What Specifically Can I Do To Become Professionalized?
Skill development, like most components of professional development, is something that occurs on an ongoing basis and in a variety of ways. What skills you consciously pursue will depend to some extent on your current strengths and weaknesses, the demands of the program you choose to pursue, the time you have at your disposal, and other circumstances.
Polls consistently indicate that employers desire applicants who have mastered fundamental cognitive skills, including well-developed writing, reading, and critical thinking abilities; creative problem solving abilities; effective time management skills; leadership skills; and the like. The same skill sets are indispensable throughout your undergraduate degree and as you prepare to apply to professional programs.
For instance, it's very difficult to write an effective personal statement or engage in articulate conversations with faculty and program representatives if you have not worked to develop strong verbal abilities. Throughout the semester, constantly remind yourself that the classes required to fulfill prerequisite or degree requirements are not simply intended to help you learn about the topic of the class, but are also golden opportunities for you to focus on skill development.
For example, in a history course, don't read the assignments and write the papers merely to fulfill the assignment. Use assignments as part of your conscious effort to strengthen your reading and writing abilities. If you approach every class from the standpoint of What skills can I use this class to further strengthen?, it will pay huge dividends. But what if you dislike a class? Then use it as an opportunity to do well at something you don't enjoy. Learning to succeed at unpleasant tasks is a crucial characteristic of a true professional.
It is also important to develop practical skills as you work on your degree(s). Practical skills are concrete "tools" you can use from one day to the next in a given setting, be it in school, on the job, or in your personal life. These skills include, but are not limited to: computing skills (overall comfort in a computing environment; becoming proficient with specific types of software, such as spreadsheets, databases, web development, or graphics software like Photoshop); public speaking skills (check out Ted.com, which is packed with videos of real-world public speaking situations); business / professional writing skills; organizational skills; foreign language skills (if you are able, earning a minor in a language will often garner you a usable skill); leadership development and networking skills (e.g., the Council for Advancing Student Leadership's leadership lectures and mentoring program, the Political and Civic Engagement certificate, the Liberal Arts and Management Program certificate, SPEA's Washington Leadership Program, HPER's Leadership Minor and Aspen skiing experience, leadership development courses such as HPER-R 100, HPER-R 110, and EDUC-U 495).
Academic skills deserve special mention. We urge you to develop excellent time management and academic skills throughout your undergraduate years. If you follow the advice in our Time and Sanity Management resource, you will undoubtedly become a more efficient, relaxed, professionalized person.
Work with a HPPLC advisor to assess what skills you possess and which you could strengthen or begin to develop in light of your area(s) of interest. Also refer to each area's web page for more specific requirements, suggestions, and resources.