$schemamarkup = get_post_meta(get_the_ID(), 'Schema', true); if(!empty($Schema)) { echo $ Schema ; } 9 Ways to Maximize Your College Leadership Experience

Karin’s Leadership Articles

Most Great College Leadership Experiences are Self Made

I’m often asked which colleges are the best for “leadership.” The short answer is “most will do just fine.” As with most of life, it’s what you make of it. College is a great place to grow as a leader, but it’s up to you to maximize your college leadership experience.

Much of your leadership learning will come from peripheral aspects of the college experience. Being involved. Living with strangers. Leading without authority. Getting along in diverse groups. Projects with assigned (potentially lazy) teams. Live it deeply. Make mistakes. Try new approaches. Keep leading and learning.

This post is for my son, Ben, and other young leaders graduating from high school and heading to college. I’ve collected advice from seasoned leaders across the globe. If you aren’t headed to college, please comment with your advice, and pass the post along to an aspiring young leader.

9 Ways to Maximize Your College Leadership Experience (advice from the online “village”)

Let’s start with some advice from someone who works with people like you all the time.

Annette Schmeling, VP of Student Development at the University of Dayton, suggests making a specific plan.

  • Focus first on Academic Success
  • Identify 3-5 “activities outside the classroom” to be involved in. List the activities, and explain why they are important to you
  • Make connections with the career services office and learn about internships and professional development opportunities starting the freshmen year
  • Learn how to utilize social media tools to engage with others. Start early to establish a purpose-fueled online reputation

And now on to others committed to growing leaders with their best advice for making the most of your college leadership experience…

Solve problems, take risks, learn who you are, volunteer find a mentor, and more…

1. Solve Problems

Find something you’re passionate about and work to improve it. Dan Rockwell suggests, “gathering together” with other students to solve problems in order to maximize your college leadership experience.

2. Take Risks

Get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t jump out of the 2nd story classroom because it was a shortcut down (like my friend at Wake Forest did–  it was a stupid stunt, but he’s fine), but do wise things that scare you. Will Lukang says, “Take risks and push yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Mario Marquez shares, “Look for the uncomfortable and controversial situations, the hot potatoes that the majority will stay away from.”

3. Learn who you are

You will do great things and many silly ones. Learn from it all. Keep reflecting on, and refining, your values. Learn to lead and lead to learn. And as Alaska Chick says, “Walk the talk and do what you say.”

4. Volunteer

The most consistent advice I received is “volunteer.” Get involved. Spend time in the community. One of the very best ways to maximize your college leadership experience is to volunteer.

“Get involved in the college’s outreach programs. Most colleges have programs to tutor high school students who are not passing graduation exams, community clean-up programs, political activist groups, debate groups, open theater programs get involved. Being in college can be about so much more than just getting a degree for what’s next.”

5. Build a Network

Hang out with all kinds of people. Find your niches, but don’t limit yourself. That person who feels so different may be up to something fantastic. It’s great to build a network of diverse communities. Network extensively through social media and make genuine connections. Mike Henry, Sr. suggests, “Select friends carefully.”

“Grow your leadership skills in the place that sparks your passion – opportunities are everywhere. If you don’t feel the click, keep exploring until you do.”

6. Learn Extra

Attend the free lectures. Take crazy courses unrelated to your major. Listen with your heart. Take a full course load. Stay up late talking with your friends about what they are learning. Donald George suggests, “develop a variety of leadership skills and apply the most appropriate approach to fit that specific situation.”

7. Find Mentors

Invest in getting to know your professors. I have a few lifelong mentors (now friends) that began as professors. Help them with their research. Drink coffee with them. You will be amazed at the opportunities that can emerge. Also, find mentors in the community and in areas of interest. Connect with mentors across all walks of life.

“Find leaders you look up to and ask them to mentor you. Serve on their teams so as to watch, observe, and learn. Work hard, build good relationships, and after your studies are done, volunteer your heart out.” -David Dye

8. Learn to Think, Write, and Speak

Take classes that challenge you to organize and articulate your point of view. Take lots of writing and speaking classes. Consider an improv or other theater class. Get really comfortable in front of people. If you hate public speaking, keep taking classes until you don’t.

