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College to Career 101

Lauren Herskovic


A college degree is not an automatic ticket to a career. Students don’t choose a major, take some classes, write a few papers and — poof! — they’re looking at a six-figure job offer upon graduation. And this fact has a lot of people (including concerned parents!) talking, mostly about college grads who are jobless, living on their parents’ couches, and racking up interest on their student loans.

Some people are questioning the value of a college education.

The truth is, a college education is 100% worth it. Students just need to understand how to leverage those four magical years into a promising career or grad school admit.

Welcome to College to Career 101! Here are six things your students should do during college to prepare for what comes next.

Explore.

Some students arrive on campus knowing what they want to do and some don’t. Others, like myself, think they know and totally change direction when they get there.

Although my dad and I argued about this during my years at Michigan, I believed then and believe even more strongly now that college is a time for students to explore and figure out who they are and what they want to do. They need to find those intriguing classes — even if they don’t relate to an intended major or seem “practical” — and take them. Exploration exposes students to new subjects and ways of thinking. Best case: they discover a passion that leads to a potential career. Worst case: they’ve taken some awesome classes and opened up their minds a bit. It’s a win/win.

Get involved.

College campuses teem with student groups and activities. There’s something for everyone and your student should jump right in. If there isn’t something for them, encourage your student to start something.

They can use freshman year to experiment. Just like high school, it’s not the number of activities but the level of involvement that matters. Whether student government, Greek life, a cultural or service organization, campus politics or a sports team, they can get involved, have an impact and, when they are ready, take on a leadership role.

Campus involvement leads to a happier overall college experience and boosts academic success. It also contributes to a stronger resumé, plus down the road may give your student a way to connect with job interviewers (“No way, you were also a Kappa Kappa Gamma!?”). When they apply to graduate school or for a job, being able to show leadership or relevant experience will set them apart from other applicants.

Bonus! Activities also give them many more awesome people with whom to…

…Network.

This is a BIGGIE. I didn’t recognize the value of networking until I graduated from college. Every job I have ever gotten (and even my first Chicago apartment!) has been because of my college network.

So while your kids are making friends and having fun, it’s important they think ahead and make connections, too. With fellow students, TAs, professors, everyone. They should get to know people and make sure people know them. It will come in handy in ways they can’t even imagine now, which is why most students don’t think to do this on their own. So push them. The college network may be one of the most valuable things they leave with at graduation.

Get to know — and stay in touch with — professors.

It can be easy in a large lecture class for students never to actually speak to the professor. Encourage your student to make the extra effort to go to office hours, talk to their professor after class, get to know him or her and make sure he or she knows them. Does the professor have research your student can assist with? This is terrific experience, especially if the subject relates to their career goals.

Having an advocate who is established in your student’s future field is invaluable. Through their own networks, professors may be able to help with job placement. They will also be able to write stronger grad school letters of recommendation if they have developed a mentoring relationship with your student.

Do an internship.

If your student can fit an internship in during the semester while taking classes, amazing. Summer internships are worthwhile, too; some students even take a semester off to intern. Internships are important for many reasons — here are the three biggies.

  1. Students get real-life experience in a field.
  2. This looks great on their resumé because it is experience not window dressing.
  3. Internships give students a chance to see if they like a field. Speaking as someone who tried three careers before finding the one that truly fit, I wish I had dabbled when the stakes were lower.

Take graduate admission exams before commencement if grad school is a possibility.

It’s no fun to study extra, especially senior year, but trust me it’s a whole lot harder when you’re working full-time. Your student should absolutely prepare for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc. while still in college when campus resources (library, classmates to study with, TIME) are available. Usually scores keep for five years. Even if your student ultimately decides not to pursue a graduate degree, they’ve lost nothing by taking the exam.

College campuses offer many more career prep resources: speaker series, career coaching, on-campus recruiting, etc. The list is almost endless — it is up to each individual student (with their parents cheering them on) to take advantage of the opportunities. Students who coast through college often end up coasting right back into their childhood bedrooms. If instead they put themselves out there and use their four years productively, they’ll likely carve a confident path right into a post-grad career.

Find out more about guest expert Lauren Herskovic and Admissionado here.

 

Lauren Herskovic is the Chief Operating Officer at Admissionado, an undergraduate and graduate school admissions consulting and mentoring company. Before Admissionado, she was a high school English teacher and Editor-in-Chief of CollegeCandy.com, an online magazine covering all angles of college life. She now manages Admissionado’s team of Ivy League mentors and works with families to help them prepare for life in college and beyond. Lauren’s advice has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan magazine and more.

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