Amidst the gloomy economy and rising cost of tuition, it is never too soon for college students to start thinking about their future careers. The unemployment rate for 18 to 29 year olds is almost 12%, and some 36% of Millennials are living with their parents; these facts make it clear that college students should take steps early to improve their career prospects. By taking advantage of the many career resources that are readily available on their campuses, students can increase their chances of getting a job upon graduation.
We asked Career Services professionals to share some expert advice for college freshmen. Based on their advice, here are five simple steps that college freshmen can take today to help prepare them for their futures. Sophomores, juniors, seniors and recent graduates—keep an eye out for advice tailored specifically to you in the coming weeks.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Visit Your Career Office
Our experts all agreed that it is never too early for you to visit the career office. The career services staff is trained to assist students in varying stages of the career exploration process. So whether you have a career path in mind or are still exploring majors, it’s in your best interest to meet with a career adviser.
A career adviser can work with you to determine your strongest interests and skills and then apply those to academics and/or professional careers. Aaron Basko, one of our experts, explains, “The earlier students connect with us, the more we can help them be confident that they are headed in the right direction.”
2. Get Involved on Campus
Getting involved on campus is not only a great way to meet people with similar interests, but it can also prepare you for your career. Expert Jene Kapela explains, “Extracurricular involvement is very important to employers and helps give you the experiences that can demonstrate your ability to be successful in the workplace.”
The opportunities for getting involved are endless and can be tailored to your interests and passions. Our experts suggest joining a club, volunteering in the community, playing an intramural sport or getting a part-time job on campus. By understanding how you most prefer to spend your free time, you can gain insight into what types of careers might be the most fulfilling.
3. Explore Your Interests
It is completely normal to be unsure about what you want to study, let alone what you want to do as a career. Take this time while you are in college to explore many different interests. Students usually have more flexibility in which classes they take during their freshmen and sophomore years, so take advantage of that freedom. One expert, Amy Bravo, suggests taking classes that are both interesting and can help strengthen your skills, regardless of your final major choice. Amy suggests marketing, writing, public speaking, and design courses.
Our experts also suggest doing informational interviews, volunteering, and shadowing to explore your interests in a practical, hands-on way. By asking the right questions and seeing the work first hand, you can get a better idea of the type of work that suits you best.
4. Take Advantage of Freshmen-Specific Career Services
Most colleges and universities have specific programs, events, workshops and/or classes for college freshmen. For example, Stuart Mease, an expert from Virginia Tech, explained that VT has a specific class called First Year Experience. During this class, students are introduced to the career services department, different majors, and the types of companies that recruit for those majors.
By seeking out these types of opportunities, you will be able to get to know the career services staff and learn about their resources in a very informal setting. Make sure to ask questions and introduce yourself to the career services staff to get the most out of the experience.
5. Be Comfortable with Change
Over 50% of students change their major while in college, and that doesn’t include the students who change their minds many times before ever declaring a major. Expert Richard Utecht urges you to “keep in mind that most people change careers several times after college. So change is one of the skills that you need to learn about and become comfortable with. It is the very essence of personal growth, and that should be your focus.” By recognizing this, you will be less stressed and worried about the inevitable changes that you face throughout your college career and beyond. Trust the process.
About the Career Experts
Name: Aaron Basko
School: Salisbury University
Position: Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management
Other claim to fame: Author of Help Wanted (2012)
Aaron says: “Students get a lot of advice from friends and family members about the best jobs to pursue. This can be good, but at the end of the day, you are the person who has to make the choice and do the work. “
Name: Amy Bravo
School: New York Institute of Technology
Position: Assistant Dean, Career Services
Other claim to fame: Previous Board Member of International YMCA
Amy says: “While college freshmen might change their career goals often, it is wise to recognize that each class taken, club joined, project completed, event attended, and person met could ultimately offer clues to what you might really love to do for a career.”
Name: Jene Kapela
School: Nova Southeastern University
Position: Director of Student Affairs for the Regional Campuses
Other claim to fame: Owner of Jene Kapela Leadership Solutions, LLC
Jene says: “Explore your values, skills, and interests—your college’s career center can help you with this. Then, consider academic majors that are aligned with what is important to you, what you are good at, and what you enjoy doing.”
Name: Richard Utecht
School: College of Mount St. Joseph
Position: Career Advisor
Other claim to fame: Previous Family Advocacy Officer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Rich says: “Get to know people. Build your support system of relationships and your professional network. Strong relationships will help you during the challenging times of life, they will help you develop your social skills, and they will help you discover the world of opportunity that awaits you throughout your life.”
Name: Stuart Mease
School: Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business
Position: Director of Career Advancement and Employer Relations
Other claim to fame: Author of The Perfect Job Seeker (2012)
Stuart says: “Understand the job market. Not all majors are created equally. Research and identify majors that are in demand by asking for placement data from your school or department.”
Get Your Future Started image courtesy of ShutterStock