Expanding your vocabulary may not be the biggest priority on your college “to-do” list, especially if you’re majoring in a field outside of the humanities. Still, there are benefits to be enjoyed from adding new college-level words to your lexicon, and some of them can yield long-lasting rewards. Specifically, building a college vocabulary can help you succeed academically and poise you for even more accomplishments in your professional career, including job offers, promotions, and raises. In this article, we’ll explore how an advanced vocabulary (i.e., one that includes college-level words) can build intelligence and foster success in the classroom and in the workplace. We’ll also present some specific vocabulary-building exercises you can use to fill in any gaps in your lexicon so that you can take full advantage of all of the rewards and benefits of speaking and writing eloquently.
Don’t Just Sound Smarter—Be Smarter!
Do you know someone who is always using big words to sound more sophisticated or intelligent? Everyone knows that using college-level words can make a person appear smarter—so long as the individual is using the words correctly! But did you know that expanding your vocabulary can actually increase your intelligence? It may sound far-fetched, but from a neurolinguistic perspective, it makes perfect sense. Language is directly tied to brain function, and vocabulary words are the building blocks of language. Thus, the more words you know, the more efficient your brain is at making meaningful connections between objects, ideas, and concepts. This, of course, is the essence of intelligence.
Acquiring college vocabulary words can also free up your time and energy as you’re attempting to learn new content, especially if you become fluent in using these new terms rather than simply acknowledging the definitions of certain college words. For illustrative purposes, imagine you’re studying for a philosophy exam, and you come across a word you aren’t familiar with. Suddenly, your chore of learning philosophical theory just became twice as difficult. You have to stop what you’re doing to look up the definition of the word and then try to apply it to the context of your course material. You’ve wasted precious time and effort that could have been better spent preparing for your upcoming test. Clearly, building up your knowledge of college vocabulary words prior to university enrollment will give you the best chance of success in your classes.
Higher Grades Across the Board
We’ve established that learning college words beforehand can help you learn the material for your courses. This isn’t the only way that a college vocabulary can yield success in school, though. You’ve likely been forewarned that college coursework requires a ton of writing, and it’s true. Instead of reports being limited to your English classes as may have been the case in high school, your college courses will be full of research papers, reflective essays, and lab reports, no matter what your major. Even general education classes like introductory psychology and even mathematics will require that you write essays as part of your academic requirements. In order to succeed in these classes, you’ll need to be proficient at written communication, which includes using college vocabulary words appropriately and fluently. And this isn’t just a matter of form, either. Communicating clearly is essential for discussing the kinds of higher-level concepts you’ll be required to explore and explain in your college classes. The more college-level words you have in your vocabulary, the better equipped you’ll be to do just that.
Having knowledge of college words in your vocabulary doesn’t only benefit you when it comes to written expression, though. It also helps you with oral communication (AKA speaking). While you may not be required to do as much public speaking in college as you will writing, oral communication is still very important in higher education settings. For instance, in some classes, a portion of your grade may be dependent upon your contribution to class discussions. The extent to which you participate in these verbal exchanges as well as the quality of your contribution could very well mean the difference between a mediocre grade and a stellar one. Having a working college vocabulary can position you for successful banter with your peers regarding the complex ideas introduced in your coursework.
Better Job Prospects
Employers have long-cited communication skills among some of the most desirable traits in new recruits. According to a 2010 survey of employers conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 89% of respondents said postsecondary institutions should better prepare graduates in terms of written and oral communication skills. This implies that these particular soft skills are not only valued by employers, but they’re also rare. That’s good news for graduates with strong college vocabulary skills because it means they’ll very likely stand out to hiring managers when applying for jobs.
Speaking of the application process, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show off your knowledge of college-level words as you’re vying for open positions with prospective employers. From the initial step of filling out the official job application to submitting your resume and cover letter, your knowledge of college words will be on full display. Also, keep in mind that the cover letter in particular presents an opportunity to demonstrate your advanced writing skills. While hiring managers may scan your application and even your resume, the cover letter is usually read from top to bottom. Using some college vocabulary words here can’t hurt your plight, as long as you’re using them properly and not just for ornamentation.
