Top 10 Things You Can Learn in College Outside of The Classroom

While the education gained in the classroom is without a doubt beneficial, using what was learned and applying it to real-world learning opportunities will lead to a more robust and well-rounded education.

Student loans have become more accessible than ever before, the amount of recent graduates with degrees in hand has increased, and the amount of available jobs has declined. A degree will always be an asset, but a degree backed by extracurricular, real-world, and hands-on experience will take a recent graduate much further.

Employers can no longer gamble like before; the stakes are high and competition is always around the corner. Employers want graduates backed by real-world experience that are ready to hit the ground running. There are many skills and abilities best learned through extracurricular involvement. These skill-sets can be bolstered, but not replaced, by a classroom education.

We have compiled a list of the top 10 skills students learn outside of the classroom in detail below.

1. Improving Project Management Skills

Participating in internships and having key roles in student organizations will help students gain project management skills that can only be learned through experience.

“Learning to use and apply Project Management is a valuable and essential life skill. Students need these skills because they’ll use them life-long, on the job and off. Everyone who works deals with projects, but projects extend beyond the job to include personal projects, family projects, volunteer projects and so forth….Project Management skills help you achieve better results. Mastering the art of Project Management can help you become a better parent, neighbor, and citizen as well as a stellar performer at work.”– Terry Schmidt, Author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams

How It’s Learned:

Project management can be learned through internships, participation in student organizations, leading new initiatives on campus, combining efforts with others on campus, and hosting events.

Why It’s Important:

Organizing your team, setting goals, and managing task lists are skills essential to any leader, young or old.

Key Project Management Skills Include:

  • Budget Management
  • Organizational Skills
  • Team Building
  • Proactive Leadership
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Task Management
  • Strategic Planning
  • Volunteer Management

2. Personal Development

Personal development does not stop after graduation, but the years spent in college are critical for individual growth. Networking and participating in community events are great opportunities for personal growth and development.


How It’s Learned:

Personal development can be learned through trying new things, trial and error, failure, reflection and awareness of oneself. Critical to personal development is the understanding that failure is essential for growth. How you bounce back from setbacks determines your commitment to growth and development.

Why It’s Important:

Personal development is important in helping to learn, reflect, and realize your own potential. Learning how to learn is a major obstacle to overcome. Everyone has a unique way of learning that works for them, and identifying methods that work best for you is a major growth opportunity.

Key Personal Development Skills Include:

  • Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Listening & Speaking
  • Multitasking
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Social & Professional Etiquette
  • Confidence Building
  • Introspection
  • Healthy Habit Cultivation
  • Self Determination & Motivation
  • Value Identification
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Self Actualization & Personal Identification
  • Identifying Personal Strengths & Weaknesses

3. Working in a Team Environment

Working in a team environment is a life skill in and of itself. Learning to adapt to different personalities and accommodate diverse perspectives is a skill that requires discipline, maturity, and patience. The art of collaboration comes naturally to some, but must be honed and developed in others.

How It’s Learned:

Working in a team environment can be learned through collaborating on group projects, participation in student government, holding an executive board position for a student organization, hosting and planning larger events, participating in sports clubs/intramural’s, and implementing plans with other peers.

Why It’s Important:

Working in a team environment can foster more productivity, while allowing everyone to focus on what they’re good at. People collaborate to tackle tasks too large to be completed by individuals. In order for any goal or project of scale to be accomplished, teamwork is critical. Along with this, most careers require team collaboration.

Key Team Environment Skills:

  • Team Building
  • Teaching & Training Other People
  • Creating Value for Others
  • Collaboration
  • Inclusive Leadership
  • Consensus Building
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Inspiring & Empowering Others
  • Constructive Criticism
  • Being A Leader Not A Manager
  • Delegating

“There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”– Michael Jordan, in his book “I Can’t Accept Not Trying”

4. Creativity

Creativity is one of the most in-demand leadership skills of today’s generation. It is a valuable skill to have given quickly times are changing.

How It’s Learned:

Creativity can be learned by implementing the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS). Learning creativity is supported by genuine curiosity, brainstorming activities, asking questions, and solving real-world problems.

Why It’s Important:

Many traditional ways of doing things are outdated. Creativity allows fresh insight and perspective on old methods and traditional approaches.

Key Creativity Skills:

  • Creative Problem Solving
  • Creative Facilitation
  • Effective Ideation & Brainstorming
  • Concerns as Questions
  • Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
  • Critical Thinking Skills

“For CEOs, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking, according to a new study by IBM. The study is the largest known sample of one-on-one CEO interviews, with over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries polled on what drives them in managing their companies in today’s world.”– Austin Carr, Fast Company

5. Productivity

While technology brought convenience, it also brought distraction. Staying productive in a connected world is a challenge and an asset. When you take on a position where you are held accountable, productivity is key to making sure projects and tasks are done timely and efficiently.

How It’s Learned:

Productivity can be learned through practice, trial and error, self-managing projects/initiatives/goals, experimenting with productivity tools, implementing skills learned, applying goal setting techniques, and achieving those goals.

Why It’s Important:

We have computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices that are becoming more intertwined and necessary in everyday life. Learning how to use this technology as a tool and not a distraction is an acquired skill. As you get more involved, meet more people, and commit to more things, making sure you stay productive is key to being successful.

