3 Things You Need for College (and 3 Things You Don’t)
Preparing a great college application will improve the chances that your top-choice colleges will accept you. But what do you need to do to prepare for college itself — to succeed once you are there?
Are you building the skills now that will carry you not only through high school graduation but all the way to life in the real world? What about the skills and experiences that employers will expect once you start applying for jobs after college?
Now more than ever, good grades and extracurriculars will not make you seem exceptional in the eyes of the most competitive universities. They are looking for something more, something that is often communicated through the application in less direct or tangible ways.
While it may feel discouraging at first, the key is taking an honest look at your personal, professional and social goals for after college, and working backward so that you can see clearly how the skills you’re building now will open doors in the “real world.”
Below you’ll find several of the most sought-after skills for both colleges and today’s employers. Aligning your intentions for both high school AND college graduation will give you a major leg-up on achieving your future goals, because this list mirrors the way most admissions officials and potential employers will gauge your potential for success.
1. Communication Skills
Communication skills — both oral and written — are essential for creating relationships with peers and mentors. Additionally, these skills are crucial to conveying your needs, ideas, and your thinking in both academic and work settings. Your ability to communicate directly reflects on the quality of your thought process; the quality and capacity of your thinking, in turn, is central to your success in college and complex professional environments.
Effective communication includes things such as confidence in what you have to say, how you support your ideas with logic and reasoning, and knowledge of how to set boundaries around your priorities, like your time and values. Colleges will be looking for clarity, confidence and self-awareness in the way you write, the way you interact with those around you, and the ways that you spend your time.
Where are you already making use of your ability to communicate? In what way can you challenge yourself to refine your ability to convey your ideas, beliefs, and interests?
2. Collaboration Skills
When an admissions office reviews your application — especially your activities list — they are looking for evidence of how work well you work alongside peers and mentors. They also want to get a sense of your ability to take the lead when necessary. Heading off to college or joining a company’s workforce means that you are joining a new community. In both instances, the expectation is that you will integrate yourself into that community while contributing to the overall benefit of that community by taking action based on your own thoughts and beliefs.
Where are you currently developing your collaboration skills? Where can you put more effort into working with others? Where are you willing to take more initiative as a leader?
Learn more about what skills you (or your student) can be developing (and where to start now). Join us for our free event Ready for the Real World (and College)!
3. Flexible Planning
A student can get ready for the “real world” by learning about developing what we call a flexible plan. A flexible plan revolves around both short- and long-term goals that relate to your professional, social and personal life, raising questions and revealing steps immediately ahead, so that you know what actions you can take today.
Knowing what matters to you, creating big goals and breaking them down into small steps, and then fine-tuning your goals when you discover that your priorities have shifted are the keys to maintaining a flexible plan. Just like you, it’s always evolving according to your circumstances, and it requires staying open to new, relevant information while not getting distracted.
On the flip side, we find that many families enter the college preparation process with some powerful preconceived notions that can actually be counterproductive to your future success. Here are the top three. They may surprise you!
What You Don’t Need:
1. To have your mind made up about your future path
The belief that you need to know everything from your major to your ultimate career track is not only overwhelming — it’s totally inaccurate! Most students, in fact, change their intended major at least once during college. The idea that you have to have a fixed plan may actually make it more difficult for you to build a future that is fulfilling to you.
Of course, it is important to take time to consider what matters to you about your future and to begin making connections with your current interests and abilities. However, your undergraduate years are probably the best opportunity you’ll have in your lifetime to explore, expand your boundaries, and learn about subjects you’d never even heard of previously. Keep an open mind, and revisit your flexible plan often (see #3 above and learn more about how to do this at our free Teen LAUNCH event).
2. A perfect academic record
Did you struggle last semester because you were caught off guard by the difficulty of your courses? Did something happen in your personal life that impacted your academic performance last year? Guess what: admissions counselors know that (a) things happen, and (b) no one is perfect. While blemishes on the academic record can be discouraging and a disadvantage with highly competitive colleges, don’t ever think that you’re down and out because of an off-semester.
Instead, be ready to come clean and explain what happened. Nearly all college applications have some form of an “Additional Information” section where applicants are encouraged to provide context for unusual circumstances. What factors were out of your control? What might have been within your control, that you can do better with when faced with similar situations in the future? What did you learn and how did it make you more resilient?
3. A tragic story or earth-shattering experience
Desperate to find ways to stand out from the rest of the pack, students often feel that they need to have gone through a highly traumatic incident or achieved something akin to saving the inhabitants of a small country from certain death in order to impress their admissions reader.
Not at all. You’re a teenager — and college admissions officials get that. In fact, experiences that you may think are mundane or insignificant often turn out to be the stories that best portray the qualities that colleges seek out. What’s most important is that you take a personal interest in how those experiences have shaped you, and that you communicate them in a polished and engaging way that showcases that authentic YOU.
You can begin improving upon the skills that you need right now. Here is where you can start: