Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Surprising Drivers of “Success” for College Students Today

In an article titled “What Drives Success” appearing in the Jan. 25, 2014 edition of the The New York Times, Professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld of Yale Law School revealed the three key traits which drive success in life. They opined: “The strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”

Then authors then went on to state: “Any individual, from any background, can have what we call this Triple Package of traits … It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself. Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.”

As an educator, this confirms to me that I want each student to feel that they are exceptional. Yet, I must also challenge each student by emphasizing that merely having the ability to be special, and the opportunity to attend college, is not enough. In essence, you may be exceptional - but you need to prove it, over and over again. And do this by demonstrating self-discipline (self-control) and through grit.

The foregoing insights from the Yale Law School professors are important, and can lead to new strategies for motivating students - to be used by both educators and parents alike.

Applied to students as individuals, I would suggest a defined process of self-reflection, goal-setting, and focusing on the acquisition of key skills is also required for all college students.

First, Possess a Vision of Your Present and Future Self

Who are you? You should know that you are not only unique, but that you possess the ability to grow as a person, and intellectually. Academic research has revealed that your intelligence (as measured by I.Q. scores or otherwise) is not fixed. Indeed, you are capable of much more than you ever thought possible. It is important for you to realize that you can transform yourself, and your skills and personal traits, tremendously during your college years. In other words, you should possess a “growth mindset.”

If you are entering college soon, or if you are currently in college, ask yourself, “Where will I likely be in ten years, if I don’t have a college degree?” Now ask yourself, “Where will I likely be ten years from now with a college degree in hand?” It is important for you to have a vision of your future self - where you want to be, both professionally and personally.

As to the financial aspects of success, we know that more education generally translates to higher earnings. In a report issued in June 2014 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, titled, “Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs?” – the authors concluded: “From 2001 to 2013, the wage advantage over high school graduates reached 75% for bachelor's degree holders and more than 20% for those with an associate's degree.”

But I would like to think that college is much more than just securing skills for higher-paying jobs, and that it is also about becoming a better, well-rounded person. Indeed, it is said that 75% of the learning which occurs in college occurs outside of the classroom. So also ask yourself ... in ten years, what groups will I be involved in? How will I be at socializing with friends and family, and at networking to secure new business contacts? Will I be able to give influence others? Will I be able to stand up and speak effectively to a group of people? Have a vision of the type of person you want to be.

Second, Match Your Interests to a Career Path

We know where the most jobs exist. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released in April 2014, 68.8% of companies said they want to hire students set to graduate with business degrees, 66% are looking for engineers, 59% want accounting graduates, and 50% desire grads with computer science degrees.

While demand for certain degree holders is growing ever stronger, graduates with other degrees are in far less demand. As a college student, you need to know what the college degree is likely to get you – in terms of employment, likely starting salary, and likely mid-career and end-of-career salaries. Then you need to match your own personal interests and aptitudes to a career path. Your college’s career development center can assist you in this process, as can your academic advisors and other mentors.

Third, Understand the Skills Employers Are Seeking

It’s not just the sheepskin with a particular degree that employers are looking for. You also need to further develop, during your college years, the key skills that employers of today desire. Here is a list of those skills, ranked in order of importance (per the NACE study):
  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems (i.e., critical thinking skills … this is why those college algebra and/or other college math courses, and other courses which emphasize deductive and/or inductive reasoning skills, are so important)
  •  Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization (socialization, networking, presenting, persuading)
  •  Ability to obtain and process information (because new insights occur always, and so much information is now available – research skills, and the skills to process information uncovered, are important)
  •  Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work (i.e., time management on steroids)
  •  Ability to analyze quantitative data (again, critical thinking skills, enhanced by the ability to use spreadsheets and databases)
  •  Technical knowledge related to the job
  •  Proficiency with computer software programs (not just Facebook!)
  • Ability to create and/or edit written reports (why writing skills are so important, and why each essay you write – whether in Freshman Composition or otherwise – is important).
  • Ability to sell or influence others (an aspect of verbal and written communication skills)

See any trends above? While technical knowledge in your chosen field is important, equally important are other skills. Perhaps we can summarize the foregoing list further, by asking:

                Do you possess excellent writing skills?

                Do you know how to verbally communicate well in all types of situations?

                Can you organize yourself and keep yourself working on higher-priority projects first?

                Can you uncover and then undertake analysis of data in your field?

While you may be strong in some areas, and weak in others, know this ... every college student can improve in each and every one of these areas. You have the capacity to grow, develop, and become a highly attractive graduate to employers - and a highly successful person in all aspects of your adult life. But ... you must accept personal responsibility for your own success - you must PROVE yourself worthy.

Fourth, Focus on the Three S’s in SUCCESS

Your most valuable commodity is TIME. It's the one thing you can never replace. It is, by far, the largest "cost" of attending college. So use your time in college most effectively, to develop your core skill sets - and to improve as a person.

Here are three key areas college students can focus upon – what I call “The Three S’s in Success,” and some links to some previous posts which explore these concepts:

Socialization Skills - see http://scholarfp.blogspot.com/2013/02/20-exercises-to-expand-your-comfort-zone.html?view=magazine and also see http://scholarfp.blogspot.com/2013/01/college-students-ooze-confidence-and-if.html?view=magazine

Professor Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP(r) teaches Business Law, Retirement Planning, Investment Planning, Employee Benefits Planning, Money & Banking, Insurance & Risk Management, and the Personal Financial Planning Capstone courses at Alfred State College, Alfred, NY. He is an EPLP Mentor, C.R.E.A.T.E. program mentor, serves as advisor to Alfred State's Business Professionals of America club, and serves as academic advisor to dozens of students.

Professor Rhoades is the author of "CHOOSE TO SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND IN LIFE: Continuously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey," a 10-week program for success in college (available for $2.99 in Kindle store at Amazon.com, or in paperback for $6.99). Professor Rhoades may be reached by e-mail at: RhoadeRA@AlfredState.edu.

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