21st Century Skills: Preparing Students for College and Beyond

Guest Blogger: Candace Reim (@careim2) is the Assistant Principal and IB Diploma Administrator at Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester County, NY.

On Tuesday of this week we were delighted to welcome a group from the graduating class of 2015 back to DFHS. This has become a tradition at our school where the previous year’s graduates come back to give advice to the current senior class. Like every year, the students talked about college life, their roommate experiences, and of course the food on campus. However, this year more than ever the alumni stressed the importance of demonstrating 21st century skills not only inside of the classroom, but also in “real world” situations, including getting along with roommates and peers as well as advocating for themselves with different professors and departments at the university. Our alumni stressed how the IB program, the science research program, and the focus on technology and 21st century skills at DFHS had prepared them to be successful in all facets of college life.

Below are the top 3 themes and skills that our alumni shared with our graduates:

1) Oral and Written Communication – In every classroom the goal of the teacher is to help students to effectively communicate both orally and in writing. Our alumni strongly emphasized the importance of being able to communicate with peers, professors, and other professionals. Whether it was communicating with their roommate about living arrangements and expectations or writing an email to a professor, the alumni emphasized the importance of properly communicating with different types of people for different purposes. One of the alumni described how she learned to write formal emails to her professors through her experiences writing formal emails to her science research mentor through DFHS.

The alumni also noted how the IB Program and the focus on the IB Learner profile in all classes in grades 9-12 helped them to be able to practice their communication skills and adapt their tone to their audience. The students also noted that the rigor and diversity of the types of writing that they experienced through the IB program helped them to be able to excel at any type of writing or assignment that was asked of them in college. One of the most striking comments from one of the alumni was, “AP kids only had essays in English and maybe history. Now we write papers for every class just as we did during our experience in our IB classes.”

2) Time Management/Adaptability – Many of the questions our current seniors had for our alumni centered around workload and time management in college. The alumni once again praised the IB Program and DFHS teachers for helping them to develop the skill of being able to effectively manage their time and deadlines. Many of the assessments in IB courses are long range assessments that require planning and extensive analysis and revisions. One graduate noted that he was “used to pacing myself through IB assignments and could develop a work and studying schedule on my own in college.” The alumni continued to describe how they needed to be sensitive to their roommate’s habits and schedule as well as plan for study groups and professors’ office hours. Being flexible and being able to effectively manage their time was a theme that continued to come up throughout the discussion.

3) Relationship Building – Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our alumni described how critical relationship building is for success beyond high school. “This skill goes hand and hand with effective communication,” one graduate said. One of our alumni described how one of her freshman classes had 450 students so it was important for her to go to the professor’s office hours and continually communicate with him in an effort to gain the most from the experience in his class. She stated that she was able to easily approach the professor due to the types of interactions she had while here at DFHS. She stated that the teachers at DFHS always encouraged the students to advocate for themselves and communicate with them both via email and in person so that all of the students could access the class and the resources available.

Have you spoken to your past graduates about the types of skills that students need in order to be successful at the college level? Please feel free to share some of their stories!



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