Academic strengths are the specific skills that are valuable in an academic environment. In simple terms, they’re the skills that will help you do really well at university.
When discussing your academic strengths, take care to highlight the unique attributes you have that have helped you to succeed as a student thus far. Reflect on what it is that makes you a strong student, and give clear examples.
I have categorized academic strengths into five important categories: study skills, mindset skills, research skills, communication skills, and hard skills. Identify your strongest category, then use the list of 120 academic strengths below to get even more specific.
Best Academic Strengths for College Students
The following strengths are ideal for college students. If you can develop these academic strengths then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Straight A’s college student.
Fortunately, most of these strengths can be learned. Even if you don’t have them right now, you can develop them through hard work and dedication.
1. Study Skills
Study skills are at the core of your academic strengths. All students – even the most gifted – need to develop strong study skills.
Examples of study skills include your ability to set good habits, maintain focus, pace yourself, remain motivated, and manage your time.
If you think your study skills are an academic strength, then these are excellent skills to highlight in a paper or scholarship application. Talk about how your study skills mean that you are able to successfully navigate an academic environment.
Even students who aren’t particularly intellectually gifted can achieve extremely good grades if they can hone down strong study skills.
Furthermore, good study skills are a good indication of strong soft skills like dedication and perseverance, which will be discussed below.
Related Article: 25 Humility Examples
2. Mindset Skills
Mindset skills refer to your attitudes toward learning. A positive mindset in university will help you get a long way, so it’s an excellent academic strength to have.
Some important mindsets to have include:
- A growth mindset: You believe that you can improve with effort.
- An internal locus of control: You believe that you are in control of your success or failure.
- Perseverance: You can work through hardship and keep your eye on your goals
- Curiosity: You have a desire to learn things. You’re interested and willing to ask probing questions.
- Open-mindedness: Student who are open to have their ideas challenged and changed will be good students. If you’re not willing to evolve, why are you bothering to learn new things in the first place?
The hard thing about talking about your mindset skills as academic strengths is giving evidence for them. You need to be able to point to specific times you’ve applied your mindset to a task. For example, you could talk about a time when you have experienced failure and exercised resilience to get through hardship.
3. Research Skills
Research skills refer to your ability to seek out, synthesize, and evaluate information in an academic setting.
In academic settings, we can’t just say “I believe” or “I saw on television” as a way to justify your statements. Rather, you need to seek reliable information to reach a conclusion.
Information needs to be both reliable and valid in order to pass as good information at university.
Reliable information is information that comes from trusted. sources. The best sources are ones that have checks and balances to ensure quality. For example, academic textbooks and journal articles are usually reliable because they have been fact-checked.
Valid information is information that is relevant for a situation. For example, you might talk about a set of research results from a study in China which are completely irrelevant to an American context.
So, research skills include the ability to find information from good sources, analyze sources, evaluate them, and synthesize the most important information. Have a think: do you think you’re good at finding good sources and analyzing them?
4. Communication Skills
Communication skills could refer to written, oral, non-verbal, and other ways you communicate information.
You’ll do a lot of writing at university. Most of your knowledge will be assessed through your writing. Good writers can articulate a clear argument in an essay. Of course, this is likely to help you get good grades.
If writing isn’t your strong point, then perhaps your academic strength might be oral communication. This would be the case for you if you’re good at public speaking or articulating your thoughts in conversations and debates.
Communication skills might also refer to interpersonal skills such as your ability to collaborate in teams and come to group decisions. This might also fit under another sub-category of ‘teamwork skills’.
5. Hard Skills
If you take a hard sciences or mathematics degree, then hard skills will be extremely important.
For example, the ability to do calculus is a hard skill. It’s quantifiable, objectively measured, and has true or false answers. You either get the answer right or wrong.
Other hard skills that you might develop at college include the ability to write code (for computer science graduates), do bookkeeping (for accounting graduates), or suture a wound (for nursing graduates).
