How to get ready for real life while you’re in college.

The good news is you will eventually graduate from college. The bad news is once you’ve got that bachelor’s degree you’re a lot like a shiny, expensive rocket sitting out there waiting to launch. All dressed up, with nowhere to go. You’re a shiny rocket sitting next to thousands of other shiny new rockets (and by all accounts employers aren’t very impressed), all hoping to achieve escape velocity and successfully launch into the real world. But here’s the thing everyone forgot to tell you: Rockets achieve escape velocity by using expendable booster rockets. Sure, they jettison those after launch, but they need them to get that extra push up out of the Earth’s gravitational pull. Having interviewed hundreds of current students and new grads, I’ve come to believe extracurriculars are the booster rockets that teach all the soft skills required for students to quickly and successfully launch into professional life.

Yes, that same massive load of extracurriculars that got you into college. They are real-world environments, with all the same messy issues that come up in my clients’ companies and running a small business like mine. Plus, they are open to anybody, so if you’re missing a skill set, you can jump in and get it. Rarely an interview needed, just a willingness to work hard for the cause–whether that’s the intramural ultimate frisbee team, the beekeeping club, or volunteer work with a local non-profit. The stakes aren’t that high, inexperience is welcomed, and failure isn’t fatal. (You’ll likely never encounter that freedom again in your professional life.) You’re free to dabble, make shorter-term commitments, and learn from your peers and your mistakes.

What I’ve done is broken the soft skills into four key groups and their logical subsets and then given you suggestions for how to get those skills. My four key soft skill areas are Communicate, Organize, Relate, and Execute. Where possible, I’ve flagged the shortcomings of some obvious venues where you might be investing time, so even the most engaged student leader may find they need to make a course correction. Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking about how the pieces fit together.

I also think there are a lot of small things that parents and colleges can do to facilitate student success in their extracurricular activities–making sure that those titles and jobs really mean something when they get listed on a resume.

A little dose of real life, with actual jobs held in school, is another big plus. My favorite producers and account managers have always been people who had tough jobs in college–fast-paced bars with the occasional drunken, irrational customers were my very favorite resume lines.