As college students take their courses, they’ll gain much beyond the academic benefit. Through their courses, and through the guidance of instructors like you, students can develop attitudes and skills that help them gain confidence, work well with others, and better understand themselves and the world around them.

We wanted to learn more about students’ opinions on the ways that college has provided them with opportunities to develop the skills, traits, and attitudes that will prove meaningful as they pursue their future goals. So, in our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked several questions that gave us insight into their perspectives. As you’ll see below, students are confident that their courses help them develop qualities that extend beyond the academic and practical knowledge they gain.

Three of the important areas in which college promotes students’ personal development

1. Soft skills

In order to succeed in personal and professional endeavors, students must master “soft skills” such as problem solving, collaboration, verbal and written communication, teamwork, and leadership. In a previous interview with Cengage Learning, author and instructor Beverly Amer notes: “Soft skills are absolutely essential to career success these days. I tell my students, ‘Your technical skills may help you get the job, but it’s your soft skills that will help you keep the job.”

Are college students confident that they are, in fact, gaining these skills as they complete their college coursework. When we asked students “Have your courses helped you develop necessary soft skills (time management, communication, etc)?,” 93% of them replied that yes, they’re gaining these skills.

Indeed, this number is encouraging! But, if you’d like to consider some additional ways to bring coverage of soft skills into your own course, consider watching Angele Blackshear-Brown’s presentation “From College to Career: Teaching Skills to Transition Today’s Students Into Tomorrow’s Professionals.”


2. Self knowledge
Students also report that their college courses have provided a place for them to become more knowledgeable about themselves. In response to the question
“Have your courses helped you understand more about yourself, your abilities, interests, etc?,” 95% said “yes.”

The better a student knows his or her strengths, interests, and talents, the better decisions he or she can make regarding important life choices, such as a career path. Our previous post, “Tips for Students: Choosing Your Career,” presents a four-step process that students can use to start considering a direction that suits them.

If a student approaches you for additional guidance, you might also recommend that they visit your campus’s career center, where they can speak with a career counselor, take self assessments, review useful career-oriented resources, take part in workshops, and explore additional learning opportunities, such as internships or volunteer roles. If you’re teaching in an online program, many of those colleges offer career services online as well.

3. Values and ethical standards

Acting with integrity, and in alignment with one’s values, is an important part of personal and professional success. Students do agree that their college courses play a role in this aspect of their personal development. When asked “Have your courses helped you develop your own values and ethical standards?,” 89% replied that yes, they did.

Of course, learning about ethics isn’t limited to philosophy courses. No matter what course you teach, you can reinforce the importance of ethics and values—whether you’re instructing students on how to conduct research according to standards of academic integrity, noting the importance of accurate and ethical accounting practices, or teaching your nursing students to make wise on-the-spot decisions regarding the health and well being of their patients. In many ways, students do absorb these foundational ethical principles as you inform them about the principles and practices of your field.

If you’d like to encourage your students to think about their personal values, consider using the following activity from Constance Staley’s FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. It can be useful at any point in a student’s academic career.

Core Values Self-Assessment
Review the following list and check off the items that you value. Don’t spend too much time thinking about each one; just go with your initial gut reaction. For each item, ask yourself “Is this something that’s important to me?”

___ Health ___ Fame ___ Financial wealth
___ Fitness/Physical strength ___ Independence ___ Commitment
___ Loyalty ___ Honesty ___ Compassion
___ Academic achievement ___ Children ___ Leisure time
___ Success ___ Leadership ___ Balance
___ Happiness ___ Family ___ Friendship
___ Social life ___ Marriage/Partnership ___ Recognition
___ Athletics ___ Spirituality ___ Status
___ Creativity ___ Variety ___ Wisdom
___ Meaningful work ___ Challenge ___ Time spent alone
___ Adventure ___ Personal growth ___ Other (list here)

Now review all of the items you checked off and circle the five that are most important to you at this point in your life. Then rank them by putting a number next to each of the five circled values with number one as your top priority. Finally, take stock. Is this the person you want to be? Is there anything about your values that you would like to change? If so, why not go ahead and do it? (Staley, 56)



Staley, Constance. 2015. FOCUS on College Success, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.


How do your course’s assignments and activities promote students’ personal development? Share your strategies in the comments section below.

© 2015 Cengage Learning.