If you’re like most people, college is one of the largest investments of time and money you will ever make, and it’s directed at developing your greatest asset—yourself! Many go to school to develop new skills and expand their knowledge. Undoubtedly, your college years will be some of the most influential years of your life. However, don’t allow a rigorous focus on academic achievement to minimize the importance of leadership skills for students. In fact, you’ll find it’s not too hard to learn how to get leadership experience in college.
Some of the most sought-after skills by employers are soft skills: writing, reading, critical thinking, communication, and project management. Even the most introverted student has no need to fear: Ample leadership opportunities for college students exist. Here are four main areas that allow for the development of leadership skills for college students.
The first and foremost realm for students to grow in leadership in college is academics. We’ve put this first on our list because college students are, by definition, academically involved. Opportunities to grow in academic leadership often are less formal than the opportunities you’ll find in other areas. However, because students already spend a significant amount of time attending class, studying, and interacting with their professors, these recommendations will be easy for engaged students to implement.
One of the most important aspects of leadership is the ability to relate to others. To develop leadership skills academically, you’ll want to make sure you’re engaging and connecting with other students in the classroom, as well as your professor. When in-class discussions occur, take care to listen to the thoughts of others and attempt to lead the conversation in a productive direction. When group projects are assigned, don’t drag your feet and hope someone else will take the reins in your group; instead, tackle the challenge head-on. Learn about your group members and work with them to divide responsibilities.
When a big exam or assignment approaches, take the initiative to organize a study group with interested students. If issues or concerns arise between students and your professor, you may consider organizing a meeting to help mediate the conflict. Again, many of these options are informal—however, when you behave proactively and go above and beyond to solve problems and assist your fellow students, it demonstrates you have a real talent for leadership.
The second area of leadership opportunities for college students is the area of clubs, extracurricular activities, and Greek life. Not only are these a great way to meet like-minded people and have fun on campus, but joining a student organization will help you grow in leadership in college. In fact, clubs are some of the best ways to find leadership positions in college. Clubs are always looking for volunteers to help staff events. As you get to know an organization better, you may even be encouraged to apply as an officer within the club.
Student groups usually recruit heavily in the fall with incoming students, so it’s a perfect time of year to visit an activities fair and learn more. These fairs hold opportunities to happily educate prospective members on how to get involved. After attending a few events and deciding you’d like to commit more time to an organization, you’ll want to look for ways to take on responsibility. If there’s ever a call for volunteers, take it! If you ever want to be a president, vice president, or treasurer, you should first be an active and engaged member. A great tactic is to find the work no one else wants to do: setting up before or cleaning up after events, working a registration booth early in the morning, or representing the organization at student government meetings. If you do the work no one else wants to do, you’ll find that you quickly become indispensable. With your credibility established, try suggesting new events, improvements, or initiatives that you believe in, and take responsibility to see them happen.
3.) Volunteering & Community Engagement
The third area for leadership opportunities involves activities and organizations outside the college campus. This would be the area of volunteerism and community engagement. College is a great time to make volunteerism a lifelong habit. Try researching the immediate neighborhood of your college or university and see what sort of nonprofits are nearby and active. If you’re having a hard time finding organizations, many colleges have offices of community engagement that can help steer you in the right direction.
Find a cause you’re passionate about and dedicate time to volunteer with them. If you’re active in an organization and growing in your capabilities to serve, you’ll find that leadership opportunities will find you! Keep an eye out for areas where a nonprofit can grow or expand; maybe there’s a service you don’t currently offer because no one has taken ownership of it. Mobilizing others to get involved is also a great way to show you know how to lead people. You may even consider starting a student club on campus on behalf of the nonprofit! It speaks volumes when you are not only generous with your own time and energy, but you’re leading others to do the same.
4.) Professional Experience
The final area to grow in leadership skills is the professional world. In college, there are many ways to get work experience. Look for part-time or contract work that allows for flexibility around your class schedule. Many businesses offer internships with current college students in mind! To maximize the leadership development experience, narrow your search to employers looking to give their college workers a lot of latitude on their projects. Too often, interns are relegated to making copies or organizing filing cabinets—avoid these positions! Instead, look for employers who want you to do meaningful work and who want you to take ownership of a project. That way, you can leave your internship with concrete examples of how you impacted your employer. As an added bonus, a professional experience like this frequently leads to more opportunities when college is over. It’s not uncommon for graduating interns to find themselves with full-time job offers!
College is a great place to begin to develop leadership skills that will serve you for the rest of your life. Opportunities abound to grow and develop these skills. One of the most important ways to find leadership positions in college is to be meaningfully engaged on and off campus. Always be proactive in finding ways to make your club, neighborhood, school, or work a better place.
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