My College:
Career Prep

5 Ways to Begin Career Prep in the First Year

Mindy East


Starting college is exciting for students and for their families, too. You spent the summer getting ready to move to campus and soaking up the time together. Once the semester starts, your student’s focus shifts to academics and adjusting to life on their own.

With so much going on, it may seem silly to start talking about their career. However, the job search process is a marathon rather than a sprint, and starting early will set your student up for success. Here are five simple ways to begin career preparation during the first year of college.

1. Change the mindset.

Contrary to widespread belief, students shouldn’t wait until senior year to begin thinking about possible careers. Talking about it as early as the first year can build both clarity and confidence for your student. College is about intellectual exploration and personal growth (and, of course, having fun), but make a point as well to talk about how the purpose of their time in college is to prepare them for life — and a career — after graduation. If your student understands that the goal of getting their degree is to join the workforce, they’ll see the benefits of making it a priority to participate in resume-building activities each year of college.

2. Focus on building strong study skills.

Although GPA is only one factor employers consider when hiring graduates, it’s important to build a solid academic foundation as a first-year student. Most universities require the completion of general education courses before beginning higher-level classes specific to a major and degree program. Even students who excelled academically in high school can benefit from building strong study habits early on, and using general education courses to learn how to study and excel will boost the grade point average right from the start.

3. Explore clubs and organizations related to their major.

Joining a club can be one of the most rewarding experiences in college and a fantastic addition to your student’s first resume. Clubs and organizations geared toward their career can give an early glimpse into their profession. It’s also a chance to meet older students with shared interests who can guide and mentor them. As a first-year student, it’s wise to be a member and participate — and as your student progresses through college, they should also consider a leadership role.

4. Make connections on social media.

Once upon a time (maybe you remember!), the student newspaper and flyers posted around campus were the only way to find out what was going on. Now universities are highly active on social media, which means students can use platforms like Instagram and TikTok to “follow” campus resources, including the career center, the department they are studying within, and the university’s main page.

While we’re on the subject, it’s a good time to remind your student to exercise some care around their personal social media accounts. Students will be tempted to post about how much fun they’re having in college and may not realize that potential employers frequently Google candidates before interviewing them. I recommend adding privacy settings and removing questionable photos, such as party pictures.

5. Join Handshake and visit the Career Center.

Handshake is an online platform that connects college students to employers. Schools partner with Handshake to share information about career-related events, jobs, internships, on-campus employer visits, resume support, and more. Your student should create a profile on Handshake and download the app to have this resource at their fingertips.

It’s extremely common for first-year students to be undecided about choosing a career. In fact, over 75% of college students change their major at least once. If your student has questions about what to study, remind them that they can make an appointment at the career center. Assessments can help them figure out what careers may be a match for them. Counselors at the career center can also help them set up informational interviews with alumni in their prospective field. The first year is a perfect time to gain clarity on which career to pursue.

By focusing on these five things during their first year, your student will begin to lay the foundation for a successful career search.

Students who invest time and energy into career preparation during each year of college will have more confidence and momentum than those who wait until graduation is around the corner. Considering that in recent years more than half of college students didn’t have a job lined up at the time of graduation, it just makes sense to make this a priority from year one. Best wishes to your student for a fantastic first year!

Mindy East is the founder of Career Start, LLC. With decades of experience in human resources, including lead roles in college recruiting departments, she has stepped over to the other side of the interview table to prepare students and recent graduates for successful transitions to their future careers. Mindy graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Public Relations from Illinois State University, followed by a Certificate in Strategic HR from Cornell. She knows firsthand the importance of internships, having completed two at Walt Disney World early in her career, and she has since worked for other world-class brands such as McDonald’s, Gap, and Old Navy in addition to two global non-profits.

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