There are different types of college students: the ones who spend their years locked away in the library, the ones who leave everything to the last minute, the ones who spend more time socializing than studying, the ones who split their time between work and the classroom, the ones who do either one of the above things and the ones who try to do them all.
With all these experiences college comes with, preparing for the future from the first day may not be a priority. And by this I mean, the post-graduation life. I know I didn’t start thinking about it until my sophomore year. In retrospect, I should’ve probably started planning sooner. But since I can’t undo the past, I can only share what I’ve learned and help someone in the situation I was in.
If possible, every college student should start planning for the future early. This means being involved on campus and staying in the know of what’s happening, networking with professors and going after professional experiences—this is all in addition to studying and acing your classes of course. Doing this can be the difference between many job offers by the time it’s graduation season or a long period of unemployment or underemployment. As a college student, you want to stay on top of what needs to be done to create a positive outcome.
McGraw-Hill Education’s Future Workforce Survey revealed some interesting (and in some cases, troubling) statistics about recent graduates.
College graduates don’t feel well-equipped to face the real world
- Only 4 in 10 U.S. college students feel very or extremely prepared for their future careers. Women were less confident in their career readiness.
- Many reported feeling like their college experience did not provide the critical skills they need to transition into the workforce, such as solving complex problems (43%), resume writing (37%), interviewing (34%) and job searching (31%)
There’s a gap between student and employer perceptions
- 77% of students reported feeling confident in their professionalism, work ethic, teamwork and collaboration skills, while employers felt less enthusiastic—according to the recent NACE Job Outlook Study. In fact, only 43% of them feel recent grads are proficient in these areas.
More experience helps with confidence and career readiness
- More than half of students surveyed said increased access to internships and other professional experiences would have helped them feel better prepared
You may find these findings scary or motivating (I hope it’s the latter). While for the most part, they point to a grim post-college reality, there is something you can do for a better outcome. Yes, you can take control from this point forward and make the most out of your college experience—for better job prospects and career opportunities after graduation. Use these tips to inform your action plan.
Take advantage of your campus career resources
Are you a regular visitor of your college career center? If not, you’re part of the 40-something percent of students surveyed who reported not taking advantage of it. And if that’s the case, you should start. From job fairs, career advisors to resume support and internships, there are so many campus career resources available. As a student, you need to be proactive in finding and using them.
It wasn’t until the start of my sophomore year that I discovered my school’s career center. I took advantage of the many different workshops they offered (resume building, cover letter writing, interviewing, networking, etc.) and it was a game-changer for my early career. From this I gained the skills to land over 4 internships and volunteer at a nearby university—all before my senior year. This helped me feel so much more prepared for the real world after graduation.
Actively look for professional opportunities
Whether it be a season job, internship or volunteer gig, take every opportunity you come across to develop the skill set you’ll need in the future. Finding these jobs will often require a proactive approach combined with patience, so carve out some time to do the work. Connect with other students to form a supportive network where you’ll encourage each other.
In this highly competitive landscape, come up with creative ways to stand out in the job search. Maybe you’ll develop an app to apply for a tech internship or send a physical toolbox of your resume for a job at Home Depot (yes, this actually happened). Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be something so out of the ordinary in order to get hired. Bringing some originality and creativity to the job search certainly helps your chances though.
Create your own opportunities
Don’t limit yourself to internships or traditional jobs to acquire the experience you’ll need when you join the workforce. Especially if these opportunities aren’t coming your way. In this digital age, anyone can start a successful venture with a few clicks and a good wifi connection. Whether you start a blog, launch a photography business or take an online coding/marketing course, use part of your free time to give yourself opportunities with the same gains (more experience). This is key to not only practicing leadership, managing your time, connecting with new people, but also (and most importantly) honing a set of skills.