120 Academic Strengths Examples
- Academic Cultural Capital
- Academic Writing Skills
- Active Listening
- Analytical Thinking
- Attention to Detail
- Basic Writing Skills
- Communication Skills
- Compare and Contrast
- Conflict Resolution
- Consensus Building
- Convergent Thinking
- Critical Reading
- Critical Thinking
- Cross-Cultural Communication
- Cultural Competence
- Data Analysis
- Debate Skills
- Deconstructing Texts
- Deductive Thinking
- Digital Literacy
- Discourse Analysis
- Divergent Thinking
- Empirical Thinking
- Ethical Behavior
- Experimental Design
- Flexible Thinking Skills
- Global Citizenship
- Goal Setting
- Growth Mindset
- Identifying Fallacies
- Independent Learning
- Independent Thought
- Inductive Thinking
- Information Literacy
- Intellectual Curiosity
- Internal Locus of Control
- Interpersonal Skills
- IT Skills
- Library Skills
- Mathematical Thinking
- Media Literacy
- Non-verbal Communication
- Note Taking
- Objectivity (Bias Minimization)
- Online Etiquette
- Oral Communication Skills
- Organizational Skills
- Personal Responsibility
- Positive Self-Concept
- Presentation Skills
- Problem-Solving Skills
- Process Thinking
- Project Management
- Public Speaking Skills
- Reading for Meaning
- Research Skills
- Self-Directed Learning
- Social Networking
- Social Skills
- Strategic Thinking
- Stress Management
- Study Skills
- Teamwork Skills
- Technical Writing Skills
- Time Management
- Work Ethic
- Written Communication
How to Answer the Question “What are your Academic Strengths?” in an Interview
You’re often asked to explain what your academic strengths are when you take interviews for scholarships or entry into a college program.
To answer this question, here are some quick tips:
- Be Honest: Interviewers can see through dishonesty. But just as importantly, if you’re honest, then you’ll be able to speak with more conviction and detail. So, make sure you choose to talk about strengths that you genuinely believe are your strengths.
- Give Clear Examples: When explaining your strengths, tell a story about a time when you had to exercise your academic strength. For example, if your strength is goal setting, clearly set out when you set a goal and put in place a procedure and schedule for trying to meet it. Good stories also involve challenges and hurdles that you overcame by exercising good mindset or study skills.
- Focus on Skills that Fit the Program or Scholarship: If you’re applying to get a scholarship for disadvantaged students, you might need to talk about the academic strengths that help you to overcome your disadvantages. If you’re applying for a program in nursing, then perhaps soft skills like communication and the ability to manage emotions will be important academic strengths for nursing students.
- Highlight how the Skills will Set you up for Success: Once you’ve articulated the academic strengths that you think you have, you will also need to explain how they will help you succeed. For example, explain exactly why time management is your secret strength. How has time management helped you to succeed in the past? Tell a story to the interiewer.
List of Academic Weaknesses
Sometimes, you’ll also be asked to talk about what your academic weaknesses are. This is extra hard. The trick is to explain what your weakness is and how you’re working to overcome it. Examples are listed below.
1. Poor Writing Standard – If you’ve got poor writing skills, then it’s okay to admit it. But also explain how to work to overcome them. Turn this weakness around by explaining how you start your essays early then give yourself ample time to edit and improve on your drafts. You could also talk about how you make the most of open office hours to get feedback on your written work before submitting it.
2. Poor Time Management – If you’ve got poor time management skills, you’ll need to talk about how you set in place practices to keep you on track. For example, you could say “I used to have poor time management” but “now I use study diaries to manage my time.” This shows that you can identify your weaknesses but also work on them to overcome them.
3. Disorganization – Much like poor time management, you’re going to want to say that you know that you have been disorganized in the past, so it’s something you’re really working on. Then, give evidence of how you work on it: you keep a color-coded folder, you always try to finish your work 2 weeks early, or you print all your reading materials before semester begins and sort them so you don’t find yourself part-way through the semester and highly disorganized.
4. A Fixed Mindset – Here’s an academic weakness that I wouldn’t mention in an interview. A fixed mindset means that you don’t think you can improve. If you do use this example, you might need to talk about how you’re working on this weakness: “I set short-term goals that I feel are achievable because it makes me feel like I am more in control of my intellectual growth.”
5. Poor Goal Setting – If you tell an interviewer that you do a poor job of setting personal goals, then you might need to back this up with “but I’m working on it and here are some goals I’ve recently set myself using the SMART goals framwork.” Here again, you’re stating a weakness and then saying how you’re fixing it. One goal might have been to apply for this very college scholarship you’re applying for right now!
When asked about what your academic strengths are, start with the five categories of academic skills: study, mindset, research, communication, and hard skills. Which of these skills are you best at? Then, dig deeper. Give specific examples from the list of 118 academic strengths examples and tell a story about how you’ve used your academic strength to help you to succeed at university.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.