Social Skills & Future Success

By Amy Nasamran, M.A. and Suzi Naguib, Psy.D.

Many parents want to their children to get good grades. From an early age, kids are taught that getting good grades is the key to future success, like getting into a good college or getting a well-paying job. Additionally, schools face great pressure to attend to the academic needs of students. In fact, there are federal policies in place, like the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Common Core, which set standards for schools to improve students’ reading and math skills. Ultimately, academic skills are traditionally what are thought to be crucial skills for college and career readiness.

This heavy emphasis on academic achievement often leads to a reduced focus on social skills instruction. Educators typically work with limited time and resources, and teachers commonly express concerns that teaching social skills takes away from valuable academic instruction time (Ostmeyer & Scarpa, 2012). However, students’ social skills are also very important for facilitating their future successes.

In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found a strong link between students’ social skills in kindergarten and their success in early adulthood.

Researchers followed over 700 students from the time they were in kindergarten to when they were in their 20s (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). Teachers rated each student’s social skills in Kindergarten, skills like cooperating with peers, being helpful to others, being understanding of others’ feelings, and resolving problems independently. Not surprisingly, students’ whose social skills were better in Kindergarten were more likely to be successful as adults. Notably, students with better social skills in Kindergarten were 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma, twice as likely to graduate from college, and 46% more likely to have a full-time job by the age of 25.

These numbers are astounding and suggest that social-emotional skills can be just as important as academic skills for promoting success in adulthood. In fact, students with stronger social skills have been shown to experience greater success in both college and work environments.

For instance, social skills have not only been linked to higher academic achievement in college, but also greater persistence (Dymnicki, Sambolt, & Kidron, 2013). Students who have better interpersonal skills may be better able to develop more positive relationships with supervisors, teachers, and peers, which can facilitate a greater sense of acceptance and belongingness. Researchers have in fact found that students who demonstrate greater empathy and the ability to understand others’ feelings are more likely to graduate from college, whereas students who felt isolated from a social community have higher rates of dropping out (Robbins, Lauver, Le, Davis, Langley, & Carlstrom, 2004). Social skills are also often included in various work standards, suggesting that employers value individuals who demonstrate strong social skills. As a result, students with better social skills may have an increased likelihood of becoming employed.

Overall, it is incredibly important for students to not only become proficient in core academic subjects, but to also learn social skills that can improve their success as young adults in college and in the workplace. Parents and educators alike can serve as key role models in our students’ lives to teach them how to work well with others in socially acceptable, responsible, and respectful ways to facilitate their long-term success.

Dymnicki, A., Sambolt, M., & Kidron, Y. (2013). Improving college and career readiness by

incorporating social and emotional learning. Washington, DC: College & Career Readiness & Success Center at American Institutes for Research

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and

public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283-2290. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

Ostmeyer, K. & Scarpa, A. (2012). Examining School‐Based social skills program needs and

barriers for students with High‐Functioning autism spectrum disorders using participatory action research. Psychology in the Schools, 49(10), 932-941. doi:10.1002/pits.21646

Robbins, S. B., Lauver, K., Le, H., Davis, D., Langley, R., & Carlstrom, A. (2004). Do

psychosocial and study skill factors predict college outcomes? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130(2), 261-288. doi: