Your junior year is a pivotal point in your college experience: You’ve officially surpassed the halfway mark to achieving a college diploma and taken on the role of an upperclassman. Now is the time to take your experience one step further.
After two years of adjusting to college, your junior year is about digging in to your college experience and seriously weighing your post-graduation options.
NerdScholar asked the experts to offer their best advice for college juniors. Whether you’re a transfer or traditional four-year student, make this year count by staying on track to graduate with these 10 steps.
In the first few months...
1. Reflect on your college experience so far.
Let your experiences from your first two years inform your next two. Think about what you’ve enjoyed up to this point and continue down that path. If that means sticking with a club you’ve been involved in, find ways to take your experience there to the next level.
The beginning of junior year also marks a huge transition for transfer students, those who’ve just come from another two- or four-year college.
“I would highly recommend they spend time thinking about what they felt was lacking at their previous institution, if that was their reason for transferring, and seek out ways to find that connection or resource at their new institution,” says Leslie Page, the assistant director of orientation services in the center for student progress at Youngstown State University in Ohio. “Hopefully if they find what they felt they were missing elsewhere, they will already be happier or more comfortable at the new institution.”
2. Engage in your major.
“Students need to engage deeply in the curriculum of their college and major, says Richard Handler, director of the University of Virginia’s global development studies program and a professor of anthropology. “They need to learn ways of understanding and analyzing the world that employers will respect. Often employers are less interested in narrowly defined ‘skills’ than in the ability to tackle a problem, conceptually, from a variety of perspectives,” he says.
Dive into your major by getting to know your professors, tackling extra research assignments or joining clubs within your major. Aim for a high grade point average, especially if you’re considering graduate school.
3. Study abroad.
If you didn’t plan to study abroad in your first semester, seriously consider applying for the next one. Studying abroad in your third year is an especially good time because you’ve adjusted to the demands of college and can still enjoy ample time on campus after your travels.
“Any international travel experience you can have will expose you to new cultures, languages, methods, customs, traditions,” says Brian Duggan, the assistant class dean of first-year programs at Babson College in Massachusetts. “In our global economy,” he says, “these experiences will provide you with a valuable perspective that will last long after you graduate from college.”
Know that you don’t have to decide between studying abroad and gaining valuable work experience. Many study abroad programs will help you find an internship in your host city. Arrange an internship while you’re studying or, better yet, consider extending your trip and taking on a job after you program ends, says Lisa Gavigan, the director of career services at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Not only will you gain the experience employers want to see, you’ll also learn more about your city’s culture than you might’ve otherwise.
By halfway through the year...
4. Interact with alumni in your field.
“Build your network before you need it,” says Meredith Tornabene, the assistant director of career counseling at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies in New York. Alumni are typically willing to lend a helping hand to students of their alma mater. Make connections while you’re still in school and get a feel for what life in your dream job might be like. “Definitely utilize any resource that can put you in touch with alumni who work in a career you’re considering since they were in your exact shoes at some point and are a goldmine of advice,” Tornabene says.
5. Develop a professional online presence.
Your online presence plays a large role in how you represent yourself as a professional. Enhance your online presence well before you enter the professional world. “A solid LinkedIn profile can give a college junior a competitive edge for any career opportunity, says Eric Melniczek, a career adviser at High Point University in North Carolina. He recommends using social media to develop your emerging personal brand, which will serve you well long after college is in the rearview mirror.
Blogging is an easy way to gain exposure. “Consider publishing something about your career interest either on a personal blog, Tumblr, or just a post on LinkedIn,” Tornabene says. “Even a ‘Top 5 Things I Learned At My Internship’ post can speak volumes about your writing ability and readiness to join the workforce.”
6. Craft your story to share with employers.
“Your resume looks like the resume of a lot of other college junior [and] seniors,” Duggan says. “Your story makes you stand out.” Be prepared to talk about yourself and market your experiences when meeting potential employers during interviews or at career fairs. Duggan says to refine your story by explaining what you've done and how you were affected by that experience.
7. Get internships.
Whether it’s a paid or unpaid internship position, the experience will look great on a resume and will help you nail down your interests. Better yet, “do several [internships] to experience what particular careers choices might be like if [you] were to choose [them],” says Dr. Dianna Dale, vice president of student affairs and dean of students at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York.
“If you’re struggling to get your first internship,” says Tornabene, “then think about how you can find a similar role on campus, whether it’s in an office or through a position in a student organization. That experience might convince an employer you’re ready for the next step.”
8. Go to a career fair.
“Attend job or internship fairs and career development workshops,” recommends Kelly N. Harris, the director of career services at Eureka College in Illinois. Career fairs are a great place to interact with recruiters at elite companies and employers. By attending fairs your junior year, you’ll be free to make connections and learn about companies long before your job search really starts. Plus, getting the lay of the land now will help you maximize your experience at any career fairs the following year.
By the end of the year...
9. Make a plan for senior year.
Solidifying your post-graduate plans is important, but it isn’t the whole picture. College is short, and your final year will come and go quicker than you expect, so make sure you’re embracing every step of the process.
“Reflect on how to maximize the opportunities that are afforded to you on your college campus so that you leave with no regrets,” says Dr. Leanna Fenneberg, assistant vice president of student development at Saint Louis University. Always wanted to take that art course or volunteer for a program on campus? Take advantage of this time to try new things.
For transfer students nearing the end of their first year on campus, Page recommends reflecting on how it compares to your experiences at your former school.
“If a student still feels like something is missing from their experience,” she says, “they really need to connect with someone on campus to ask questions about where to find what they are missing.”
10. Consider graduate school.
As you near the end of your third year, start thinking about what you’ll do after you graduate. If you’re entertaining the idea of graduate school, now’s the time to research application requirements and deadlines, Fenneberg says. Consider which schools you should apply to and what about them inspires you, she says.
Because many graduate school applications are due in the fall, register for any entrances exams and prepare your application materials, including letters of recommendation, before your senior year arrives.