7 Skills Every College Student Had Better Learn Before Graduating

College students gain a wealth of information in the time they spend in school, especially in the classes that related to their majors. But in order to really get the most out of those academic college skills, students also need to support them with certain other practical skills.

The following skills not only help successful college students complete their studies, they can also help them find a job after they graduate:

1. Time management

Time Management

College can be the perfect place to learn time management skills because there is always something to do, and only so many hours in the day to do it all. College students juggle things like going to class, doing homework assignments, studying, eating meals, participating in extracurricular activities, and socializing, but unlike in high school, students have to learn how to manage their time in a less-structured way with no supervision. This can be a challenging skill to learn, and students who can’t effectively manage their time may have difficulty completing their degree.

Although students can learn how to manage their time on their own if they’re disciplined enough, there are also courses they can take to get more proficient at this skill. In time management courses, students can learn how to set effective goals, fight the urge to procrastinate and prioritize all the tasks on their plate.

2. Critical thinking

Critical Thinking

Students who develop critical thinking skills have the ability to collect information and evaluate it in order to make the best decisions. This is an important skill to learn as it can help students solve problems in creative ways, and work toward innovative approaches to a variety of tasks. Some of the courses that college students can take to learn critical thinking skills include philosophy classes where reasoning skills, logic and argumentation are taught.

3. Public speaking

Public Speaking

Speaking in front of a group is almost an inevitability in many college courses as well as in the workplace, so honing public speaking skills can be extremely beneficial. Public speaking skills can help students learn to organize their thoughts, create effective arguments and voice their opinions in an effective way — which can help students be successful in many college classes.

Although students may have the opportunity to give presentations in a variety of courses, the best place to learn this vital skill is in a public speaking course. In these classes, students learn how to create presentations on different topics, construct arguments and provide evidence to back them up, use supporting materials during a presentation and take constructive criticism from an audience.

4. Research


Research skills are an essential for college students, as there’s a professional need to be able to collect information for a number of assignments, as well as evaluate the veracity of the information they find. Though students who enter college are typically accustomed to finding information on the Internet, it’s also important for them to learn how to use non-electronic research tools.

Many courses in college require students to conduct some kind of academic research, but in order to learn how to research in the most efficient and effective ways, students can enroll in research methods classes. These courses are designed to teach students how to search for information, evaluate and select content, and credit the sources they use.

Key skills according to the employers

Employers are usually impressed by candidates who have a degree in hand, but that’s, in many cases, just the bare minimum that students need when competing for a job after graduation. Many employers are looking for candidates who have skills that help them get things done in the workplace, but hiring managers report they are not seeing these skills from many job applicants. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Northeastern University, a significant number of business leaders believe recent college graduates simply aren’t prepared to enter the workforce. If executives were going to hand out grades to these candidates based on their skills, they would only give them a “C,” according to another study conducted by Bentley University.

But college students have the opportunity to gain the skills they need according to Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job, if they take advantage of what their schools have to offer. Manciagli cited the following skills are a must for college students to master before they graduate:

5. Software skills

Software Skills

Manciagli said that although many students have some of the essential software skills they will use at any position they land, most don’t have all of them. But, she warned, students not fluent in basic programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint will be at a real disadvantage when they look for a job.

“No matter what field you’re in, you’re communicating with other people,” she said. “Students need to know all three of these programs at an advanced level by the time they finish college.”

Any students who think they can get all of the requisite training for these skills after getting a job should think again. Manciagli said that not only will hiring managers ask whether or not a candidate has software skills, oftentimes they’ll go as far as to sit a job applicant in front of a computer to demonstrate.

The good news is that there are several ways college students can gain expertise in PowerPoint, Word and Excel before they graduate. Many colleges offer a computer lab for students looking for extra training in these areas. Additionally, students can also find a variety of free online courses designed to help them build their proficiency in these programs.

6. Business writing

Business Writing Skills

Business writing skills are so important that students have to possess them before they can even get an interview for a job. Candidates need to be able to get the attention of hiring managers through a well-written cover letter and resume to get a foot in the door to compete for any job.

