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The 4 most important skills you need in college

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

In this blog post, I identify and explain the four most important skills you need in college. While I could have made this list much longer (you need many skills to succeed in college!), I narrowed it down to the four that will cause the most issues if you don’t have them.

The 4 most important skills you need in college

1. Resourcefulness.

Resourcefulness is the ability to figure things out. It’s the ability to figure out what you don’t know, and then figure out what you need to do to figure it out. (That’s a lot of figuring things out … but that’s the whole idea behind resourcefulness.)

In this post here, I give you 5 strategies for figuring things out. Trust me, you want to read that when you’re done reading this post. 

The reason resourcefulness is one of the most important skills you need in college is because you’ll no longer have parents or teachers telling you how to do things. In college, your teachers will tell you what to do, but the how is totally on you.

  • Don’t know how to work the dorm laundry machines? You have to figure it out.
  • Don’t know how to make it to field hockey practice on time when your Asian Lit course is halfway across campus? Figure it out.
  • Don’t know how to let your professor know that your paper is going to be late? Figure it out, my friend.

2. Time management.

Another of the 4 most important skills you need in college is time management. So much of your college success truly depends on your ability to accurately assess where you’re spending your time. In high school, your school day is one chunk of time, like from 7 AM – 2 PM. While you may have had to manage after-school activities, there were still significant time structures in place that made time management much simpler.

However, in college, your class schedule is more scattered, and there are more open time pockets during the day that are easy to mismanage. If you haven’t mastered Google Calendar yet, you absolutely must do so before you head to college. Here is my Complete Google Calendar Tutorial for Students. Promise me you’ll read it.

As I explain in the tutorial, time management begins with making time VISIBLE. You must never skip this step. You have to see where you’re really spending your time before you can ever manage it. Warning: Following the steps in my Complete Google Calendar Tutorial for Students can be a dramatic wake-up call for some students. If so, don’t fight it.

Another side of time management involves recognizing if you’re doing too much. In this post here, I explain the four signs you’re doing too much, as well as three ways to fix your situation. 

3. Communication.

Yikes. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is important in all areas of life, and college is no exception. Good communication skills involve the ability to speak and write concisely so that other people fully understand you. It also includes the ability to actively listen to others while monitoring your own comprehension. Lastly, communication skills include knowing how to work with others and how to disagree in group discussions.

When I say that communication is one of the most important skills you need in college, I’m not making the claim that you need to write like Shakesepear or move a crowd like Martin Luther King. That would be cool, but the list below is a more accurate representation of what good communication looks like in college:

  • Writing clear and concise emails that deliver information or ask questions
  • Responding to emails in a timely manner
  • Being able to ask for help when you’re confused (and being able to articulate what exactly you need help with)
  • Delivering class presentations by speaking clearly, slowly, and at the right volume
  • Writing essays that make a solid claim (thesis), followed by clear examples that support your thesis
  • Participating in class discussions clearly, audibly, and respectfully
  • Being responsive  and accessible to key figures such as your professors, mentors, counselors and advisers.

4. Study skills.

Hopefully you’ve developed solid study skills in high school. If not, then you’re going to have to play a little catch-up as you start college. At the college level, your professors won’t hold your hand like your high school teachers did. They won’t make class Quizletts for you, they’ll rarely provide study guides, and they usually don’t even remind you that a test is coming up. (They expect you to look at the syllabus and put due dates and test dates in your calendar.)

The most important study strategies you need in college are Active Recall and Spaced Repetition. Active Recall study methods let you learn the material faster and more completely (yes please!). Spaced Repetition is the time framework that maximizes how well you retain what you’re studying. The two study methods go hand-in-hand. You need them both. 

More important skills you need in college

The four skills in this list are what I’d argue the most important skills you need to be successful in college. But obviously, you need more skills than these four. To start, here are 5 life skills all students need to be functional adults. Also, your college experience will be richer and smoother if you have begun to develop skills in the following areas:

  1. Emotional regulation
  2. Stress management
  3. Executive functions
  4. Concentration
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Basic financial intelligence
  7. Healthy habits (physical and mental)

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