Female college student using the soft skill of communication with another student

College Success

What Are Soft Skills in College?

03.07.2023 • 10 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Learn what soft skills are and why they make a difference in college. We’ll cover different examples and how to grow in them.

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In This Article

  1. What Are Soft Skills?

  2. Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

  3. Why Are Soft Skills Important?

  4. 10 Types of Soft Skills

  5. Strengthen Your Skills for College Success

Have you ever worked with Darth Vader? You know, the Chosen One from Star Wars. The dark side advocate. The Jedi gone bad.

Not sure what I mean? Let’s look at one example of how this character can be in a group setting:

During a Joint Chiefs meeting, high Imperial officers and Darth Vader meet in a battle station called the Death Star. They’re discussing how their station will hold up against any attacks by the Rebels—Luke Skywalker and the other good guys.

Admiral Motti raises his voice and raves about the invincibility of their Death Star.

Darth Vader corrects him, stating that the real power is the Force.

Admiral Motti belittles Darth Vader in front of everyone for his “sad devotion” to “sorcery.”

Darth Vader steps closer to him.

The admiral continues to mock the Force.

Still a few feet away, Darth Vader lifts his hand and force-chokes the admiral.

Did you catch that? Chokes him.

Was that an appropriate response? And what about Admiral Motti’s behavior?

This may be a meeting full of bad guys, but tactics like this aren’t exactly productive.

It’s bad leadership. It’s bad group vibes. It’s poor interaction. And it happens in the real world all the time.

Whether it’s a class discussion, study group, work huddle, or Galactic Empire meeting, we will all have to interact with people. That’s why soft skills—or people skills—are critical to have.

In this article, you’ll learn how to avoid the dark side by taking a deeper look at soft skills. We'll define soft skills, discuss the difference between soft skills and hard skills, and explore the most relevant types and examples for college students. We'll also offer some tips on how to develop strong soft skills.

So whether you're a college student looking to strengthen your skills for success, or simply curious about what soft skills are, read on!

What Are Soft Skills?

In simple terms, soft skills are the abilities to communicate and work well with other people. They’re also sometimes called “people skills” or “interpersonal skills.”

Some examples of soft skills include: • Communication • Teamwork • Problem solving • Critical thinking • Conflict resolution • Emotional intelligence

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

What’s the difference between soft skills and hard skills? Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities ‌that we can quantify, such as programming languages or writing. ‌You learn hard skills through formal education or training programs.

In contrast, soft skills are interpersonal skills that enable you to interact effectively with others. They’re ‌more difficult to quantify than hard skills. You develop soft skills through experience and practice.

To put it another way: hard skills are the what of your job, and soft skills are the how.

While both types of skills are crucial, employers ‌place greater emphasis on soft skills when hiring college graduates. In fact, most of the top skills employers look for are soft skills, not hard skills, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The top 5 skills employers look for:

  • Problem solving

  • Teamwork

  • Work ethic

  • Communication

  • Leadership

This is because hard skills can usually be learned on the job, while soft skills are more difficult to teach. If you want to be competitive in the job market, develop your soft skills!

Why Are Soft Skills Important?

Soft skills are essential for succeeding in college and the workplace. They’re the magic sauce that makes collaboration and tasks go smoothly. They help you build strong relationships with your professors and classmates. Good communication makes it easier to ask for help and form positive relationships with your peers.

Soft skills can help you stand out from the competition when applying for jobs or internships. Many employers value soft skills more than hard skills. You can become a more well-rounded individual, which can make you a more attractive candidate for post-grad opportunities.

10 Types of Soft Skills

College students can benefit from developing multiple soft skills. Here are some of the most relevant ones:

1. Communication

Effective communication is important in every aspect of life, and this is especially true in college. Whether you’re communicating with your professors, classmates, or peers, being able to express yourself clearly and listen attentively will help you succeed.

Keep in mind that communicating effectively is a two-way street. Make sure ‌you understand where others are coming from. Taking time to ask questions for clarity is ‌as important as articulating yourself.

2. Teamwork

In many cases, college students will have to work on group projects. Learning how to work effectively as part of a team is essential for completing these projects successfully and avoiding conflict.

Finishing a project is one part of the process. Making sure all group members have an equal contribution in creating the final product is another. Everyone should have a sense of ownership.

3. Time Management

With so much going on in college, it’s critical you manage your time well. This includes knowing how to prioritize your tasks, staying organized, and avoiding procrastination.

Developing good time management practices in college leads to both better academic performance and greater well-being in all areas of your life.

4. Interpersonal Skills

Being able to interact with others in a positive way is big for college students. This includes maintaining a positive attitude, being open-minded, and handling disagreements constructively.

A large part of having strong interpersonal skills involves being able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly. People with strong interpersonal skills can relate well to others and explain where they stand on specific issues.

5. Flexibility

Having a routine and managing your time are a part of a successful college experience, but flexibility is just as important. No matter if it’s school, work, or your social life, you are bound to experience some disruptions to your schedule. How you manage these bumps in the road will matter to future employers.

Being flexible means staying calm when plans go sideways and being okay with gray areas from time to time. This soft skill helps you find a way to move forward in any circumstance.

6. Creativity

Creativity is out-of-the-box thinking. While many tasks have a protocol, creativity is what makes you unique. Thinking up new ways to approach your work shows your employer ‌you are an asset.

In college, creativity sets your work apart from your peers in almost any activity, from writing papers to giving presentations. Professors and employers notice an individual’s creativity.

7. Problem Solving

As a student, you constantly have to solve problems, from dealing with your roommates to working out a study schedule..The ability to move forward with a solution to those hang-ups is a skill ‌you can demonstrate right from the interview process.

Being open to change and new ideas engages your mind to find a path forward that works. Problem-solving is both the ability to recognize the problem and come up with a solution to it.

8. Work Ethic

Having a strong work ethic is being able to see a task through to completion. Not only do you complete the task, but it’s also high-quality work.

It takes effort and focus to excel, and employers want to know who works hard for their company. This doesn’t mean working until exhaustion. It means knowing when to take a break and coming back to a project with dedication to do it well.

9. Dependability

Being dependable is‌ the most crucial of all soft skills in today’s working world. This is showing up on time and getting your work done. Dependability is knowing ‌you can rely on others and they can rely on you. Getting a college job is a great way to demonstrate your dependability as an employee.

Throughout your college experience, you have to show up well many times: getting to class, finishing assignments, and giving presentations. These examples show you’re dependable.

10. Leadership

Even though you may not be a natural leader, communicating clearly and knowing when to delegate responsibility are signs of leadership. Almost any job will require some ‌leadership. You will eventually have to work with others who may not understand a concept or need to learn from you.

Having the skills to step in and help is attractive to employers. This not only shows drive and initiative but also tells an employer ‌you have the potential to be a part of the future of the company.

Strengthen Your Skills for College Success

You can develop your soft skills in several ways. First, identify the areas you’d like to improve. Then tap into resources at your school—or just one click away on your device. Let’s look at a few options.

Consume Personal Development Resources

Books, podcasts, and articles are great options with many topics on personal development. Taking the time to read up on how to manage your time while in college or creating a college budget will help you grow.

Many colleges offer workshops or courses on effective communication and time management. For example, Outlier.org’s free College Success course goes over topics like:

  • Understanding the unwritten rules of communication between students and professors

  • Avoiding procrastination

  • Maximizing your financial aid

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Get a Job or Internship

Another great way to strengthen your skills is to get a part-time job or internship. Finding a part-time college job will give you the opportunity to use your skills in a real-world setting and gain valuable experience. A bonus is that many employers offer training programs.

If you can find a job or internship related to your career goals, you’ll get experience under your belt and a competitive edge for future opportunities.

Participate in Extracurricular Activities

One of the best ways to strengthen your skills is through extracurricular activities. Many colleges offer various clubs and organizations that can help you develop your skills.

For example, if you want to improve your communication skills, you could join a debate team or a public speaking club. If you want to improve your teamwork skills, you could join a sports team or volunteer group. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is a great way to practice using your skills and make new friends. Now that you have a better grasp on soft skills, let’s look at what happens after our friend Darth Vader’s meeting. (Spoiler alert)

If you've watched Star Wars: A New Hope, you'll know the massive battle station these bad guys believed in didn’t live up to the hype.

Almost everyone from the meeting dies as the Rebels destroy the Death Star.

Here’s a question though. Could soft skills have prevented this loss?

Admiral Motti should have listened to Darth Vader. Right? And Vader could have persuaded him… differently.

Would the end result have been different? Maybe.

The lesson? Don’t be like the admiral.

And definitely don’t be like Darth Vader.

Without a doubt, the Force—the good side—sounds fun, but we need soft skills in the real world.

If you want to give yourself a competitive edge in college and the job market, focus on developing your soft skills! You’ll significantly improve your success anywhere in the galaxy.

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