9. Work Hard

Dan McCarthy shared a combination of quotes from Chuck Yeager and Vince Lombardi: “There’s no such thing as a natural-born leader. All great leaders got that way from hard work, not from some endowed gift. Thank goodness. Don’t cheat yourself with the easy way out. Or as Pop Pop says:

“I still endorse the advice from the talk “What college is and what it isn’t ” I heard in my senior year of high school in 1959 from the vice president of Rensselaer Polytechnic.
His point: you need to have a goal that motivates you, and apply yourself passionately in pursuing the goal. It does not matter if you change your goal later on, you probably will, several times. What matters is that you do the best you can with what you are working toward at any given time. I think that advice holds up, in college and after. The connection to leadership? If you know where you are going and give it your all, you will find folks will follow your lead.”

@theteapixie summarizes it well.

@LetsGrowLeaders Get involved. Be an example worth emulating. Be engaged. Be interested. Be active. Make face-2-face happen.”

Your turn. What’s your best advice for making the most of your college leadership experience?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Eric Dingler

    All great advice. I love the idea of gifting a subscription to LetsGrowLeaders.com. I have 30 college students moving into camp over the next couple weeks.

    The advice I would add….don’t believe the myth “College can be some of the best years of your life.” It’s not a stop, break or detour from your parents home into the “real” world. It’s your real world. What you do there goes with you forever. Use wisdom in decision making. You are laying a foundation for the best years of your life. Besides, re-read the 9 subheadings above: the advice is timeless…it’s true for after college as well. This is life-long advice. Never stop working hard to make next year the best year of your life while living the best year of your life so far. Never stop….never give up on you.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Eric, I was hoping you would add your advice to the mix. Thank you for all the important work you do growing young leaders. Namaste.

  2. Steve Borek

    My daughter’s a leader. I tell her this all the time. Though, for some reason, I can tell she doesn’t fully embrace the title. She’s a humble leader. They’re the best.

  3. Ali Anani (@alianani15)


    What attracts the bee to flowers? Color and smell are the two main factors.
    I do not know if I equate to a bee, but surely your writing blossoms with fragrance that is colored with experience.
    Why ? Just let me quote from the above “Learn to lead and lead to learn”. I love the simplicity with which you wrote this loop.
    Now, the question- I understand from this post that leadership is a skill that can be learned. Some people insist that a person is either a born leader or not. So, all training pertinent to leadership is waste of time, money and effort.
    I just care to read your opinion.

  4. letsgrowleaders

    Ali, Thank you. I fall firmly in the camp that everyone can become better at leadership. Just like anything else it comes more naturally to some than others. Some are also more motivated toward leadership than others. However, you never know when life will throw you a curve ball, and you will have a stronger desire to lead.

    In today’s connected world, I am not sure “if leaders are born or made” is the relevant question. We can all have a platform. The bigger question is, will be ready to use it For more see… https://letsgrowleaders.com/2012/12/04/just-in-case-leadership-development/

    • Ali Anani (@alianani15)

      Thanks, Karin. I was voicing opinions from others. Personally, I belong to your camp.

  5. Frank Hazzard

    Congratulations to graduates Ben, my son, Elliot and all of the other present and future leaders. I appreciated your list of opportunities where college students can lead. Although I believe that leadership can be honed and developed in anyone, I also believe that truly gifted leaders have the gift from birth. Birds sing, bees buzz and leaders lead, including in college.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Frank, great to see you here, and for expanding the conversation. My view, leadership may come more naturally for some than others, but I worry about folks deciding at 18 that they are “not a leader.” I’ve seen some beautiful blossoming over the years. With that said, leadership is just one gift of many vital talents that can be honed. We need great inventors, engineers, creative minds, athletes…

      I am also grateful for communities that invest in development. There was some beautiful leadership coaching happening on our churches memorial day camping trip this year…while organizing pancakes, while on the soccer field… Leaders of all ages growing from where they are. Fun to watch.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other Related Articles

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

Be More Daring


Get the FREE Courageous Cultures E-Book to learn how

7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

Be More Daring


Get the FREE Courageous Cultures E-Book to learn how

7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

Leadership Training Programs