Many students apply to college because they think they can learn a lot from their classes and teachers. That's true, but many colleges also offer hands-on experiential learning to their enrollees. These invaluable opportunities, which include internships and research assistant positions, allow you to directly practice what you're learning. Here are three ways in which experiential learning can actively benefit you.
You'll Confirm Your True Interests
There's a big difference between enjoying something in a classroom and actually implementing it every day as a part of your career. For example, just because you like the biology and chemistry classes you've taken doesn't necessarily mean you enjoy them enough to go to medical school. Shadowing a doctor can help you more comfortably make this decision.
Or perhaps you're torn between working for an environmental startup or an institutional software company. Classes aren't typically available that might give you a sense for what working at each would be like. So, a summer internship in both nonprofit and corporate environments would help you decide between the two and find where you'd thrive. Plus, there's always the chance that you'll discover new interests through experiential learning too! You never know what other options are out there until you try exploring them.
You'll Learn How to Take a Risk (and Potentially Rebound)
The standard classes you take in college are carefully structured and clearly broken up into syllabi so you know exactly what you need to do in order to get a specific grade. By contrast, experiential learning puts students directly into less predictable situations, where they'll have to think on their feet, be reactive, and take the initiative. In short, it puts students into the sort of riskier situations they'll face in real-world, post-college jobs (but with fewer consequences).
This unstructured approach can help to make you more comfortable taking risks and can also impart hard-to-teach concepts, like dealing with failure and uncertainty. Not being able to predict the outcome of an experiential opportunity is the point, as you won't be able to predict the results of any other real-world experiences, and the more exposure you have here, the more easily you may be able to rebound in the future. Even a disappointing learning opportunity is, in itself, something to be learned from.
You'll Talk More Efficiently About Your Skills
Snagging a post-college job will almost always come down to articulating your skills during an interview and concretely demonstrating them on your résumé. Take some time to self-reflect in order to prepare for questions you may face during an interview: What did your hands-on experience teach you that the classroom couldn't? Where did you see your classroom knowledge work for (or against!) you in a different setting? While you may leave the classroom with the knowledge you need to succeed in a job, you won't know how to answer these questions until you've already put that knowledge to the test through some experiential learning. Maybe you've studied journalism, but until you landed an internship working with a magazine, you didn't see the overall scheme of how something goes from a draft of an article to a printed publication.
The same goes for representing your skills on paper. With your résumé, you'll be able to draw clear ties between your college classes and the experience you've gained in the field. With an internship or other experience, you'll be able to more clearly highlight the skills you've learned and how you've been able to use them in real-world situations.
In short, think of experiential learning as your chance to learn French by conversing with natives in Paris as opposed to just studying from a textbook. It's more authentic, more engaging, and can be so much more enlightening. Keep in mind that it never hurts to look at what experiences a school has to offer before you apply. For help on that, check out our Best Value Colleges rankings, where we break down schools' Bang for Your Buck, including the availability of experiential learning.
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