Careers

Heading to College This Fall? Start Researching Potential Job Options

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It's no secret that COVID-19 has disrupted how educational institutions across the US function, including their admissions processes. As a high school student, you are now forced to evaluate your options with the current health crisis in mind. Specifically, you may have to consider committing to an academic institution without visiting the campus, making a choice based on a school's reaction to the pandemic, deciding on a school closer to home or deferring admission to the spring semester or the next academic year. Recent surveys confirm the uncertainty among your fellow students and show no clear picture as to what fall enrollment will look like.


Despite the challenges, however, schools are moving forward with their admission decisions, and at the same time setting up contingency plans to address the concerns expressed by the incoming class about health, finances and online learning. Whether or not you have confirmed your plans for the 2020-21 academic year, if you have received acceptance letters, evaluate your job options at each location. This could also help you decide which college to attend in the fall. To get started, ask yourself the following three questions.

1. What Are the Job Options on Campus?

Working on campus is an immediate option to all students and a great way to gain news skills, develop relationships, earn a paycheck and make your educational experience more meaningful. Whether you have federal work-study or need additional financial support, exploring options at your institution is a smart choice. On-campus roles are convenient, because you get to work where you live and take your classes, and accommodating, because you get to choose flexible work hours that don't disrupt your academic and other commitments.

On-campus opportunities are usually established on an as-needed basis and the beginning of the school year marks an increase in openings as previous student employees may have graduated or transitioned into an internship or other part-time opportunities. Depending on the location, size and setup of your institution, you may have access to any of the following roles:

  • Teaching Assistant: Research and reach out to professors who teach subjects in which you've demonstrated exceptional knowledge and abilities to determine if there's a need.
  • Research Assistant: This could be a role with a specific professor or within a specific department.
  • Resident Assistant: The role requires a high level of responsibility and leadership qualities and often comes with free housing.
  • Library Attendant: A perfect opportunity if you prefer quiet, low-stress workspaces where you are surrounded by tons of books.
  • Bookstore Attendant: Textbook discounts make this an appealing option to many students.
  • Peer Tutor: For this role, you want to be comfortable teaching subjects in high demand like math or English.
  • Administrative Support: Multiple offices across your institution hire students as front-desk workers or support staff so research existing needs of your academic offices, student services, career services, the office of international students, or IT.
  • Gym Instructor: Are you a Zumba or a Bollywood enthusiast? Do you enjoy cycling, yoga or weight training? Put your skills and enthusiasm to work by helping other students stay active and healthy.
  • Food Service: Most college campuses have a food court, a cafeteria, a catering service or a café, and any of these could be potential places for work.

2. What Are Your Off-Campus Options?

In addition to exploring on-campus roles, you also want to evaluate your options to work outside your academic institution. Depending on your school's location, these could be work places within walking distance or options that require you to commute. Know which one works best for your circumstances. You may want to start with what you've already done in the past to see if a similar opportunity exists in your new location. You could also research roles that could help you explore different career paths you are curious about. Or, you may go after any opportunity that allows you to earn a paycheck and gain new skills. The key is to become familiar with the area ahead of time so you have an idea of what the possibilities are.

3. Are You Prepared for Remote Work?

Remote work has been a valid option for college students for several years, but as recent developments have shown, when campuses close, many existing on-campus roles cannot easily be converted to online ones, which has left many student workers without an income for the spring. As the situation progresses and schools prepare for the next academic year, remote work may become the norm, both on and off campus, so be ready to show yourself as someone who can perform well when working online. Remote work requires discipline; maturity; exceptional organizational, communication and time management skills; and technical savvy. How can you show employers that you have those skills?

The best aspect of remote work is that it's not attached to a physical location, so as you wait to see what the situation in the fall will be, research the following roles and consider testing them out, on a volunteer or a paid basis, in the months leading up to the fall semester:

  • Social Media Manager: Consider this opportunity if you have knowledge of different platforms and can communicate effectively.
  • Writer: Explore a contract with an existing platform or consider starting your own blog.
  • Online Tutor: Explore available opportunities in your neighborhood or with local schools. If none exists, consider creating your own -- parents will appreciate it!
  • Programmer: If you have C++, Java, Python, R or MATLAB on your resume, this is a perfect option for you. Find openings on Dice and Women Who Code.
  • Virtual Assistant: In this role, you could help with anything from administrative tasks to social media engagement to finance management.

In addition to gaining experience by finding opportunities to volunteer or work online before you start college, you could also think about the options you discovered in response to the first two questions. How many of those jobs could be performed remotely? To find out, consider connecting with current students who are or have been in those roles and can share insights. If the jobs could be done online, what specific skills do you have that can be of value to future employers (whether that's an office at your college or an organization in the area)? As you collect information on the above, practice stories to tell and show employers you have the right motivation, abilities and personality to help them meet their needs.

Final Thoughts

I wish I had a Magic 8-Ball so I can tell you with certainty what will happen this fall, but I don't. What I know for certain, however, is that spending the time to research your options is one thing you can take control of right now. Learn what your chosen institution's job search platform is and confirm when you can have access to it. Such platforms often list both on-campus and off-campus opportunities. Connect with current students and inquire about their jobs, how they got them, and whether they've been able to do them online. Ultimately, you want to understand your options for the fall so no matter what happens, you are prepared and ready to adapt if needed.

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