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The Importance of Soft Skills in Grad School (and Beyond)

December 2022

Perhaps you are one of those students who graduated at the top of your class, aced your entrance exams and were involved in multiple extra-curricular activities. And perhaps you don’t necessarily boast those kinds of academic skills, but possess a great deal of work or lab experience. While those are all impressive qualifications, many graduate programs (and potential employers) also want to know what kind of leader you are. How do you react when things don’t go your way? How do you solve problems? How would you deal with a fellow student or employee who was difficult or demonstrated immoral behavior?

These are questions that many graduate programs and future employers are becoming more and more interested in knowing the answers to regarding potential candidates. The skills needed to navigate these various situations are called ‘soft skills’.

What exactly are soft skills?

Soft skills are different than personality traits, though it can be easy to confuse the two. Personality traits usually refer to your character, such as honesty, resilience, determination, loyalty, etc. These are also important when completing a graduate program or applying for a job, but soft skills specifically refer to your interpersonal characteristics or how you deal and work with others. Strong abilities in communication, leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork and organization are soft skills that graduate admissions committees and employers are looking for in addition to academic and professional performance.

How do you know if you possess these soft skills?

Of course, everyone thinks they have mastered these types of skills. However, despite your own judgement, objective assessments are often the more preferred method of measurement that both graduate admissions programs and employers will evaluate.

Graduate schools are slightly newer to this assessment category, but with more and more schools electing to be test optional, adding these soft skill assessments are becoming an acceptable metric in the holistic admissions package.

Assessing soft skills isn’t as popular as standardized tests and can be more subjective in their evaluation. Most often these types of assessments are done through personal interviews and simulations at the request of a grad program or potential employer. However, students will sometimes choose to take these assessments of their own volition for self-evaluation purposes.

You may be given a particular scenario (either in an actual interview or on a computerized test) in which you must determine the best course of action in a very specific type of situation. Your answers will reveal the level of the specific skill being tested. This allows the admissions committee or potential employer to gauge what kind of student or employee you may be. While nothing can thoroughly predict someone’s success in a graduate program or job, soft skill assessments can provide some insight regarding your ability to handle certain situations and people that a resume doesn’t necessarily reveal.

The bottom line

Soft skills are an important piece of the puzzle as you present your whole personal and academic self to a grad program or potential employer. Even if they don’t request or require an assessment of these skills, it may be well worth the time and effort to take one of these assessments to find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This will allow you to highlight your strengths in personal statements and rèsumès and work on areas where you aren’t as strong as you would like to be. More importantly, it may even give you a creative way to answer that dreaded interview question, “What are your weaknesses?”

Related Resources

Getting Into Grad School is More Than Just a Numbers Game

You're more than your transcripts and test scores. Grad School committees want to know who you are as a person.

What are Holistic Admissions?

The term holistic refers to the fact that something or someone is a whole entity rather than just made of up individual parts. The concept of holistic admissions is much the same.