Soft Skills – University Students Love to Hate Them
I mean, you’re already studying and devoting a fair share of your energy to it, and now you have to work on some mystery soft skills? Hard pass, eh? I beg to differ – working on soft skills is extremely important for navigating your university career and getting a job and holding it down later.
Unlike hard skills (those measurable by degrees, certificates, and acknowledgements), soft skills exist on a more fluid, even abstract level. Sure, people talk about the importance of communication skills, but have you noticed that everyone has a different idea of what that means? For example, good communication to me means direct and honest exchanges, but others may lean more towards diplomatic and vague means of expression. Soft skills are not easily evaluated, but trust me, if you have them, you’ll stand out.
Critical Soft Skills for University Students
Without dabbling in abstract definitions, let’s cut right to the chase with tangible soft skills that’ll make your university life easier.
This is an extensive category, and you can smash just about any form of communication under it. For example, you’ll most likely be writing lots of term papers at university, and this is where you will improve your written communication skills. Writing emails, participating in study forums (yes, professors just love forums), and even taking exams all belong there too.
On the other hand, spoken communication is something you will get to (be forced to) work on in every class discussion, debate, and oral exam. Communication skills – at least at university – include:
- Clarity and precision of expression.
- The ability to argue and support your points.
- Pitching ideas and delivering persuasive presentations and speeches.
- Defending your thesis.
The best way to boost your skills is (you guessed it right) to read. Read fiction and non-fiction to expand your vocabulary, and explore a variety of perspectives and ideas that’ll enable you to form complex arguments. Read scientific articles from your field (and interdisciplinary ones if you are interested in them) to get an idea of how to structure your papers and develop your hypotheses. The best way to work on your presentation skills is to actually give presentations. If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, don’t imagine your audience naked (but if it works for you, go for it!), but do get out there and just power through it – it gets easier with time.
If university teaches you anything, it’s that everything can be turned into a problem and that there’s always a bigger problem just around the corner. Problem-solving skills mean that you should be able to:
- Analyse and understand the details of each task.
- Discuss different aspects of the problem in a group.
- Comprehend how each variable affects the outcome.
- Plan a strategy to tackle the problem.
Depending on your field of study, your problem-solving procedures may differ, but it’s essential to learn to assess each snag with some objectivity. For example, if a topic is close to your heart, you may find it difficult to accept its flaws or could get too emotional talking about it. Maintaining some academic distance will turn you into a much better student and problem-solver.
Boy, will your future bosses love you if you display a high degree of agility and flexibility around new situations! Luckily enough, university teaches you this skill without you having to think too hard about it. For example, your courses and professors change every semester, and you have to adapt to the new circumstances and expectations. Heck, even if it’s the same professors teaching you, their requirements and attitudes may vary from course to course (e.g. I have much stricter term paper rules for postcolonial fiction than I do for fantasy).
Adaptability is one of those soft skills you have to master if you want to survive uni – flexible scheduling, a high-stress environment, and lots of demands may force you to be as fluid as possible in your approaches. This can include switching up learning styles and changing your way of thinking about specific topics. Take each challenge as it comes and watch yourself become as good at adapting as Professor McGonagall is at shape-shifting.
It goes without saying that you’ll be using a series of writing and presentation software, but you might need to learn some additional skills like graphic design, simple web development, and various online tools. Digital proficiency skills encompass:
- The ability to select and use appropriate software for different purposes.
- The know-how around basic (and more complex) writing tools.
- The knowledge of the ‘interwebs’ and cloud technologies.
- The skill to learn how to use something new (see, you need to be adaptable).
Digital literacy, for most of us, comes from simply toggling with various functions until we learn how to use them properly. So, there isn’t really a shortcut to it, but when facing a new computer giant, check out online tutorials and play around with it until you get the hang of it.
Discipline, Motivation, Drive
I’m clumping these three together as the interplay among them yields the best possible results. I advise you to do some soul-searching and find what drives you in life (maybe it’s end goals, earning a degree and the knowledge that comes with it, or the prospect of a good job). That’ll sort out your motivation (internal or external, ideally both).
The more challenging part to learn is discipline, especially if you’re not used to grinding for extended periods of time. However, since university is a long-term commitment (at least three to four years), discipline is what gets things done, not just motivation. Discipline involves resilience and perseverance, and the only way to attain them is to develop a plan and do your best to stick to it. Rest when you need rest, but don’t let laziness or easily available distractions deter you from your own success.
Whether it’s ‘best for last’ or ‘last but not least’, organisation is a key skill that you need to have in order to deal with university demands and, ultimately, graduate. Organisation means being able to plan and schedule your study sessions, study breaks, and free time, as well as keep up with course requirements. Learning how to manage your time at university will spare you a lot of trouble in life as well because (I am sad to say) demands on your time only increase as you grow older.
Additional Examples of Soft Skills That Are Important for University Students
In addition to the Spectacular Six I’ve mentioned already, university life will teach you a series of other soft skills. For instance, the art of giving and, more importantly, receiving feedback is something you can master in your first years of studies. Giving feedback is not about scratching someone’s ego or tiptoeing around their feelings. It should be a thought-out statement on their achievements in a way that would give them a chance to improve. You shouldn’t be mean, but platitudes don’t help people grow – challenges and constructive criticism do. Conversely, you need to learn to accept feedback and not take it personally. Your professors and peers (at least those who want you to get better) have your best interest at heart, and even if the feedback seems a bit harsh at first, it is usually exceptionally helpful.
Similarly, you will learn how to work well in teams (another thing your future bosses will love!), be creative when brainstorming, and structure your thoughts in a coherent fashion. Time management, increased self-confidence, and coping mechanisms will also be invaluable during your studies and in life. Lastly, university will teach you to think critically about many topics – primarily regarding your field of study. But seeing as critical thinking is a transferrable skill, it will push you into action against injustice, anti-science, and similar discriminatory movements.
The Importance of Soft Skills for University Students
University should never be just about cramming for exams and chasing that diploma – it’s about learning to think and understand complex ideas, moving beyond single-view opinions, and broadening your understanding of the world. Many of these depend on your ability to develop soft skills.
For instance, working on your empathy will make you a better communicator, and it’ll also allow you to comprehend how someone feels even if you’ve never been in their shoes. Let’s take an example from the novel You Truly Assumed. Three Black Muslim women start a blog to create a safe space for everyone who has faced racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny. With some empathy, you don’t need to be a person of colour or practise Islam to understand and empathise with what these women are living through. And the same can be said for any women’s issues or people who have been marginalised by society (transgender people, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants and refugees). Kindness and acceptance along with empathy and an ability to broaden your own world views will go a long way in making us all better humans.
Mastering soft skills at university will help you in many ways as you prepare for your future. Soft skills will help you make friends, cope with stress, and prepare for the somewhat cruel job market. At the end of the day, many people with similar qualifications apply for the same position, so who do you think looks better to the potential employer: someone with qualifications only or someone who demonstrates a good deal of soft skills? Case and point.
Let’s Trust Harvard University: Soft Skills Increase Productivity
Harvard is the absolute elite in the world of universities – it is extremely competitive and yields outstanding results without faltering. As a result, I believe we can trust this study conducted at Harvard that claims people who receive any type of soft-skill training, from time management to communication skills, showed an increase in productivity by 12%.
Imagine what you could do with that extra 12 % on a daily basis. On the most basic level, you would have more time to relax and do something nice for yourself. On the more fundamental level, your performance at university would get a boost, and you’d be able to make friends more easily, being able to empathise with them. Additionally, you’d learn to cope with stress, recognise your limits and boundaries, and find ways to treat yourself well.
Enrol at the Soft Skills University Today!
… to ensure a better tomorrow (and today, honestly). To recap, student life is not all about studying and partying. Along the way, you will pick up a series of valuable soft skills, such as communication skills, time-management, and organisation and adaptability. To make the most out of your university time and improve those skills, you can try our own Soft Skills University Curriculum. The requirements are as follows:
- Challenge yourself regularly.
- Be ready to change your plans and adapt to new situations.
- Give regular presentations and speeches.
- Write your term papers conscientiously and meticulously.
- Always ask WHY! and work on your critical thinking.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Recognise signs of stress and learn to plan some time to unwind.
I’m sure you’ll ace it! Your diploma is waiting!