College can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. Many students embrace the newfound freedom, social life, and the challenges of academic endeavors.
However, few students understand how quickly the college experience will turn into a job hunt. Many students regret not using the college years to build the credentials needed for career success.
Here is a guide to making the most of college and to being poised to launch a career after graduation.
1. Get involved. Club participation is an essential element of college. Not only will you make new friends, but social, student government, and professional campus organizations will enable you to build resume-friendly leadership and organizational skills. Most universities and academic departments have club fairs and information sessions early each semester. Seek out both “fun” clubs and clubs relevant to your discipline or interest area.
2. Get a job. Financial need requires most college students to seek employment to help finance their education and expenses. Work/study on campus or outside employment during college is a great way to show future employers you are responsible. These contacts will also become great references for future professional opportunities.
3. Get to know your professors. Participate in class, and visit them during office hours. Regardless of your major or the courses you take, professors want to help you succeed. Students who show intellectual curiosity and an eagerness to learn will gain the respect of their professors. Plus, many professors have had careers and have connections outside of academia. Take advantage of these underutilized professional resources.
4. Good grades matter, but don’t just focus on your G.P.A. Always attack school work as if you are presenting it to a CEO, not just your professor. Classroom experiences and projects are excellent professional portfolio materials. Save writing samples, social media and digital screen shots, plans, projects, and presentations to show employers that you have skills applicable to your profession.
5. Intern. Most employers will not hire an entry-level employee who has not interned. Take advantage of department and university internship programs, career center training, and job fairs. Many star students who intern get hired by their host company upon graduation.
6. Get Social. Maintaining a meaningful social media presence is essential. This means thinking more strategically about how you use Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. Understand them from a professional point of view. Follow and engage with industry leaders in your chosen field. Build your Linked-in profile and network. Networking is no longer just at cocktail parties and conferences, but should be done throughout college using your social media savvy! Not only will you better understand your potential career path, but you will build a valuable network of contacts to use when you are ready for the job search.
7. Sacrifice. Think carefully about the long term implications of the choices you are making now. Partying too much, focusing on your romantic endeavors and other outside distractions could derail your professional and personal aspirations. All of your actions and activities should enhance your college experience and help you to move towards your career goals.
8. Avoid Excuses. See previous point. If you constantly allow that unfair professor, dysfunctional family or mean boss to dictate your life, STOP NOW. You have the power to make decisions and choose productive and positive behaviors. Excuses paralyze you and give you reasons to stop trying. Take action and eliminate negative thoughts and influences.
9. Get Help. Sure, college and life is stressful. If you are overwhelmed, take advantage of the many free resources and services on your campus. These include mental health professionals, student tutoring services, career centers and more. Look these up on your school web pages and make an appointment now.
10. Be Flexible. Keep an open mind to people, mentors, and ideas outside of your comfort area. Take classes outside your major. Join clubs or volunteer with organizations that may seem intimidating or unusual. Wonderful inspiration and career paths are out there that you won’t find if stay in your comfort zone.
College is the time to take risks and uncover unexpected ideas or opportunities that you may not have ever considered. It is a time of personal exploration and growth. Setting goals and pursuing an action plan beyond academics is essential to achieving professional success after you earn your diploma.
Lorra M. Brown is an associate professor of public relations/professional communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Prior to her faculty position, she held senior-level positions at Ogilvy Public Relations and Weber Shandwick. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.