College requires a major commitment of time and money, and getting the most out of the experience is important. Whether your goal is to earn a necessary degree for a chosen career, to prepare for a postgraduate program, or something else, it's important to understand how your college education can be best be used as a step toward future success. There are several considerations to worth reviewing, and these can be beneficial whether you already are a college student or a high school student still deciding the next step in your academic career.
1. Set Personal and Professional Goals
While it's OK to have more general goals as you begin college, it's still important to begin the process of planning out your studies over the next four or five years and having a sense of what you want to be doing. If you know for certain what your goals are, do something to remind you of them every day. For example, if you want to work a public relations firm when you graduate, keep a whiteboard in your dorm or apartment with this message at the top: "Land a job at a public relations firm." The constant reminder will help you to keep your focus and stay on track.
Remember to set short-term goals as well. For example, you can create a schedule that shows when you hope to complete certain courses, projects, internships, or more on the way to your degree.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Say No
Time is one of the most important things you have as a college student. Budgeting that time wisely means avoiding the temptation to join too many clubs or to try and take part in every available social gathering. Participating in clubs and having a social life are important, but learn how to manage them in moderation. Ease yourself slowly into that part of your college life so you know what you can handle, and don't take on too much at once.
However, saying no to invitations doesn't always have to be 100 percent definitive. When friends invite you someplace, try getting in the habit of saying that you'll meet them there in an hour or two after you get some studying out of the way. This helps develop self-discipline while still allowing you to participate.
3. Get to Know Your Professors
This is even more important today than it has been in the past. As electronic communications have grown, it's become more difficult for professors to put faces to names as many students rely almost entirely on email or other electronic communications when asking questions or otherwise seeking help from their professors. Make a point of visiting every professor during his or her office hours at least once during the first couple of weeks of every semester. Even if you only have a minor question or comment, taking the time to have a face-to-face conversation will help to build a rapport that should help you down the road when you need to ask for a recommendation or maybe are just hoping to get the benefit of the doubt on a borderline grade.
4. Keep an Updated Resume and Cover Letter
You never know when you’ll meet someone who might be able to help move your career forward, get you an internship, or help you get an opportunity. Make sure you always have an updated resume or cover letter handy. When someone asks for a copy, you want to be able to send something quickly. You also want to make sure that it’s always updated with the most recent information.
5. Attend Local Networking Events
As a college student, you’ll be able to get student discounts and often free visits to local networking groups. Even though you might not want to live in the city where you go to college, take the opportunity to practice your networking skills locally. If you go to school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but want to work in Chicago, there's a good chance one of the professionals you meet in Ann Arbor will have some connections in Chicago.
Challenge yourself to talk to strangers and network and connect with different people from different industries. As an example of what to attend, if you are an advertising major, you could research local networking groups for professionals in the advertising industry.
6. Conduct Informational Interviews
Contact friends, family, previous employers, or alumni from your college to set up a 20 or 30 informational interview sessions over the phone. If they are nearby, you may ask to meet them for coffee or do a face-to-face interview at their office or organization. Job shadowing is a great way to learn more about a career field of interest by spending time with someone currently working in the field.
7. Find an Internship
One of the secrets educators rarely share with students is that employers, in most instances, care very little about the types of grades you got in college. While they do matter to a certain extent, the first thing employers will look for when reviewing your resume is your actual experience—and for college students, this often means internships. Employers hiring for jobs will almost always consider the 3.0 student with a lot of internship experience over the 4.0 student with little or no internship experience.
Find a cause you are passionate about and start volunteering. It’s easier to start in college and continue when you enter the real world. Once you enter the real world and start working, it can be hard to stop everything and find volunteer opportunities. There are numerous volunteer organizations available. You can find one either at your college or in your college community or when you are home during a break or over the summer. Like internships, quality volunteer experience also is viewed favorably by employers. They want to hire people who are active and involved.
9. Get Involved on Campus
Similar to internships and volunteer work, campus involvement shows employers that you were more than just a success in the classroom. It shows that you valued your community and that you were able to make a difference as an active member of that community. Remember the advice about saying no, though. It's better to have a big impact on one or two campus activities than to have minimal impact on half a dozen.