Key Productivity Skills:

  • Time Management
  • Focus & Minimizing Distractions
  • Healthy Habits
  • Multitasking
  • Prioritization
  • Goal Setting
  • Productivity Tool Utilization
  • Focus on Purpose Not Procedure

For more on productivity on your campus, be sure to check out:

6. Civic Involvement

Involvement in the community is one of the best ways to give back and become engaged with people in your area. Civic involvement helps build character, establishes a professional reputation, and cultivates a sense of citizenship.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”– Margaret Mead

How It’s Learned:

The first step to being engaged in your community is simple. Show up. You can start by showing up to a community meeting, organizing with a local campaign, or taking the lead on a neighborhood clean up. Identify a cause or issue that you are passionate about and search for relevant service opportunities in that area.

Why It’s Important:

Every community depends on a group of concerned and committed citizens who recognize the value and importance of taking collective action toward a common goal. Not only can civic involvement build stronger, more resilient communities, but the process of getting involved will also help you develop vital skill sets like networking, communication, and project management.

Key Civic Involvement Skills:

  • Taking Action in Your Community
  • Valuing Others
  • Fulfilling Civic Duty
  • Building Relationships
  • Service Learning Praxis
  • Putting Theory Into Action
  • Having an Impact
  • Helping Others & Improving Others Lives
  • Empowering Others
  • Exposing Yourself To Diversity & Adversity
  • Experiencing Real World

7. Learning From Mistakes

Tested through time and still holding true, learning through experience and mistakes remains the best way to learn.


How It’s Learned:

Learning from mistakes can simply be learning by failure. Failing forward is one of the most effective means of learning.

Why It’s Important:

Lessons you learn from failing are lessons you will never forget.

Key Learning From Mistakes Skills:

  • Failing Forward
  • Importance of Adaptability
  • Mistakes are Part of The Learning Process
  • Every Mistake Gets You a Step Closer To Success
  • Success Comes From The Work Done Not The Result

8. Communication Skills

If there is anything that comes close to being as important as education, it is communication. A strong communicator knows how to adapt to audiences, portray an idea, inspire action, and lead others successfully.

How It’s Learned:

Communication skills can be learned through leadership roles, group collaboration, heading a new project, and immersing yourself into community events.

Why It’s Important:

Communication is the most, if not, one of the most important life skills you can acquire. It is communication that not only helps you effectively portray your ideas, but empowers you to influence and lead others.

Key Communication Skills:

  • Trust
  • Listening
  • Present
  • Undertaking Others
  • Effective Public Speaking
  • Effective Writing Skills
  • Inspiring Others
  • Simplifying

Bonus Ted Talk on how body language not only affect how you communicate but also how you feel:

9. Networking

Networking can take you places you never thought you could go. It only takes one person to change your life forever. Networking is essentially relationship building and should happen every day.

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”– Margaret Wheatley

How It’s Learned:

Networking can be learned by lobbying for new additions to your campus, joining clubs that take you to professional conferences, attending events with community leaders, and even study abroad or work programs that allow you to meet people in other countries.

Why It’s Important:

Networking is a priceless skill that not only opens windows of opportunity, but could give you access to that one person that could change your life forever. Having a strong network of friends and supporters provides for a more stable foundation for you and your future.

Key Networking Skills:

  • Interaction with Others
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Creating Relationships
  • Creating Value For Others Not Just Yourself
  • Making Friends
  • Building Rapport
  • Establishing Professional Identity
  • Building Reputation
  • Helping Others First
  • Quality Over Quantity
  •  Being Personable

10. Leadership

The world is always in need of strong leaders. Leadership roles on campus and in the community help you build character and gain experience that cannot be developed in the classroom.

How It’s Learned:

Leadership is an inside-out process. The best leaders focus on personal and character development before they begin leading others. Leadership qualities are best learned through action. You can begin by taking key roles in student organizations, student government, or in your community.

Why It’s Important:

Effective leadership is essential to progress. Without it, organizations flounder, individuals lose interest, projects go unfinished, and goals remain unfulfilled. Whether it be leadership on an international level or on a college campus, the process of engaging people to connect with each other and work toward a common purpose is critical to human development.

Key Leadership Skills:

  • Empowerment of Others
  • Selflessness
  • Utilizing Opportunity To Make a Difference
  • Taking Action
  • Cultivation of Genuine Relationships
  • Inspiring Action
  • Purpose Driven
  • Value Oriented Principal Decision Making
  • Positive Attitude
  • Solution Driven
  • Confidence
  • Sense of Direction
  • Adapting To Change
  • Integrity
  • Vision

In many situations, it takes more than just a college education to have an edge in today’s job market. It takes real-world experience combined with classroom education. There are major learning opportunities that are becoming available by participating in extracurricular activities and internships. This is something that every student should be taking advantage of and the classroom should be encouraging. Extracurricular activities offer students the chance to apply academic learning to real-world opportunities. They allow students to implement and put theory into action while solidifying concepts they’ve learned in the process.

Free ebook: The Complete Guide to Co-Curricular Learning

A piece-by-piece guide to planning and building a co-curricular framework for your campus Download For Free
Dustin Pankow

About the author: Dustin Pankow is the Director of Opportunities here at Presence. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.