Setting Yourself up for Success: How to Make the Most of College
Would you believe me if I told you one out of every three college students will change his or her major at least once? This report from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics proves it. While some people start their collegiate careers knowing what they want to study and which career they want to pursue, many do not. And that’s okay!
Think about this: Your college experience is a blank slate and unique to you. So how will you use your four years? Whether you’re confident in the path you chose from day one or are still unsure, these tips will help you design your college choices based on professional goals and future aspirations.
Choose Electives Wisely
Most programs lay out a core curriculum required to graduate. Built into that core curriculum is the opportunity to choose electives. Maybe your major is psychology, like mine was. Stepping out of your comfort zone and taking an elective, like creative writing, might open your eyes to opportunities you never knew existed!
While a career change later on might be risky, exploring the possibilities while still in school can only help you. For example, you could decide 15 years into your career as an accountant that you’d like to become a software developer. At this point in your life, you may have kids, pets, a mortgage to pay and other time commitments that make going back to school or starting a career in a different industry more difficult. If you explore a diverse range of electives and topics in the lower-risk environment available to you as a student and you discover something new, you can pivot more easily than if you made this decision 15 years down the road.
Broaden Your Perspective With Study Abroad
Everyone, no matter the major, can benefit from studying abroad. As you’re mapping out your four years, consider how studying abroad -- whether it’s one week, a full semester or even an entire year -- aligns with your future aspirations. I spent my junior year in England, taking courses in a large university setting that was in complete contrast to my small liberal arts college here in the states. I took courses in my major, but also added in political studies and astronomy. You could be majoring in economics and then study music history in Berlin! Of course, you’ll have a blast, but more importantly, being immersed in a different culture will broaden your perspective -- I know it did for me. Also, if you are studying a new language, you can visit a country that speaks that language. And remember, more than 360 million people speak English as their first language, so if you only know English and prefer that where you travel uses English as its first language, you still have plenty of options.
Utilize Your Resources
College is designed to give students the resources they need to build strong foundations for successful careers. Most schools have career centers full of resources for exploring career opportunities, engaging with alumni, preparing for interviews and gaining hands-on experience. The experts that staff these centers can help you determine what you can be doing now to get ahead.
Professors can also be treasure troves of helpful information. Many professors didn’t start out as professors -- they started in the industries they are now teaching you about. They have been in your shoes and are often eager to share their networks and industry experiences. Take advantage of this!
By now you have probably heard about how important it is to find a mentor, and these career counselors, alumni, professors and role models can be just that! After graduation, these individuals may even continue to be active in your network.
I encourage you to take time at the beginning and end of each semester to reflect on what you enjoyed, what you didn’t, and -- based on that -- plan for what’s next. This is your one and only college experience, what you do with it is up to you. Make it count!