I attended a great conference yesterday at the beautiful Kaiwen Academy here in Beijing. The conference, East Meets West is an annual event that brings Chinese counselors together for a day of information and training sessions with U.S. university representatives.
During one of the presentations three representatives from University of Chicago, Rice and Cornell University offered up some sage advice about the different types of skills universities look for in a student’s application. The topic was about Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills and it ties in closely with content from another blog of mine.
Hard Skills are those that are easily measurable – grades and test scores. Soft Skills on the other hand come from activities, sports, clubs organizations and other interests students may have. It is important to note that students do not need to show ALL of these skills nor do they expect students to have them either. The other thing that is important is that students do not need to state specifically that they have these skills, but in the process of writing essays or in evidence from Teacher and Counselor recommendations, show that they have them.
So what exactly are soft skills? Here are several that were mentioned in the presentation yesterday:
-Adaptation and Collaboration
-Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
-Impact and Initiative
I have mentioned many of these before but it is a good time to rehash them, as now is the time that students are getting down to the nitty-gritty of essay writing. By the way, these hold true for students also applying to boarding schools.
Going through some of these and how to show evidence of them is key to writing effective essays. Looking at Leadership is perhaps a great place to start. Many people believe that holding a position of power is key to leadership e.g. president of a club, captain of a team and so forth. I have read an essay recently where the student trying to show leadership came across as a dictator rather than an inspiring, collaborative leader. In another essay, the student took control of every aspect of a team event and showed little if any collaboration. While perhaps high on the organization setting, they managed to show little of developing an effective organization or team. On the other hand, a participant asked about a shy student who rarely came out of their shell, but everyday took responsibility to clean their classroom on their own volition. This last example, in some ways is an interesting form of leadership. What is important is being able to show how you showed initiative, organizational skills, collaborated with others, and effectively communicated. By doing so, one may also show critical thinking, adaptation and thus, leadership.
Looking at another set of skills – Impact and Initiative, students seem to think that in showing their skills that they are out to change the WHOLE world or become the greatest scientist ever. The question that schools ask in their essay topic is not about making the most admirable change in the history of time, but in the world around them. This is much closer to home than students assume. The world around a student can be as simple as home, their family, their school or local community. Schools and colleges do not expect students to immediately take over, but to understand that the student is on the path to becoming a change maker in their world. It is a matter of perspective.
When reading essays, I sometimes want students to tone it down and be more realistic. Yet, I know that teenagers have an invincibility factor – the whole is in front of them. They want to take on the whole world. But I come back to Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard Address this last May. Take small steps and you might change the world.
I know that students want to show how excellent they are by telling schools what they have achieved or plan to achieve. Yet, there is a fine balance between egotism and humbleness. Finding that balance is a challenge. In using the right context and showing what one has done, gives schools the evidence they are looking for, not only in essays but how teachers and counselors speak to a students skill sets.