What are the college soft skills that will benefit your learners graduating into post secondary schools? We've whittled it down to 5, and what they can do right now to start sharpening them. But first, a word of truth.
The Internet is awash in advice about the soft skills on which workers and entrepreneurs should focus. While this is all well and good, it fails to take into account the real age group that needs to harness and hone those skills: college students. For this reason, we must encourage learners to consider early on which college soft skills are most useful, and to then intentionally practice them.
College students need soft skills in order to impress employers upon graduation and forge careers they’ll enjoy, of course. More importantly, though, it’s difficult to succeed in college without such skills.
Too many college-goers focus exclusively on the courses and academics, and neglect critical intangibles such as perseverance, organization or leadership. However, it may not always be as easy as simply “deciding” which skill to hone.
To make it easier, we've suggested a list of the 5 most important college soft skills to have. Additionally, we've offered steps learners can take to perfect each particular ability.
Share this with your learners who already dreaming of what college they'll attend. Have them take a minute to read through the steps and pick one on which they will focus straight off the bat, then add more over time.
True success often boils down to a single factor: perseverance. Dubbed “grit” by the famous psychologist Angela Duckworth, it is best defined as the ability to keep going in the face of adversity and failure. If you can continue to strive even when all signs point to no, then you are much likelier to be That Person who breaks down walls, solves the problems of the world, or creates something new and noteworthy.
Suggestions for Perseverance
- Take an early class: Getting up early isn’t fun, especially when your friends aren’t doing it. If you want to encourage your own perseverance, force yourself to do unpleasant things by scheduling it that way.
- Sign up for a class that’s a bit too difficult for you: Again, you can create an environment that encourages grit by using your schedule to your advantage. This will force you to follow through.
- Assign yourself a tough new skill: Learning to use a DSLR or to sign is tough, but it’s amazing for your perseverance. Again, this is best as part of a curriculum so you can stay on track.
- Start a habit: Flossing, sit-ups or journaling all sound like “great” habits, but truthfully they’re annoying and unwelcome in the moment. If you can stick to them, you will greatly increase your perseverance.
Speaking and writing are two of the most important college soft skills in any role. No matter how well you do the rest of your job, if you can't present your ideas well and make people listen up, you're going to be at a disadvantage. Learn to impress professors, prospective employers and stakeholders of your future career opportunities by speaking and writing better.
Suggestions for Communication
- Take a vocabulary course: Learn the precise words you need to convey an idea quickly and succinctly. You can easily sign up for one online.
- Take a creative writing class: Especially good paired with a vocabulary course, a creative writing class encourages you to use your communication skills simply for the sake of using them (unlike in business or science, where the end goal is another subject).
- Join a club: Literally any club will require you to interact and convey ideas, so follow your passion by doing a club that interests you.
Learning to keep all your ducks in a row is an undeniably important soft skill. If you cannot remember dates and times, keep documents in one place and meet your employers' needs, you won't go far. Time management is another important soft-skill, though you can safely lump it in with general organization skills.
Suggestions for Organization
- Choose a dedicated planning system NOW: Many college students still haven't perfected organization, and keep their to-do lists in seven different places. Choose one and commit.
- Create early commitments: It's difficult to show up for early commitments, as we discussed. Making a few judicious early choices will help you practice organization.
- Don't overload yourself: Believe it or not, the best way to learn to juggle is to start with two balls, not three.
The number of times the world has lost out on great ideas due to poor leadership is incalculable. Unfortunately, though, if you can't get people to listen, you won't get them to jump on board. Equally unfortunately, it's hard to learn to lead—especially if you're shy.
Most of the time introverts actively defer the leadership role to other, louder personalities. Although often true, that doesn't necessarily mean their personalities are stronger, or that they're capable of getting more done. You have leadership skills within you, if only you'll take time to cultivate them.
Suggestions for Leadership
- Run for president of your club: Even if you only "preside" over a dozen members, this is still great practice.
- Organize a charity event at school or in your community: This is great practice for telling people what to do (nicely, of course).
- Speak up more often in class: Yes, just talking more frequently is a step toward taking a leadership role.
One of the biggest complaints from many employers is that their employees aren’t problem-solvers. They ignore issues, and even when they notice them, they don’t make an effort to get to the bottom of the issue. They volley problems to other people, blame-shift and generally ignore opportunities for growth and success. Obviously, you don’t want that to be you. Instead of ignoring what doesn’t sound fun to deal with, decide right now to become an inquisitive person.
Question everything. Look for the flaws in plans or in others’ reasoning. When you notice something isn’t working quite right, ask: “Why?” and “How can I/we make it better?”
Suggestions for Inquisitiveness
- Take a class geared toward entrepreneurship: Startups are riddled with problems, and solving them is the only way to get ahead in the world.
- Work as a research assistant: Learning, researching and fact-finding all encourage curiosity, especially when you have to work through dense material.
- Make a point to learn one new thing about a person each day: Learning new aspects of people you know (or don't know) is a great way to hone your spirit of curiosity.
The truth is, no soft skill is ever truly “perfected.” Each of these continues to grow and change over time, especially as you take on new roles and challenges. However, heading out into the world with these skills in hand puts you in a much better position to succeed, impress and open doors for yourself.
Guide your learners toward taking the initiative to use and hone these college soft skills whenever possible. You'll have gone a long way in making sure their college days, not to mention their careers, benefit greatly.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 03, 2019, updated September 23, 2021