College isn’t all about what happens in the classroom. It’s a time to try new things, have new experiences and discover who you are and what you value. Take philanthropy, for instance.
With each passing year, it’s getting increasingly more difficult for young professionals to stand out from the thousands of other graduates who have turned their tassels and entered the workforce. Though grades are important to graduate, it’s what happens outside of the classroom that gives students the tools to succeed after they leave campus. Now more than ever, college graduates are banking on the power of out-of-classroom experiences — like community service, clubs, internships and study abroad — to set them apart from the crowd during a high-stakes job interview process.
For a company or brand looking to make an impact while helping these future leaders and professionals succeed, partnerships with non-profits working in this space can and will make a huge difference.
According to research completed by my non-profit, the 1,000 Dreams Fund, a national scholarship program for American girls in high school and college, 86 percent of young women believe that extracurricular activities (e.g. internships, trips abroad, industry conferences, etc.) are important to their future careers. More than just résumé fillers, these experiences benefit students or new employees in ways they have never considered.
They cultivate intangible skills
Every student sits through hours of class, learns the basic principles of the subject and recalls general information for tests. But can they meet deadlines where excuses won’t help? Thrive under pressure? Deal with the occasional setback? Work well with a team of people who are different from them? Throw caution to the wind to take big risks that are often necessary to gain big rewards in the professional world?
These are the intangible skills that you, as employers, are looking for, and coincidentally, these are the skills students gain through out-of-classroom experiences. They quickly learn to navigate — through trial and error — situations they’d never face in the classroom.
They find their passion
College is a time of self-discovery, so students have to try a lot of things to know what inspires them. Alternatively, these experiences can serve as a test run to help you weed out what is not a good fit. For instance, a student may dream of becoming a politician only to find that after a summer internship on the campaign trail, they prefer writing about politics over participating. Through experimentation comes self-discovery.
In school, I was fortunate to receive unique opportunities out of the classroom — like interning in Washington, D.C., presenting research in Paris, playing with the symphony, and more. Not only did I pick up some useful career-ready skills like how to take a collaborative research paper from start to finish at my government internship in D.C., I also learned that I was probably better suited to the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship.
Help your student interns or new employees on this path towards self-discovery by creating a climate of support from the start. Mentorship and peer advocacy programs build a sense of community that drives career growth and development. Instead of fighting for scarce positions at the top, mentorship programs and peer groups encourage collaboration and help amplify the voices of all women, resulting in a stronger network of women supporting women in the workplace.
They earn their bravery badge
The thought of spending a semester studying and exploring a culture different in a new city can be downright terrifying. However, these are the moments and opportunities that prepare a student to face much bigger challenges down the road in the workplace. By stepping way out of their comfort zone and, at times, addressing fears head on, they set students up for big payoffs in the real world.
For me, all of these lessons took form in Music Mentors, a nonprofit I started while in college. Though I was fortunate enough while growing up to be able to take private music lessons, many kids are not as fortunate. Our program aimed to bridge that gap by connecting eager college musicians with elementary students, providing them with weekly one-on-one lessons. Our organization grew and we were eventually invited to perform as a group at the White House for a holiday event. Not only was I able help give these kids experiences they may never have had otherwise, I gained valuable leadership knowledge and skills I never would have gotten if I limited my education to the classroom.
Consider how you can give your young employees the extra time and support to pursue the “extras” that excite them the most. Help fund their charitable or entrepreneurial passions with in-house programs that match contributions or provide for time off.
You get the ball rolling
The best part about these experiences? They build on each other. Each one opens the door to a future opportunity. They grow one’s professional network, and provide valuable skills and lessons that can carry and build upon with each subsequent opportunity.
By providing students with access to experiences that shape their world views — such as meaningful internships or funding to travel to seminars or conferences — we arm them with knowledge and give them the chance to feel confident.
Companies have an incredible opportunity to provide the very experiences that build this sense of confidence. Initiating an internship program or funding such experiences through a partnership with a non-profit working in the space, may well empower these students to chase their most ambitious goals far beyond the workplace.
Garton is founder and CEO of 1,000 Dreams Fund, a nonprofit whose purpose is to support the dreams of young women with $1,000 scholarships, and creator of UChic, a lifestyle brand for teenage girls and young women.