Written by Chris Hernandez
Hard skills, typically, are skills incoming college students already possess. They are the skills of academic prowess. They have taken upper-level math, English, and science classes; passed Advanced Placement exams; and scored well on college entrance exams. We know that simply because they made it into college. These hard skills will be necessary to progress their academic learning and thrive in college, but is that all? Does proficiency in hard skills guarantee success for the incoming college student? Actually, that is only half of it. Students need soft skills as well.
Soft skills are skills like communication, stress management, openness to criticism, and adaptability to name a few. These skills are not taught in any one class but are acquired throughout one’s early life. These skills are often overlooked because students are taught to focus on numbers: GPA, SAT and ACT scores, AP exam scores, and even class rankings. Soft skills combined with hard skills will lead to success in college.
Students need to communicate effectively orally and in writing. Effective communication starts with listening. Too often, people just want to speak, especially when they think they know the answers. It is important to try to understand what others are saying and listen to them. Allowing others to finish speaking without interrupting them is a necessary component of communication. Students will need to be able to communicate clearly and respectfully with their professors and peers alike.
College is often the first time young adults live away from their families. Gone is the familiar structure of home and school. There are new classes, much harder than their high school classes. There are tests and papers, social obligations, and often, part-time jobs as well. Students will have to manage their time and plan their weeks. Without proper stress management skills, it can all become completely overwhelming, and students can begin to spiral downward.
This may be the first time students do not receive high marks on their work. They might not be used to peers that are academically stronger than they. They will be corrected frequently by their professors. Responding to that criticism with a willingness to learn rather than resentment is vital. Being open to criticism will help the student grow academically and socially.
Adaptability is one of the most important soft skills. Situations ebb and flow and successful students continuously adjust. Professors have dissimilar temperaments and place different demands on their students. Often classes are quite large. Some classes begin at 8:00 am and others not until 6:00 pm. Students need to adapt to their surroundings in order to be successful.
Being “smart” or having a strong academic foundation is a huge advantage in college, but that won’t help if the student doesn’t show up for class. Getting along with peers, adapting well to changing circumstances and communicating effectively are necessary life skills that college students need to be successful. Moreover, these skills will transfer into their real-world jobs after college.