Important Life Lessons You Can Learn from a College Education

When you make the decision to earn your college degree, you likely have a specific goal in mind. Maybe you’re looking to earn an undergraduate degree to help you land your dream job. Perhaps you need advanced credentials to qualify for a promotion. Or maybe you’re thinking about a career change, and you’re looking to learn an entirely new profession.

Earning a college degree can help you accomplish all of those things. But there are additional, less-obvious benefits of a college education that can be just as crucial. Developing your communication skills, becoming more efficient at time management, and changing your approach to overcoming challenges are just some of the important life lessons you learn in college that can’t be found in any textbook.

What are soft skills, and why are they important?

Students having a group discussion

Communication, teamwork, and adaptability — along with other related qualities such as conflict resolution, flexibility, leadership, time management, and problem solving — are collectively referred to as soft skills.

These skills play a vital role in achieving organizational success. For example, at any company there should be clearly communicated goals — not to mention well-defined roles and responsibilities — so everyone knows what’s expected of them. You and your colleagues need to work collaboratively and develop a sense of cohesion. As situations change, everyone should be able to quickly adapt to the new circumstances and adjust accordingly.

Even if you’re not familiar with the term soft skills, employers know what they are and weigh them heavily when making hiring decisions. Fortunately, college degree programs give you the chance to build these skills. Depending on your career goals, you can even pursue a degree that have coursework designed to help develop specific skills

Soft skills vs. hard skills.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report explains how soft skills relate to the workforce and how they differ from hard skills. “While hard skills are about doing specific technical tasks, like tax accounting or graphic design, soft skills are more about the way you do them, like your ability to creatively solve problems or work within a team,” the report says.

The same study surveyed more than 5,000 talent professionals in 35 countries. It revealed that 92% of the respondents said soft skills matter as much as or more than hard skills when they hire, while 80% indicated soft skills are increasingly important to company success.

In a report titled “Opportunity for Higher Education in the Era of the Talent Economy,” education company Pearson discusses the role of technology in transforming jobs, and concludes that soft skills will become increasingly valued. “These are the unique human abilities that allow understanding of systems, of causation, and of behavior,” the report says. “These soft skills are a priority for employers and are what’s most important and most lacking among their workforce today.”

Developing your soft skills in college.

No matter what course of study you choose, there are a number of ways to develop your soft skills as you’re working toward your degree. Here are just a few examples:


One of the best ways to improve your communication skills is by becoming a better writer. The act of writing helps you more clearly organize and express your thoughts, which can also translate to improved verbal communication. Not only is there a writing aspect to most college courses, but Maryville University has a writing studio, which offers individualized instruction, as well as a variety of online writing resources, including online tutoring.


Employers like to see people who take initiative. There are a number of ways you can develop this soft skill while in college. For example, you can take the lead on group projects, join (and becoming an officer in) campus organizations, and proactively seek internships that provide real-world experience.

Time Management

Going to college requires you to take on added responsibilities and have the ability to focus on multiple projects. This is especially true for students enrolled in online courses, many of whom are balancing schoolwork with careers and families. It’s not easy, and it calls for a higher level of discipline and planning to get the most out of every minute.

Not only do employers value people who have shown that they can master time management, but learning to prioritize your obligations can also give you a boost of confidence and be great practice for being able to handle multiple projects at work.

Tiffany N

“You have to really prioritize what’s most important,” says Maryville online Doctor of Nursing Practice graduate Tiffany N. “Then set aside blocks of time and successfully complete one task at a time before you move on to something else.”

Approaching challenges with a growth mindset.

Along with soft skills, you can aim to set yourself up for success by developing a growth mindset — a term for taking a positive approach to learning that was popularized by Stanford professor Carol Dweck.

Just as developing your soft skills can enhance your interactions with others and improve your problem-solving abilities, having a growth mindset can also lead to self-improvement and increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes.

A positive mental outlook is especially important when you’re embracing a new challenge such as pursuing an advanced degree. After all, making the brave decision to earn your degree can be scary. There’s the fear of failure, uncertainty about the opportunities that lie ahead, and the natural apprehension that goes with taking risks and trying something new.

What is a growth mindset?

In the Psychology Today article “15 Ways to Build a Growth Mindset,” author Tchiki Davis explains, “A growth mindset is simply the belief that our basic abilities can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work. It’s not so much that this belief is some kind of magic. It’s just that without a growth mindset, we don’t exert the required effort and so we remain perpetually stuck.”

The article further explains that the opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, where we are limited by a belief that we can’t improve, and reluctant to take risks because we’re afraid of failing or being embarrassed.

Dr. Davis adds, “those of us with a growth mindset often build new skills more easily because we believe we can and so we really work at it.”

Tips for developing a growth mindset.

Students engaged in learning

If feel your mindset tends to be more oriented toward fixed than growth, don’t despair — you’re not stuck. One of the fundamental principles of a growth mindset is that we’re always growing in our skills and abilities. Earning your online degree offers you plenty of opportunities to establish or develop a growth mindset. Here are a few examples of things you can do to help get you there.

Face your challenges bravely.

It’s important not to be discouraged by challenges. The prospect of earning your online degree can seem daunting, and you deserve a great deal of credit for taking the first step.

Rather than being apprehensive, embrace the opportunity. Take advantage of the many benefits of online learning. For example, Maryville offers multiple start dates and the flexibility to learn on your schedule. You’ll even have access to a dedicated student support advisor who will be there to offer guidance and support from enrollment through graduation.

The path to attaining your goals is an exciting process, and you should enjoy every step along the way.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Learning new skills requires effort and can take time. Remember that there are often setbacks on the road to achieving success. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t come easily to you; be persistent, and your hard work will pay off.

Embrace criticism.

One of the defining characteristics of a fixed mindset is having a thin skin. Nobody likes to hear about what they don’t do well. But try to see criticism as an opportunity to improve yourself.

Be proactive and seek feedback from your professors. At Maryville, our online students have direct access to our faculty through email, message boards, chats, and dedicated office hours. Your professors are here as one of your top resources for learning and improving — so make an effort to connect with them.

Keep setting new goals.

Congratulations, you received an A on your first exam! Take a moment to appreciate the achievement, but don’t become complacent.

Constantly setting small, incremental goals for yourself will keep you motivated and working hard toward your next accomplishment. After all, the sky’s the limit.

Universal life lessons.

Woman sitting at a computer

While earning your degree may be your primary focus in college, it’s important not to lose sight of the many other important lessons you can learn along the journey.

By approaching challenges with an open mind, maintaining a positive attitude, and embracing opportunities to improve yourself and gain valuable experiences, you’ll be positioning yourself for success in the classroom, the workplace, and your other life pursuits.

Do you want to learn more about how your online degree can help you develop your soft skills and growth mindset? Maryville University offers 30+ online degrees that can help you build your skills and become career ready. Take your first brave step today.


LinkedIn Report: These 4 Ideas Are Shaping the Future of HR and Hiring

Pearson, Opportunity for Higher Education in the Era of the Talent Economy

Psychology Today, 5 Ways to Build a Growth Mindset

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