Last week’s column was devoted to how high schoolers can financially prepare for college. It’s certainly true that much of preparing for college is financial: scholarships, side-jobs, loans and housing. Not all preparation efforts, however, boil down to applications and forms. There is a social aspect to college readiness, and job-readiness for that matter, that is just as important to keep in mind. Social connections can benefit more than just your social calendar.

Let’s start with the obvious advice: form study groups! Study groups can be an amazing support system that can make learning more enjoyable. If you are struggling with a concept or have a gap in your note-taking, the group can help. If you have to miss class, contact your group right away to catch up.

If no study groups have formed, take the initiative and start one. And this might seem obvious, but I will say it anyway: study groups are most effective when every member of the group is committed to getting a good grade. Here are some other tips for forming effective study groups:

Don’t be afraid to take the initiative. Reach out to like-minded classmates, get their contact information, and set up communications (via Facebook or group text).

Find a good place to gather and set regular meeting times.

Limit groups to about 3-6 students.

Online study groups are also a great option for online classes or a group with busy schedules. Identify a platform where all group members can easily connect with each other to collaborate and learn from one another. Many platforms allow users to share their computer screens with the group so that everyone can visually follow along. A few great tools that we use at UAF include

• Google Hangout

• UberConference

• Skype

• Zoom

The topic of online collaboration is particularly timely given the massive, sudden transition from physical workspaces to online work and work-from-home scenarios due to COVID-19. Schools across the country, in particular colleges and universities, are moving to online instruction for the remainder of the academic year. No doubt students will need to interact online with peers, even forming online study groups, with increasing frequency.

You don’t have to wait for college to engage in study groups! Many weeks of the school year remain, and juniors and seniors should be prepping for ACT/SAT tests as well. If you are an instructor, consider helping your students form study groups.

Finding your peeps can help you with more than academics. College students increasingly report struggling with depression, anxiety and loneliness. All of these things can affect school performance. 

According to Psychology Today, strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity. Social connections strengthen our immune system, help us recover from disease faster and may even lengthen our life. Furthermore, people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. So, whether it’s through academic activities, chess club, or sports, staying social does a body good.

So what does all of this have to do with job-readiness? A lot. Steve Jobs said “Great things in business are never done by one person.” According to Business Insider, teamwork and collaboration are among the most valued soft skills. Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s interactions with others. Although many work-related tasks in the future will become automated, skills like teamwork, maintaining relationships and morale building can’t be. All of these skills can be developed and honed in study groups. Online study group participants get the added bonus of learning collaborative online platforms that are likely also used in the workplace.

The bottom line is that, whether online or in person, social connections matter. Find your peeps!