The start of any new school year is the perfect time to develop yourself in new ways that will contribute to your future success in life. Preparing for college in a thoughtful way is far more involved than stocking up on dorm room essentials. As you get ready for your move to school, take time to create an action plan that will position you for success. By keeping your academic and extracurricular involvements balanced, you will set the stage for your professional career after college.

A recent Gallup Study revealed that people who find purpose in their work later in life had a common set of college experiences. To plan for success, you can actively ensure your own experience incorporates these elements: getting firsthand work outside of the classroom; working with a mentor who encourages goals and dreams; setting realistic expectations for post-graduate employment; participating in a program that helps you think about pursuing meaning in work.

Whether you are a freshman at a new college, or a returning upperclassman, consider tackling this in phases in order to strategically prepare yourself for the transition to a future profession.:

Before You Go

First, focus on what you would like to do. Which activities do you want to continue in college? Explore the listings of clubs and organizations – consider activities you’re familiar with, and be willing to try new things. It is essential to do this before you go, since the options can be so varied it can be overwhelming. Large universities, like Michigan or U Penn, have 1300+ organizations for students; while smaller colleges, like Bowdoin or Bates, have 100+ to choose from. Once you have a sense of what you’d like to do, you must understand what the process is to join. Is it as simple as signing up or is there a competitive application process? You might need to submit a resume or complete an essay or application. Create a list of possibilities to more deeply explore and start any preparation now, before you get busy on campus.

Returning upperclassmen, should think seriously about pursuing leadership roles in the organizations you are already committed to. Taking on roles and projects that will develop both soft skills and hard skills you will need for future work experiences – experience in web-design, social media, marketing & communications, and budgeting are all extremely useful – will make you more attractive to employers.

Next, explore the profiles of your professors in your major. Find out where they came from and learn about the nature of their research work. This will prepare you to recognize them and have something to talk about besides their syllabus.

On Arrival

Meeting the people in your living group and other peers in your class is usually a fun whirlwind of activity. Make time to just get to know people and form friendships. Ask people to join you as you explore some of the organizations you’re interested in; and find out what groups they are considering joining. Use orientation as an opportunity to get first-hand exposure to clubs and other organizations, and to work side-by-side with existing members. Some schools even host service-learning centers, where counselors will match students with organizations based on talents and interests.

If you are considering joining a living group, such as a Fraternity or Sorority, learn about the timetable for that selection process, the costs and the steps involved. This can be time consuming, and may simultaneously impact your ability to participate in and grow into leadership positions with other clubs.

If you belong to a religious community, explore the options to be engaged with peers at your campus. Schools have groups like Hillel and the Newman Center, which have local campus chapters and international membership. Locally hosted groups can be an opportunity to meet professionals in your new community.

All of these groups offer further opportunity to develop and hone marketable skills. Furthermore, by getting involved you will have a chance to meet more people who will in turn form a foundation of the network that you will carry into your professional career.

Check Point – Are You Positioned for Success?

If you still need to choose or change your major, it is very important to make that a priority once classes are underway. Many majors have prerequisites that need to be fulfilled to keep you on track, both academically and professionally. Work with your academic advisor to evaluate options and create an academic roadmap – planning ahead will give you the flexibility when you’re an upperclassman to take more advanced courses or even study abroad. Your residence hall advisor is another valuable resource to help you come up with a plan that will work well for you.

Taking on a leadership role in an organization is another major predictor of success – but it takes time to grow into these responsibilities. Get involved as a general member early in your college career so you’re poised to take on leadership opportunities in the future.

Update your resume and LinkedIn Profile to showcase your new skills. Recruiters start their internship and job recruiting early, and you never know who might be scanning your profile.

College to Career - Building the Bridge

These three phases help ensure that you make the most of school, academically, personally and professionally. It’s vital to understand that the job marketplace is ever changing, and students need to begin preparing for the workforce much earlier in their college careers (especially compared to their parents). After settling in at school, ensure that you pursue experiences that interest and develop you, and that will ultimately help differentiate you with employers.

Learn where recent alumni in your program have focused their careers, and look to other schools and outside resources for further advice – for example, Georgetown has a terrific site that offers suggestions for “What Can I Do with a Major In…?” Consider the types of internship experiences that will help you build a portfolio of experiences for the role you seek longer term. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do after graduation, but cultivate some options and focus on developing the types of skills that can make you a desirable employment candidate.

Reach out to us if you need help; our coaches work with students at every stage in college, and we can assist with career assessments, building a strong resume, crafting a robust LinkedIn profile, architecting your story and strategizing for your job (or internship) search.

We wish all those heading off to school good luck, have a terrific year!