Tips to finding the right school and career path for you
Don't leave your college or career choice to chance
Before you commit years of your life and thousands of dollars to a school, be sure you’re choosing a place that is a good match for your personality and interests. You can’t get the “feel” of a school from any guidebook or website, so be sure to visit the campus. Below are a few tips for getting the most out of your college visit.
1. Explore on your own
Of course you should take the official campus tour, but be sure to allow time to explore on your own. The trained tour guides will show you a school’s selling points. But the oldest and prettiest buildings don’t give you the entire picture of a college, nor does the one dorm room that was fixed up for visitors. Try to walk the extra mile and get the complete picture of the campus.
2. Read the bulletin boards
When you visit the student center, academic buildings and residence halls, take a few minutes to read the bulletin boards. They provide a quick and easy way to see what’s happening on campus. The ads for lectures, clubs, recitals and plays can give you a good sense of the types of activities going on outside of the classrooms.
3. Eat in the dining hall
You can get a good feel for student life by eating in the dining hall. Try to sit with students if you can, but even if you’re with your parents, you can observe the bustling activity around you. Do the students seem happy? Stressed? Sullen? Also, is the food good? Are there adequate healthy options? Many admissions offices will give prospective students coupons for free meals in the dining halls.
4. Visit a class in your major
If you know what you want to study, a class visit makes a lot of sense. You’ll get to observe other students in your field and see how engaged they are in classroom discussion. Try to stay after class for a few minutes and chat with the students to get their impressions of their professors and major. Be sure to call in advance to schedule a classroom visit — colleges don’t allow visitors to drop in on class unannounced.
5. Schedule a conference with a professor
If you’ve decided on a possible major, arrange a conference with a professor in that field. This will give you an opportunity to see if the faculty’s interests match your own. You can also ask about your major’s graduation requirements, undergraduate research opportunities and class sizes.
6. Talk to lots of students
Your campus tour guide has been trained to market the school. Try to hunt down students who aren’t getting paid to woo you. These conversations can often provide you with information about college life that isn’t part of the admissions script. Few university officials will tell you if their students spend all weekend drinking or studying, but a group of random students might.
7. Sleep over
If it’s at all possible, spend a night at the college. Most schools encourage overnight visits, and nothing will give you a better sense of student life than a night in a residence hall. Your student host can provide a wealth of information, and you’re likely to chat with many other students in the hallway. You’ll also get a good sense of the school’s personality. What exactly are most of the students doing at 1:30 a.m.?
Two important questions to ask during your campus visit:
What is the employment rate upon graduation?
Isn’t one of the main objectives of a college education to be prepared and marketable for a job after graduation? Find out the percentage of students that are employed and how the college assists in this process.
How active is the career services department?
Find out what programs/experiences the career services office provides. Employers want to know on day one that students have developed skills wanted by employers in today’s job market.
Many students don’t really think too much about how to find a job until they are close to college graduation. And how do you get experience if no one will hire you? This is important to think about before you go to college or early on in your college experience so you can develop skills and gain experience both inside and outside of the classroom.
Here are some skills that most college students gain in college before they even consider an internship:
1. Research and data analysis
Every college student has to research and analyze data at some point in their college career. This skill is used in professional settings to evaluate a multitude of key performance indicators. When you’ve chosen your career, be sure to research industry trends and begin thinking about what your impact will be in this industry.
2. Public speaking
Most high school and college students have given class presentations and some have taken a speech class. Public speaking is a valuable skill and many careers involve speaking to board members or stakeholders in one-on-one and group settings. For many public speaking is a challenge, so practice as much as you can in college classes to be prepared when you start your career. It does get easier with practice. Even if you don’t see yourself as a public speaker, developing confidence in this area will hone your job interview skills.
Many students develop this skill throughout college from classes that require group work. Leadership can also be developed by participating in clubs and organizations. If you led a fundraiser in college, employers want to know about this.
College is the foundation of career development. Students need to take inventory and find ways each year of college to develop skills that will help them in their career. These skills will also be beneficial as students prepare for internships. Internship experiences provide a glimpse of what a career- focused job in your field will be like. Take it all in; document projects and skills you are developing and build relationships as that is how you will land your first job.
Being intentional about the college process will take you to the right college, but once you get there you have opportunities to prepare for a career that is aligned with your skills and interests. It is not necessarily a brand-name college that opens doors to a good career, but what you make of your experience that will help in your job search, as well as landing in a career that is a good fit. Don’t leave your future to chance.
Sandy Demarest is a certified career coach with Demarest Career Coaching in Bedford. She assists students and adults in defining their career path and how to successfully navigate the job search process. http://demarestcareerdirections.com