College readiness: What are ‘soft skills’

14 Nov

Whether or not students choose college or vocational training at the end of their high school career, our goal as a society should be that children should be “college ready.” David T. Conley writes in the ASCD article, What Makes a Student College Ready?

Caralee J. Adams reports in the Education Week article, ‘Soft Skills’ Pushed as Part of College Readiness:

To make it in college, students need to be up for the academic rigor. But that’s not all. They also must be able to manage their own time, get along with roommates, and deal with setbacks. Resiliency and grit, along with the ability to communicate and advocate, are all crucial life skills. Yet, experts say, many teenagers lack them, and that’s hurting college-completion rates.

“Millennials have had helicopter parents who have protected them,” said Dan Jones, the president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors and the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “They haven’t had the opportunity to struggle. When they come to college and bad things happen, they haven’t developed resiliency and self-soothing skills.”

College enrollment is growing, but graduation rates remain flat. Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks ninth in the world in enrollment but last in completion rates, according to an analysis of 18 countriesRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As educators look for ways to turn that showing around, many schools are incorporating the softer, noncognitive skills into college-readiness efforts. The ability to solve problems and be resourceful are viewed by some experts as being as important as mastering mathematics and reading. Helping teenagers develop those skills is being addressed in high schools, college-freshman orientation, youth-development organizations, and parenting programs….

“The expectations are not in alignment with reality,” said Harlan Cohen, the author of The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College, published last year. “Students do not have the communication skills to navigate through adversity that is part of the normal transition to college.”

Colleges sell the best moments in brochures. “The uncomfortable parts aren’t illustrated. You don’t see people crying, struggling, vomiting, dealing with roommate conflict or heartache,” Mr. Cohen said.

To emotionally prepare students for campus life, he has helped craft a curriculum for high school seniors. “High schools are starting to realize that we desperately need to be responding, not just getting them into college, but getting them through,” he said….

The work of promoting life skills is bigger than high school counselors can handle alone, especially since many have caseloads far into the hundreds. College counselors try to help incoming freshmen, but their resources are stretched and their priority is serving the most-troubled students. And many experts believe those soft skills need to be taught before students get to campus.

A holistic approach to college readiness that integrates academic content, college knowledge, and psychology may be what’s needed to help more students complete college, said Andrea Venezia, a project director at WestEd, a research organization based in San Francisco. Rather than compartmentalization of college-readiness efforts, she advocates early training that includes noncognitive strategies and habits of mind that give students internal strength to persist….

Soft skills are skills associated with “emotional intelligence.”

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. have written the excellent article, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) for HELPGUIDE.Org.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and diffuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

If you have a high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

  • Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.

  • Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

  • Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Why is emotional intelligence (EQ) so important?

As we know, it’s not the smartest people that are the most successful or the most fulfilled in life. You probably know people who are academically brilliant and yet are socially inept and unsuccessful at work or in their personal relationships. Intellectual intelligence or IQ isn’t enough on its own to be successful in life. IQ can help you get into college but it’s EQ that will help you manage the stress and emotions of sitting your final exams.

Emotional intelligence affects:

  • Your performance at work. Emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.

  • Your physical health. If you’re unable to manage your stress levels, it can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress.

  • Your mental health. Uncontrolled stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand and manage your emotions, you’ll also be open to mood swings, while an inability to form strong relationships can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.

  • Your relationships. By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you’re better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in your personal life.

Whether one calls success traits “emotional intelligence” or “soft skills” is really not important. The traits associated are those more likely to result in a successful outcome for the student.

Margaret Rouse defines “soft skills” in the post, Soft Skills:

Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are interpersonal and broadly applicable.

Soft skills are often described by using terms often associated with personality traits, such as:

  • optimism
  • common sense
  • responsibility
  • a sense of humor
  • integrity

and abilities that can be practiced (but require the individual to genuinely like other people) such as:

  • empathy
  • teamwork
  • leadership
  • communication
  • good manners
  • negotiation
  • sociability
  • the ability to teach.

It’s often said that hard skills will get you an interview but you need soft skills to get (and keep) the job.

K-12 education must not only prepare students by teaching basic skills, but they must prepare students for training after high school, either college or vocational. There should not only be a solid education foundation established in K-12, but there must be more accurate evaluation of whether individual students are “college ready.”


Many NOT ready for higher education                          

What the ACT college readiness assessment means     

Study: What skills are needed for ’21st-century learning?’             

ACT to assess college readiness for 3rd-10th Grades                 

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