If you are just beginning your college career, or even coming back for the sophomore year, it is not too early to start thinking about career planning. No one says you have to know right now exactly what you want to be doing when you grow up, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about it, or at least do things to figure out what you do want to do in the working world. Having a good understanding of your future goals can help you plan out what you study in college and what extra-curricular activities might give you an edge when you do start looking for work.
To get an idea of what you should be doing now, I turned to several college career center directors for advice, including Fred Burke from Hofstra University and Lonnie Dunlap from Northwestern University.
From the advice I heard, I came up with the Top Five Career Tips for New College Students.
1. Get involved in campus activities as soon as possible.
When you get on campus at the beginning of a school year, you will usually find some big event in which almost all of the campus clubs and organizations set up booths to recruit new members. Definitely go to these and see what is out there and what attracts your interest. If you think you might be interested in a communications career, for example, you could work for the campus newspaper or radio station, or join the student chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
2. Take advantage of your school’s career center.
Career centers are an amazing resource that some students don’t ever use. A recent study showed that students who use the services of a university’s career center are three times as likely to land a job after they graduate. Career centers don’t just help set you up for job interviews or list current Job openings. As Lonnie Dunlap pointed out, they can also help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Through various assessments, students can help themselves identify their interests and skills and what types of jobs would match up with them.
3. Get to know your professors.
Professors do more than just teach. They do research. Many are also still doing professional work outside the university and belong to industry associations. And, most schools encourage professors to make time available to meet with students individually. Professors can give you great advice and guidance, and often even contacts, to help you figure out what career you want to pursue.
4. Seek out internships.
Most schools reserve formal internships that count towards academic credit for juniors and seniors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still look for a volunteer position in an industry that may be of interest to you. If you think you might be interested in a career in education, see if a nearby local school district has any volunteer programs to help out students.
5. Keep an open mind.
This may sound a bit contradictory, but you don’t have to start your college career knowing exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. Explore lots of options. Take some courses that may seem completely out of left field for you. Try something you have never done before.
I had one student who knew she wanted to work in television. But, while spending a summer in Spain taking an intensive Spanish language course, she wound up teaching students English during her summer there, and discovered she loved teaching. When she came back to school, she changed her major from broadcast journalism to education.
The key to all of this is to take advantage of all the resources your university provides to you, and to explore as much as possible. Every single career advisor I talked to told me that it is O.K. if you don’t know what your major is going to be right from the start. The important thing is to get to know yourself and what truly interests you. Hey, that’s what college is all about.