College years are some of the best years of your life. You’re out on your own for the first time. You dig into classes in subjects that you really love, meet people who can affect your future and perhaps enjoy a party or three. Besides reading the classics and learning about your future career, you can use your time at college to pick up skills that will serve you well in life, no matter the unexpected twists and turns ahead. Here are five skills you should actively work on in your college years.
Ask most YouTubers and they’ll tell you they got into it to be part of a community, but that doesn’t stop them from earning a living at it. Sure, some of them started out not knowing an f-stop from a backstop or the relative advantages of blue screen vs green screen, but why start at zero if you don’t have to? Video is the way people communicate online. From full-length YouTube videos to short tutorials on TikTok or Instagram, even if you produce videos privately for your own website, having a basic knowledge of video production will serve you well throughout your life. Sell a product or create the world’s most engaging presentation at work, whatever you want to do, chances are you’ll want to put it on video at some point.
If there’s a good chance you’ll use your video editing skills in life, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll need some basic accounting. Bookkeeping sharpens your math and detail skills. While most people don’t use double-entry bookkeeping in their personal lives, understanding how it is used can be translated to your household. Learn to budget, read and understand financial reports and make decisions based on the information you have. Beyond your personal finances, you’ll make better decisions about investments, whether it be a 401(k) or your personal investment account.
For people who become business owners, accounting skills are imperative. You have to know how to create invoices and properly categorize expenses. Even if your product is yourself, understanding financials is still important. There are too many stories of celebrities who have been bilked out of millions by unscrupulous accountants and business managers because they didn’t know how to read their own financial statements.
Depending on your major, taking an accounting class might be outside your necessary curriculum, but nearly every student has a foreign language requirement. Instead of seeing it as a semester or two you simply have to grin and bear, lean into your foreign language and take it even further. In today’s global marketplace, knowing a second language is a highly marketable skill. Even if you aren’t quite qualified in other areas, being able to communicate across language barriers puts you head and shoulders above your competition.
When you pick a language, try to fit it to your major. Spanish is valuable all over the United States. Mandarin and German are good choices for international business and tech applications. If you work outside the United States, you’ll be surprised at how many people speak English, but trying to communicate in someone else’s language when you are in their country is respectful and builds a bond your competitors may lack.
College gives you a theoretical understanding of your field, but employers want you to come out with the tech skills that allow you to jump into the workforce without a lot of additional training. You probably already know how to use basic office software from Microsoft and Google but you need to dig deeper. Learn how to use pivot tables in Excel and design a database and associated queries in SQL. Find out about specialized software in your field and discover whether your college offers classes in running it. If not, look for opportunities in part-time jobs or internships.
Finally, develop your critical thinking skills. Originally, colleges were all about critical thinking, but today’s students can get a degree without ever having learned to think. Your introductory writing courses are more about critical thinking than anything else. Focus on those courses to get everything possible out of them. Sign up for classes specifically designed for logic and critical thinking. They often satisfy basic course requirements. Leadership courses also develop critical thinking.
Critical thinking allows you to create connections between facts. It helps you recognize facts in the first place, and understand how manipulation pulls on your natural bias to try to influence your decision-making. Critical thinking makes you ask questions and helps you think outside the box.
College is more than a means to learn a marketable skill, it is an opportunity to broaden your horizons and become better at life. These five skills are ones you can use at home or at work. They can help you pivot to a new career or excel in your chosen field. You’ll never regret taking the time to learn something new.