When they land the job, workers must be able to demonstrate business writing skills — such as drafting reports, professional emails, or memos — in order to do their job well. Although some students may mistakenly believe that if they’re entering certain fields, like science and technology professions, they don’t need to focus so much on the written word, having business writing skills can make a big difference in how they progress in their careers.

“In any field, if you can’t put sentences together, it will hurt your promotability,” Manciagli said. “Remember you’re competing against the next person who can write.”

In order to make themselves attractive to employers, Manciagli suggested students take specific courses in business writing. Although students do gain writing skills from taking other classes, especially those found in the English department of any school, business writing is a specific skills set that needs to be developed separately. Students who need extra help with this kind of writing may also turn to their school’s career development center or tutoring resources to get more practice.

7. Teamwork skills

Teamwork Skills

It’s important for college students to learn how to work in a team environment, even if their job generally involves independent work, Manciagli said. Every job requires some degree of collaboration, so employers are looking for workers who know how to work well with other people.

To build these skills, Manciagli suggested taking business classes, which generally require students to complete projects in a team setting. Classes like these are particularly helpful for teaching students how teams work, because every member of the team has to depend on the others to get a good grade.

Other places that allow students to gain teamwork skills are study groups, volunteer projects and committees. But Manciagli warned that although sports do give students an opportunity to work in one kind of team, it’s not the same as working in a collaborative team, which is what employers are looking for.

To find out more about courses where you can pick up the skills you need for the professional world, check out some of the listings below.


“College Lessons Prepare Students for Success in Job Market,” QuintCareers, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.quintcareers.com/college_job-market_lessons

“Essential Skills for College Students,” Clarke University, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.clarke.edu/page.aspx?id=22553

“The 9 Skills You’ll Actually Learn In College,” Thought Catalog, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://thoughtcatalog.com/sam-stryker/2013/11/the-9-skills-youll-actually-learn-in-college/

“Student Success,” Pima Community College, Accessed November 21, 2014, https://bannerweb.pima.edu/pls/pima/az_tw_subcrse_catalog.p_subjcrse_list?p_subject_code=STU

“Managing Time for Success in College,” University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.uwgb.edu/tutoring/resources/managing.asp

“Critical Thinking Skills,” Wallace State Community College, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.wallacestate.edu/fileadmin/user_upload/WallaceState/documents/success/critical_thinking_brochure.pdf

“Critical Thinking,” University of Rhode Island, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.uri.edu/personal/szunjic/philos/critthink

“5 reasons everyone should take a public speaking course,” USA Today, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://college.usatoday.com/2014/01/16/5-reasons-everyone-should-take-a-public-speaking-course/

“Public Speaking,” Bellevue College, Accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.bellevuecollege.edu/artshum/materials/CMST/pope/fall2010/220/220_syll_fall_10.pdf

“Introduction to Public Speaking,” University of California, Berkeley, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://writing.berkeley.edu/classes-and-awp/spring-2013/cw-10a

“Public Speaking: The Basics,” University of Pittsburgh, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.speaking.pitt.edu/student/public-speaking/basics

“11 Skills You’ll Need for a Career,” U.S. News & World Report, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/professors-guide/2009/11/25/11-skills-youll-need-for-a-career

“Research Skills Courses,” University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.lsa.umich.edu/sts/stsminor/researchskillscourses

“College Students Are Now Paying Extra to Learn Actually Useful Skills,” Smithsonian, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/college-students-are-now-paying-extra-learn-actually-useful-skills-180951973/?no-ist

“The Surprising Reason College Grads Can’t Get a Job,” The Fiscal Times, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/01/29/Surprising-Reason-College-Grads-Can-t-Get-Job

“Business leaders unimpressed with college grads’ skills,” The Hechinger Report, Accessed November 21, 2014, http://hechingerreport.org/content/business-leaders-increasingly-unimpressed-college-grads-skills_15715/

Interview with Dana Manciagli. Conducted by Kenya McCullum, November 20, 2014

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