Why Involvement in College Matters

Why should I hire you? It’s a question that every college graduate
will have to answer in some way after they graduate. It may not always be asked this
way, but it will be implied in every question they’re asked at the interview. Why should I hire you? For some students the question may cause a
sense of panic. Many falsely assume that a diploma is all they need to get a great job.
They’ve heard people say, “all you need is a college degree, it doesn’t really matter
what your degree is in.” That is false. The truth is a little more complicated. If you use college as an opportunity to grow
and develop, you are more likely to become the kind of person that employers want to
hire after college. Simply put, your most important project in college is you. So what skills do employers want? The National
Association of Colleges and Employers asks them every year. Here is what they found out. Verbal Communication, Teamwork, Problem Solving,
Setting Priorities, Finding and Evaluating Information, Quantitative Reasoning Skills,
Computer Skills, Writing and Editing, and Influencing Others. Now where can you gain these skills? Stephen
F. Austin State University and CampusLabs conducted a national study on this issue called
Project CEO: Cocurricular Experience Outcomes. This study looked at how students developed
the skills employers want and some of the results may surprise you. We asked more than 17 thousand students at
40 institutions where they could learn these skills.
Without exception, “their classes,” was the most common answer. This makes a lot of sense.
Classes are supposed to prepare you for success in life and every student takes classes. But,
not every student will participate in a student organization or an internship. We investigated these experiences outside
of classes that may contribute: These were Internships, On-campus Jobs, Off-campus Jobs,
and Cocurricular Experiences. (Cocurricular Experiences meaning optional experiences outside
of the classroom in which learning can occur, like student organizations, campus publications,
student government, fraternities, sororities, intercollegiate or intermural sports, or academic
groups and honors societies. When we asked which experiences outside the
classroom helped students to develop employment skills Cocurricular Experiences were the most
common answer more than half of the time. Students developed Teamwork, Decision Making,
Obtaining and Processing Information, Problem Solving, Verbal Communication; Planning, organizing
and Prioritizing. In three skills internships got the most responses:
Career Knowledge, Computer Proficiency, and Writing and Editing In two skills Off-Campus Jobs got the most
response: Sales and Influence and Analyzing Quantitative Data. To see the impact that cocurricular programs
make let’s look at how three hypothetical students developed the six skills that cocurricular
experiences impact most. This first student doesn’t participate in
cocurricular experiences at all, they just go to class, and go back to their room.
The second student has been involved on campus for two years, they spend at least an hour
a week involved on campus. The third student has been a leader on campus
for two years. They run meetings, they help their organization set goals and accomplish
them. We asked each of them to rate their skills
in each of these areas. Verbal communication, teamwork, problem solving,
setting priorities, finding and evaluating information, and decision making. What does this mean? The more involved students
were, the more likely they were to say that they were gaining these skills. This leads
us to an interesting question, how involved do you have to be to get the benefits of participation
in a cocurricular experience? Let’s look at four more students. This one is somewhat involved in a single
organization. This one is somewhat involved in multiple organizations. This one is very
involved in a single organization. And this one is very involved in multiple
organizations. We asked them to rate themselves on each of
the six skills that cocurricular experiences impact most. Verbal communication, teamwork, problem solving,
setting priorities, finding and evaluating information, and decision making. So what does this mean? Well this seems to suggest that what really
matters is your level of involvement. The learning benefits of being very involved in
one organization are essentially the same as those gained from being somewhat involved
in multiple organiziations. Students who were very involved in multiple
organizations perceived the greatest benefit, much more than students who were only somewhat
involved. This also supports the claim that it is the depth of your involvement that matters. A word of Caution: Although involvement in
multiple organizations is beneficial, it’s also important for students to find a balance
and not over extend themselves. So what can we take away from this? First, we need to help employers understand
the benefits of hiring involved students, since they tend to have many of the skills
employers are looking for. Second, Internships are great, but not every
student can get an internship, but any student can participate in at least one cocurricular
experience. Third, Students work more hours than ever
before, and this presents many challenges, but it may also present opportunites for students
to develop career skills from their jobs on an off campus. So if students want a great job after college,
they’ll need the skills that employers want. Involvment outside of the classroom can be
an engaging and fun way to develop these skills.

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