Five Essential College and Career-Ready Skills for Enduring Success

By Kenneth McKee - June 6, 2019

A current focus of K-12 education is helping students become college- and career-ready. Although noble in its goals, describing how college- and career-readiness translates into skills and instructional approaches differs from person to person. What are the skills students will need to be successful in an ever-changing world? Here are five important skills to consider and potential strategies to instill them.

1. Project Management

Although time management is certainly important for students’ college and career lives, it is more accurate to say that students need to master project management. Many of the projects in college and the workplace require problem-solving, collaboration, research, acquiring materials, finalization, and then revisions. There are many working parts that must be attended to in the midst of other daily activities that are both urgent and important.

When students are engaged in the process of project-based learning, they can attain many project management skills. In project-based learning, teachers use real-world problems to spur students to research information, select solutions, and reflect on the success and challenges of the process. Throughout the project, students develop teamwork, management, and problem-solving skills. Problem-based learning doesn’t always have to be expansive, and you effectively plan for your first projects if this concept is new to you.

2. Attention to Precision

Many employers and professors lament that their employees or students “guesstimate” or submit unfinished products. Precision is a skill that students must internalize. In college- and career-ready mathematics practices, there is already a focus on attending to precision. [Students]...”are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context.” This skill isn’t only essential to math. Being precise in design, language, research, and processes is essential for ensuring quality, safety, and profit in most enterprises. 

Traditionally, student performance has been measured by the completion of homework or classwork, participation, and test scores. But in order to instill students’ investment in precision, performance-based tasks that measure what skills students are expected to demonstrate can make a big difference. The key is clearly articulating the criteria for performance, and guiding students with feedback on how their work aligns with the criteria. 

3. Writing

Many people decry the poor grammar and rampant abbreviations that have surfaced in social media and text messaging as part of the digital age; consequently, the need to communicate digitally has also intensified the importance of effective writing skills. With so much information being conveyed through written text, students must develop writing that is clear, organized, and convincing.

Having students regularly write using strategies such as blogging, peer feedback, or Big Paper discussions help them experience the success of their writing with audiences outside of their teachers. If teaching writing intimidates you, check out LDC Core Tools. A free membership allows you to peruse full units incorporating writing or lets you select mini-tasks (selected strategies) to focus on particular writing skills like brainstorming, developing a claim, or editing.

4. Empathy

Feeling empathy is a prerequisite for effectively navigating the modern world; however, what is even more important than feeling empathy is the need to communicate empathy. In this popular YouTube video, Brene Brown explains, “Empathy is a choice and it's a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” In our academic and work lives, even if we feel vastly different from those we work with, we can still use our shared emotional experiences to empathize with them.

Having students explore multiple perspectives in the classroom can support their capacity to empathize. One strategy that can work well is RAFT - where students assume the role (or perspective) of someone else in their writing. Also, teaching students rules for effectively participating in conversations with others can teach them how to show empathy. Students can self-assess their progress in listening to one another, trying to understand different points of view, or disagreeing politely through a Contribution Checklist. Using the checklist during class discussions can be an excellent way to emphasize these skills in any class.

5. Networking

Students who graduate from high school today are much more likely to have many jobs over the course of their working lives. A recent survey from LinkedIn found that people land 85% of new jobs through networking. With networking being so important for people to find work, we should find ways to foster that skill with our students.

Students can widen their access to networking by developing a positive and professional online presence. Students could use Google Sites, Wix, or Weebly to build their own website showcasing their skills, interests, passions, and resumes (Check out Included in the many career exploration tools is a unique resume builder). They can also learn how to use Twitter to connect with professional experts in their anticipated work fields. Some schools have students contact experts or find mentors as a component of research projects. These contacts can help them establish networks in their local communities. We can also encourage students to look into university and locally-advertised groups that align with their career interests as a way to make new contacts. Communicating the importance of networking is paramount to long-term work.


Students can be empowered to approach their futures with confidence. These five skills help them execute excellent work, make positive and beneficial relationships, and present a professional image that will benefit them from their first job interviews all the way to their retirement parties.


About provides career exploration for K-12, post-secondary institutions and workforce development programs nationwide. It is used throughout the country for career readiness and planning in schools, career centers and workforce agencies, offering an interactive, practical approach with multiple resources for work-based learning and career planning. Visit us at

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