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Advice for New College Students From a Recent GradCambria Pilger
People like to tell me, “The future is just around the corner.”
While that’s true, I feel like there is so much that needs to happen before I reach this “future” place. As a junior in college, there are many more exams, Gen Eds (general education requirements), and interactions to have before I finish this year, let alone next year. And before I get my diploma I'll need to apply for graduation, buy my cap and gown, consider and apply for jobs for after college, and make some big decisions.
Plus I plan on graduating a semester early, which means that my future will start even earlier than normal. Right?
College students are always looking to the future, and sometimes it is really scary. It's hard not to think about the future when the most common question students get asked is, “What do you want to do?”
I don’t know what I want to do, but I know what my current path could lead to. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish and business. I work as a resident assistant (RA) and like to draw, journal and explore in my free time.
If my degree alone decides my future, I might open my own international journalism organization that publishes articles in Spanish and English. Do I want to do that? Not really, but it’s a possibility. If my non-academic passions decide my future, I might become a resident director, the manager of RAs, with side jobs as a painter and tour guide. Do I want to do that? Kind of, but it’s not very practical.
That puts a lot of pressure on my actions. I can think of three or four plausible careers after college, and all of them could change with a single choice.
Every summer, I get a new opportunity to consider what career I want to follow. My summer jobs are just a small taste of what it’s like to work in the “real world.” A few summers ago, I worked as an accounting and marketing intern at a small company. In that position, I learned that I enjoy marketing more than accounting and I like the small company “feel.” Last summer, I worked at a grocery store where I learned that I love fast-paced environments, daily challenges and personal interactions.
When I’m not working, I volunteer, bake, write and explore my passions. I believe every activity I do shapes the scope of jobs I might pursue after college.
My biggest conflict right now is deciding between an internship or fellowship program for this coming summer. The former is a journalism internship with a well-known organization. I would spend the summer in New York or Florida shadowing journalists, writing my own stories and experiencing the profession fully. Pretty exciting!
The other option is a fellowship, which would send me to San Francisco to work with a church doing ministry and community outreach. Both options provide a stipend for the summer, but the fellowship program covers more costs than the internship. Both options require me to spend a summer away from home (something I have never done before) and will push me out of my comfort zone. I wish I could do both!
Something I’ve realized in this decision is that there’s no right answer, even though it feels like there should be. There are pros and cons to both opportunities. I know that whatever choice I make will be challenging, maturing and exciting.
As much as I love being in my home state (Colorado), I don’t know if I want to move back there quite yet. Maybe I want to stay in my university’s town in for a while. After all, I fall more in love with this state (Washington) each year, and there are so many opportunities for local journalism here.
But maybe I’ll love the city I end up in this summer. Who knows if there are better job opportunities somewhere else? I’m learning what I love in a town: good community, lots of entertainment and exploration opportunities, a health focus. I don’t need to choose yet where I’m going to live after college, but it’s good for me to start thinking about it.
The best method I developed is weighing the benefits and challenges, getting advice from people close to me, and feeling out which option is the wisest.
Know that your student won’t always choose the most comfortable option, either. Sometimes their choices will scare them. When I decided journalism was my calling, I felt terrified. But I knew my decision would benefit me well in the long run, so I pursued it wholeheartedly.
That’s how all decisions go, especially those we make in college. If your student doesn’t feel confident about taking a job right after college, they don’t need to. Look for more options. If they want to do something totally different from what people expect of them, encourage them to go for it.
There is a pressure to decide one’s entire future during the college years, but don’t let that stop your student from being present right now. I find that listening to myself, celebrating my accomplishments and making time for social activities help me feel present.
There will always be more future to experience, so encourage your student to enjoy the successes and challenges of their life as they're living it.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.