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11 Ways to Make Your Senior Year the Best Yet

Nov. 20, 2014
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Senior year marks another big transition for every college student. But whether or not you’re prepared for the changes you’ll soon encounter, you can take comfort in the fact that the job market is looking up for new grads.

According to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), “employers plan to hire 8.3 percent more new college graduates from the Class of 2015” than they did last year.

» MORE: College survival guide for your money

To help you explore your post-graduation options and leave college on a high note, NerdScholar asked the experts to share their best advice for graduating seniors. Here’s what they recommend you focus on before commencement day.

1. Join a club or activity you’ve always wanted to try.

Remember that it’s not too late to explore new interests, on or off campus. “Get involved with campus and community groups even if you’ve never been involved with them before,” urges Amy Gerretsen, director of constituent engagement and career services at Ripon College in Wisconsin. Join a club you’ve always wanted to try, enroll in a class you’ve always wanted to take, or try your hand at volunteering, Gerretsen says. Make the most of your final undergraduate year by checking those last few goals off of your bucket list.

2. Take graduate school entrance exams.

Some people wait a few years and gain real world experience before getting their master’s degree, while others jump right in after undergrad. But whether you plan to go now or later, “consider preparing for and taking graduate entrance exams,” says Alexandra Anderson, associate director of career services at Southwestern University in Texas. Your senior year is an ideal time to take the exams because you’ll already be in study mode. Anderson also says “most scores are good for three to five years.”

3. Set weekly goals for your job search.

Balancing your schoolwork with career planning is tough, which is why it helps to take your job search one step at a time. “Set a weekly goal to develop some aspect of your job or graduate school search,” says Sue Tarpley, career center director at Berry College in Georgia. This might include updating your resume, setting up informational interviews, or researching companies you might want to work for.

Carve out four to five hours outside of school to job search, recommends Jenna Azar, manager of academic transition and engagement at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Setting realistic goals in the short-term will make your post-graduation planning feel much more manageable.

4. Consider starting your own business.

If working for others doesn’t excite you and you’ve always dreamed of having your own business, why not start now? Building your own company is never easy, but it can be worthwhile if you have the drive to pursue it. Tanner Agar, an entrepreneurial management senior at Texas Christian University and founder of The Chef Shelf, says his experience in college enabled him to start his own company. He says the university has given him the resources and ability to meet influential people he might not have met otherwise, including professors and leaders in the community. With all the support you’ll receive, college is definitely an ideal place to start a business.

5. Engage with your professors.

Make the most of your senior year by getting to know the professors in your major. They can be invaluable resources for any young job seeker. As Agar says, “I get much better value out of my education because I engage with my professors.” They can usually lend the best insight into future careers or help you make the right connections to land that first job.

6. Clean up your resume and cover letter.

You can’t begin any job search without first crafting a solid resume and cover letter. “Since most job opportunities require candidates to apply online, it is absolutely imperative to have a strong resume that is clear, concise and represents you as completely as possible,” says Dave Durham, career services director at West Virginia University. Your resume and cover letter tell an employer why you’re the right person for the job. But a poorly crafted resume doesn’t help your case, especially when many others are vying for the same position. “A candidate could possess knowledge, skills and abilities that make them perfect for a specific position,” says Durham, “but if [those skills] are not clearly reflected in the resume, to the reviewer, they simply do not exist.”

According to Trish Thomas, the assistant director at Eastern Connecticut State University’s center for internships and career development, make sure your “resume is compatible with the applicant tracking system technology used by most employers today.” Because many businesses — especially larger corporations — use online resume scanners to sift through resumes first, your resume should include the key attributes you think the company is looking for.

7. Fill experience gaps on your resume.

According to Durham, there are five main attributes employers look for on a resume: communication skills, job experience, leadership, engagement on and off campus, and grade point average. A recent NACE report echoes this sentiment, highlighting that the top quality nearly 80% of employers are looking for in new grads is leadership.

Durham says, “The most important thing a senior can do is to inventory their knowledge, skills and abilities, translate them onto their resume and do everything they can to improve upon these five areas before they begin applying for jobs.”

8. Research where you’ll want to live after college.

Are openings for the job you’re hoping to land only in a specific city? Or are you an East Coast kid who has always wanted to live on the West Coast? Weigh your options and consider what’s most important to you after college.

“If you are thinking of moving far away, try to visit the area first to be sure this is something that will work for more than a vacation,” says Maureen Armstrong, assistant to the vice president for student affairs at the University of Connecticut. “Think about the transition to college and what was exciting and difficult about the experience. Try to apply this lens to the post-college move and make thoughtful decisions about your next steps.”

Make sure you also consider the financial costs of living in a new place. Paying back student loans and renting an apartment are just a couple of the expenses new grads might have to face. Armstrong says to create a “needs/wants list and look at what [you can afford] based on the chosen career field and earning potential you’ll have post-graduation.”

9. Get on LinkedIn.

Because 97% of employers say they use LinkedIn to recruit new hires, college seniors should definitely get on the social media platform. “Your LinkedIn profile can be equally important as, and even more powerful than, your resume,” says Marc J. Goldman, executive director of the career center at Yeshiva University in New York. Use the platform to define your online presence, network with professionals in your future industry, connect with alumni and get to know recruiters at the companies you’re interested in. The earlier you start to build your profile, the more it will benefit you in your future job search.

10. Tell your friends and family about your post-graduation plans.

“Networking can sound scary, but start building your skills now with the people you come into contact with every day,” says Amelia Hurt, director of career services at Oklahoma City University. “Your friends, parents, a supervisor, co-worker and alumni are important resources that make up your first circle of networking.” Put the word out about the kind of job you’re looking for so that your friends and family know to refer you the next time they hear of a job opening in their network.

11. Take a deep breath and know there is life after college.

Realize that you’re prepared and that you’re going to be OK, says Azar, who sees many seniors get wrapped up in the stress of graduation and planning for the future. She says it’s important to reflect on your college experience and use what you’ve learned to navigate this new transition into adulthood. More importantly, she says, get excited about your future.

College graduate photo via Shutterstock.