weight loss.

Many times we are scared that we won't meet our most important goals. Decision points cater this fear— they open the door to self-doubt and inaction. But meticulous scheduling up front, and a belief in your planning abilities will allow you to relax; tune out your worries and just follow the plan.

You can't take this advice for everything in life. But making an extremely detailed, well-thought-out schedule to support an ambitious plan, is a great way to ensure you meet your most important goals — the ones that will make or break your career.

Some of you will realize that your career really is stalling because your weight makes you look out of control. For most of you, though, weight loss will not be all that important. But you might have other goals that you worry you won't achieve, such as switching careers, going back to school, or growing your consulting business.

Make a commitment to yourself and to your most important goals by reserving time in your day and space in your head to meet your goals. Great ambitions are not met haphazardly, and many times are not met at all. You can increase your odds tremendously by planning meticulously.

My next step is finding good places to book my speaking tour. I had been worried that this would not work out. But now I feel more confident. I am making a plan, as detailed as I made for the weight loss. And I know if I execute the plan on a daily basis, I will end up with a speaking tour that I like.

Preparation for an interview should include preparing to be silent. An interview is a sales call, not a chat session. So you shouldn't answer every question you get. Sometimes, you need to give a non-answer. This might feel a little weird to you, especially if you're a genuinely honest person. But remember that in most cases, not answering is not dishonest, it's just smart. Here are three areas of questioning that you should skirt.

1. Don't talk about the hunt. Everyone wants to hire a superstar. And superstars do not have to go through a big job hunt — the jobs come to them. So you devalue yourself by discussing your exhaustive hunt, and how long it's taken, how sick of it you are, etc. Hunting for a job is not a position of power. It is situation of neediness.

A way around this topic is to focus on how many interesting things you are doing while you are unemployed. Or, if you still have a job, talk about how much you love your current job and that you only interviewed for this position because it is such an incredibly perfect match for you and the company. Goal: Keep the focus on how happy and involved you are. Those are the kind of people companies want to hire.

2. Don't give a number when negotiating salary. You will never gain anything by giving the first number in salary negotiations. If the person asks you how much you make, how much you want to make, what ballpark you expect, etc., your best response is a non-response. If you give a number that is lower than they expected, then that's what you'll get. If you give a number that's higher than they expected, they'll tell you.

In order to successfully avoid saying a number, you need to be ready with other things to say. A good start is saying you'd like to know the range the position pays. If they keep pressing you, say you think your salary history is not relevant because this is a different job. In the end, you might have to say flat out that you're not going to give a number. Someone who has pressed you very hard for a number will respect this answer — after all, no one presses this hard unless he understands that knowing a number gives them a huge advantage.

3. Don't say you want reasonable hours. Ninety percent of the world will tell you they respect that request. Twenty percent of the world will, in fact, be able to accommodate that. So instead of talking about reasonable hours, observe the office to see the hours people keep.

People who have no respect for reasonable hours will make that clear in an interview. Either by announcing it, or by doing something like scheduling the interview for the middle of the day on Saturday. If you have to make a point of reasonable hours in the interview then you're probably in trouble. If the office culture is long hours, then even if they tell you that you can go home at 6pm, you will be marginalized among workaholics.

But while you're concentrating on keeping your mouth shut, remember also that you have to talk in order to be likeable. It's important to be yourself in an interview. You need to trust that your true self is likeable, and you need to let that self show through. So don't talk about things that will make you look unemployable, but don't be so uptight about what you say that you can't be yourself. Being your likeable self is what will get you the job.

Whether you're thinking of a top-tier MBA or a PhD in anthropology, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach graduate school. You need to understand your dreams, and what is required to achieve them. Also, you need to understand the marketplace, and what it values.

If you dream of climbing ladders in the Fortune 500, get an MBA. The degree a VIP ticket to corporate life and a prerequisite for the top ranks. And if you have the luck of being in your 20s, don't wait, get the degree now, when it can get you a better starting job after you graduate. If you've already made headway in your career, you'll still need that MBA, but when you're older it's more like a career lubricant than a jump start: The degree has little impact on where you are now, but prevents you from getting stuck later.

Think twice before cashing in your chips for less respected school. The top five or ten business schools have a much, much higher value in the business world than all the other business schools. If you attend the third tier school, do it at night because the cost to your checkbook and your career growth while you're in school do not outweigh the benefits of the degree you'll earn.

For some people, though, graduate school is not so much a way to fulfill a dream as a way to put off finding one. Thomas Benton, a pseudonym for an assistant professor who writes a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, blames much of the flight to graduate school on grade inflation and fragile egos: “Humanities majors are used praised from professors. Many recent grads return to school when they discover that not everyone thinks they are as great as their humanities teachers did. Humanities don't have the objective standards of business. Going back to grad school allows people to reestablish their ego. But it is short lived because they have to face the same market when they get out.”

So be honest with yourself. If you're going back to school because you're nostalgic for the days when you could get a good grade and a pat on the back. If you're looking for grad school to give you breathing room from the realities of adult life, you probably need a social worker more than you need another degree.

Besides, breathing time in grad school only delays future feelings of suffocation. For example, MFA programs do not make you more creative, they make you more qualified to teach. And the academic job market is a nightmare. One out of five people who enter English literature PhD programs will get a job in that field. The rest will find themselves back at square one, waiting tables, albeit with improved literary banter, and looking for a career.

Lost humanities students with an eye for cash and stability often enter law school because other professional schools require too much math or science. Yet the land of lost lawyers is full, too, which confirms that if you don't have a passion for what you are going to learn in graduate school, you shouldn't go.

If you still think you might be best off at grad school, then here's a checklist of things you should do before you apply:

1. Try other jobs first. The people who do best in graduate school are those who don't use it to escape their terrible job life. So find decent alternatives to going back to school, and if you still want to go back to school then you should.

2. Determine if an advanced degree is necessary. Talk to people who are where you want to be in five years to ten years. If those people got there without a degree, then you probably can, too.

3. Take the passion test. Are you reading about your proposed graduate topic now, before you are in school? If you're not passionate enough about the subject matter to read about it on your own, then you should find something to pursue that excites you more.