Your oral communication skills won’t go unnoticed during your job hunt, either. This is particularly true should you land an interview with a company’s hiring manager. According to the online job board Indeed, the typical job interview lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. During this time, the interviewer will be hanging onto your every word, listening to clues that indicate what kind of employee you would be if you were hired. No pressure, right? Depending on the job you’re interviewing for, your knowledge of college words could make or break your chances for employment. While being well-spoken is a leg-up for any type of professional role, it may be even more crucial if you’re an aspiring teacher, manager, or public figure, for instance.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Even after you’ve graduated from your degree program and snagged a job, your college vocabulary will continue to prove valuable. In fact, it could put you first in line for promotions and advancements, leading to more job satisfaction, prestige, and yes—higher wages. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) lists good communication skills among the top ten skills managers need in the workplace, citing the results of a survey of more than 15,000 managers across the world. SHRM goes on to cite the “7 C’s of Communication,” one of which is conciseness. Essentially, this means that using one word instead of several to communicate an idea is preferable. Conciseness is often dependent upon vocabulary knowledge, however. Thus, having a good grasp of college-level words can help you communicate concisely, which adds to your effectiveness as a manager.
If you’re able to leverage your college vocabulary to earn a managerial position, then you can expect to start reaping some monetary rewards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), managers make more on average than employees of any other occupational group. In 2020, the median annual wage for professionals in management positions was well over six figures—$109,760 to be exact.
How to Expand Your Vocabulary to Include College Words
At this point, you may be wondering what you should do if you can’t define all of the words every college student should know. Good question! Acknowledging the importance of a good college vocabulary is one thing, but acquiring one is another thing entirely. If you feel like your knowledge of college-level words is subpar, don’t fret—there are some things you can do to ensure you’re verbally prepared for your postsecondary journey and beyond.
Reading to Learn New College Words
If the idea of curling up with a good book and a hot beverage appeals to you, then you’re in luck. Reading is widely accepted as one of the very best ways to improve one’s vocabulary. Just make sure that the book you’re reading is on par with college-level words and diction. After all, reading a book full of rudimentary words you already know might be enjoyable, but it won’t do anything to build a college vocabulary. Reading challenging literature, however, can enhance your lexicon. Exposing yourself to college words used in context can help you absorb these words into your own vocabulary. The more you’re exposed to them, the more likely it is that they’ll make their way into your own speech and writing. This is why well-read people also tend to have better writing and speaking skills.
Learn College Vocabulary Words by Listening
If you’re not an avid reader, take heart that there are other ways to learn college-level words, including listening to these words as they’re spoken aloud. That means listening to an audiobook is a perfectly acceptable way to enhance your vocabulary. Grammarly suggests that even movies and television shows can be instructive when it comes to college vocabulary words, likening the experience to reading visual books with the added perk of hearing the words pronounced. Though this technique may be more effective for second language learners, it can be beneficial to native speakers as well, although it’s important to be selective about the types of media you consume.
Writing for Practice with College Level Words
Writing is often thought of as an assignment or chore, but it can also be a tool for learning, particularly when it comes to adding college words to your vocabulary. Simply writing down a word and its definition in a vocabulary journal can help you commit the term to memory. Of course, becoming comfortable with the word in formal writing or speech may require a bit more practice. For this, we recommend making an intentional effort to use the word in casual writing, whether it be in a personal journal, an email to a friend, or a low-stakes classroom assignment. As you find opportunities to use new college words more frequently, you’ll become more confident applying them to other contexts such as public speaking and essay writing, for instance.
Technology for Exposure to College Vocabulary Words
For decades now, technology and learning have been intertwined, so it’s no surprise that today, there are high-tech ways to build a college vocabulary. For instance, test-prep company Magoosh offers a word game/ vocabulary building app featuring 1200 different college words for daily practice. If the idea of having an educational app on your phone is off-putting, there are plenty of other options. Word games have become strangely popular and highly addictive, so much so that people forget that they’re also good for the brain. Completing an online crossword puzzle, playing Scrabble Go with a friend across the globe, or even challenging a stranger to a round of Words with Friends are all good ways to learn college-level words (and they’re fun too).
If learning new college words wasn’t already on your radar, we trust it is now. Building a college vocabulary is a simple and often overlooked strategy to gain a competitive advantage in academia and on the job. It’s also a technique that can be improved over time. The English language is so vast that there’s virtually an infinite number of college-level words one can learn. With these boundless opportunities for growth, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can accomplish with a little ambition and a large vocabulary.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook—Management Occupations
- Grammarly: 10 Ways to Improve Your English Vocabulary
- Indeed: How Long Do Job Interviews Last?
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): Top 10 Management Skills You Need