How to Develop Leadership Skills at University (Even If You Don't Study Business) | Student Reviews & University Rankings EDUopinions

How to Develop Leadership Skills at University (Even If You Don’t Study Business)


Although it’s possible to sail through university without giving a thought to what you’re going to do afterwards – concentrating only on enjoying your studies and student freedom – it will benefit you to consider the kinds of skills you’re acquiring and how they could help you later on. For example, skills like leadership can be helpful for all kinds of future careers; but how do you develop leadership skills at university?

Some students might think that leadership is only relevant if you’re studying something management related, like business studies. However, a recent study of employers around the world found that leadership skills are becoming more necessary. 

According to the results, employers specifically desire graduates who can make a difference to their organisations. This could be through excelling in leadership and caring about social challenges like climate change and equality.

Whether you’re planning to become a scientific researcher, a graphic designer, or a teacher, it’s really helpful to develop leadership skills. These soft skills will help you manage projects, build relationships with your colleagues, and motivate others in your organisation.

But how can you build your leadership skills if you don’t study management or business? Here are five ways any student can start to work on their leadership skills at university.

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5 Ways to Develop Leadership Skills at University

1. Join an extracurricular society

Develop Leadership Skills at University Society

One of the best ways to develop leadership skills while you’re at university is to join a student club or society. Universities offer a huge range of extracurricular clubs, so you can usually find something that matches your personal interests or career goals.

As part of a society, you’ll get the opportunity to practice skills like communication and project management, as you collaborate with other students from across departments on events.

Although you’ll get plenty of practice in vital leadership skills as a member of a society, you might also consider working your way up to a leadership role in your chosen club. For example, you might campaign to become society president, treasurer, or events officer. In a more senior role, you’ll gain the responsibility to make decisions for the future of the society, developing skills in problem solving and critical thinking.

2. Participate in an internship

Internships During University Degrees

On some university degrees, you’ll have the option to add an internship experience to your programme. So, either during term-time or over the summer, you’ll have the chance to participate in real work at a company.

An internship is a great way of getting a glimpse at graduate life before you’ve completed your degree. During your internship, you might have the opportunity to work as part of a team to complete a project. This way, you can strengthen your communication skills and learn how to project manage as part of a diverse team.

However, you can still develop your leadership skills through observation during your internship. How do senior managers make decisions? How are teams motivated?

You can learn plenty about leadership from observing how an organisations functions, and also reflecting on your own experience of that management process.

3. Get a part-time job

Part-Time Student Job to Develop Leadership Skills

If your university degree is a very intensive subject – such as medicine or engineering – you might find yourself with very little free time for part-time jobs. However, for students that do have a day or two free during the week, spending 10-20 hours in a real working environment (providing your visa allows you to work!) can really help you develop leadership skills.

Even if you’re just working in a cafe, student bar, or a shop, you’ll get to work on leadership skills like people management (customers and colleagues), negotiation, and adapting to high-pressure decision-making. Whenever you have to make a split decision on which action to take (Take another order or help an existing customer? Clean your work surface or assist your colleagues in the front of the store?), you’re priming yourself for future leadership roles.

If you’re thinking of working while studying, be sure to read our article on the pros and cons to figure out if it’s the right option for you. Of course, another bonus of working part-time is that you’ll earn a bit of extra cash to spend on enjoying your student lifestyle. At the same time, working can take time away for your studies, so it’s a balancing act.

4. Try volunteering

Volunteering to Develop Leadership

Ever thought about volunteering? For some students who are already struggling to balance their free time and studies, giving away time for free isn’t really an option. However, if you’re finding yourself with a free afternoon now and then and you want to develop your skills without the pressure a part-time job brings, volunteering is a great solution.

Volunteering is all about making a difference in your local community, and that work can take many forms. For example, you might help out at a care facility, tutor younger students on their essays or language skills, help clean up your local park, or assist at an animal shelter. There are so many charities and organisations that would value your help that you can usually find something that matches your career goals and hobbies.

As well as giving you a way to give back to your local community, volunteering can also offer valuable career experience. You’ll have to adapt to an ever-changing work environment, work in a team to accomplish larger goals, and work on your communication skills. All of this can make a huge difference to your leadership skills.

Not to mention that one study found that 81% of hiring managers believe that a candidate’s volunteer experience should be considered during the hiring process.

5. Join a sports team

Sports Team at University

Are you naturally quite a sporty person? Then consider joining a sports team at your university. Team sports are a great way to practice leadership skills in a completely different environment from your typical office setting.

However, those same skills that you’d use at work – negotiation, decision-making, critical-thinking, team work – are all significant to sports like football, rugby, or basketball.

If you’re not a sports fan at all, don’t feel pressured to joining a team just to work on your leadership skills. As this article has hopefully shown, there are lots of ways to develop leadership skills during your studies that don’t include sports.


It’s not just business students who need leadership skills. No matter where you work in the future, employers are demanding that graduate employees have the communication, critical thinking, and decision-making skills required to thrive in an organisation.

And while jobs might seem very far away when you’ve just started university, there’s no better way to explore leadership than by taking every opportunity that comes to you during your studies. So, join that debating society, get involved in a film club, start your own student-led society, or get involved in sports – you’ll enrich your time at university and develop skills for the future.

If you’re still weighing up your options for where to study, you might find it interesting to read about the best countries in the world for graduate job prospects. What about if we said that Australia is in the top 10? Or that Ireland makes the top 3 best countries?

We’re not going to give the number one spot away right now – you’ll have to read our article to find out!

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Written by
Abigail is a freelance writer specialising in higher education. She has lived in London and the Netherlands, and has a Masters degree in American Studies.

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