The Importance of Leadership Experience in College

College students getting leadership experience by volunteering

College can be a daunting undertaking. Students take courses that will help define their careers and possibly the rest of their lives. In addition, most students are also working a job. According to a 2018 report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, 70% of full-time college students are working.* For most students, school and work are top priorities. However, another worthy priority in college is leadership experience.

Leadership experience comes from serving in leadership roles at one’s college or university. Such roles provide students with a valuable opportunity to learn professional skills firsthand — skills that their current job may not allow them to practice. While employers do not require such leadership experience, the experience and resulting skills certainly appeal to employers.

Opportunities for Leadership Experience

Many opportunities for leadership experience can be found in clubs and campus organizations. There are elected roles in student government, and there are roles appointed by faculty and club advisors. In addition, some leadership roles, such as that of resident hall advisor or teaching assistant, can be secured through an application process. Since students are always graduating and moving away, most of these leadership positions experience frequent turnover, which creates frequent opportunities to step in. 

Leadership Experience Responsibilities

Leadership responsibilities can be extensive and diverse. Through a variety of organizations, students can build skills in management, accounting, marketing, program development, research, business writing and public speaking. Many campus leadership roles offer a degree of autonomy, so students can customize their experience to fit their needs and interests.

Benefits of Leadership Experience

A major benefit of acquiring leadership experience in college is that it can help fill experience gaps in a resume. It’s wise for students to set clear objectives regarding the skills they hope to gain by doing leadership work at an organization. They can then steer themselves efficiently toward organizations and opportunities that foster the skills they want. Typically, students have access to professionals affiliated with the university and university leadership. This access places student leaders in high-profile positions with exposure to even more networking and career-building opportunities.

Challenges of the Leadership Experience

One of the main challenges of the leadership experience is time management. It takes planning and discipline to manage schoolwork, a paid job, and a (typically unpaid) role as a student leader. One solution to consider is short-term commitments. A student can assume a senior leadership role for one semester and then transition to a less demanding role. Another solution is to choose a leadership role that affords more flexibility in one’s time commitment. For example, managing accounts and preparing marketing materials are tasks student leaders can complete at their own convenience.

How to Get Started With Leadership Experience

Students should begin researching leadership experience opportunities during their first year of college. They should assess the available organizations and determine which ones align best with the career fields that interest them. By selecting organizations that align with their prospective professions, student leaders increase their opportunities to interact with faculty specializing in their chosen areas of study.

In addition, this strategy increases a student leader’s exposure to university affiliates in the field of choice. The student’s career preparedness and industry knowledge benefit. At a minimum, leadership roles provide students with valuable opportunities to hone skills that then facilitate their transition into the workplace.

Grand Canyon University offers resources and opportunities for students to gain leadership experience and prepare for their future careers. If you would like to learn more about GCU’s degree programs or what life at GCU could look like for you, click the Request Info button at the top of your screen. 

*Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed, Working College Education in April 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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