1. Have Major Interest in Your Major
The very first piece of advice I could give college students is to actually like your classes. Before you think about changing your major, consider that some people learn they like a certain study area by accident, typically when they are taking electives. Therefore, I encourage you to search electives at your college and diversify. Diversify with purpose, meaning make sure the course is at least interesting to your personally – and possibly useful to your future goals. For example, I took an Emergency Medical Science course a long time ago, which opened many doors to me, allowed me to get professional certifications from it, more fallback job options, networking, and helped me decide on an overall major.
Pay attention in your required general education courses. These are often very diverse. Initially, I understand that it’s frustrating for a computer engineering student to take “17 Century Art Appreciation”, but it’s required and it might peak your interest in other areas. Always look for the possibilities in each class you take.
The last part of discovering your ideal major is to make sure it’s useful. A degree in Basket Weaving probably isn’t going to be as useful as a science or technology degree. You’re going to spend years on getting the degree, you can’t afford it to be useless.
2. Practice and Expand Your Skills
Hard skills are the very first thing that I look at when hiring people or considering students for admission. However, it’s not just hard skills itself. Someone might list several computer languages on their resume, but fail to list any demonstrable experience. On one hand, this frustrates students because they feel they can’t land any job without 30 years of experience.
Experience isn’t necessarily a 30 year employment history. I’ve been impressed by the work of a few that had only an online portfolio, but the quality of a single project had been impressive. I’ve also seen students that clearly demonstrated their programming knowledge by showing off their own software, blogging, or getting notoriety through a distribution source.
No matter how many hard skills you have, you need to start applying them, even if it’s not for the workplace. Start blogging, making software, applying your knowledge. Besides, practice does make perfect. In my past, I had programmed at home as a hobby for nearly 5 years before getting a full-time job as a software developer. The best thing was practicing and expanding the skills I was learning in undergraduate school, before I got a gig.
Noteworthy mention: It’s also important to remind students that your intelligence as well as attitude make the whole picture for hiring people. Are you smart, but you can’t handle a due date? Do you know advanced computer programming, but you can’t work well with any other people? A well-balanced person that possesses lots of intelligence as well as a sound attitude and stable emotional state will go way farther than anything else.
3. Choose Your College Wisely
You should select a college that you can afford and that offers plenty of majors that you’re interested in (in case you decide to change majors). I highly recommend only public colleges and universities because they are accredited, standardized, and the credits will generally transfer to any other legitimate college. There are many students that make the mistake of going to all online colleges (degree mills) and then discover that their degree is useless, their instructors were terrible, and the credits will not transfer anywhere else. They also discover that they overpaid for their education. This is similar to what happened at Everest University. Choose your college wisely, based on affordability, reputation, degree options, location, etc.
If you’re picking a college just because you heard about them in the news, or you’re under peer pressure to go there because of the name, you need to stop and think. One major false idea I hear from students is that community college isn’t as good as a major university or that somehow the professors at a community college aren’t as good as a university. Nothing can be far from the truth.
I’ve been to dozens of colleges and universities for credits as well as continuing professional education. Both offer excellent professors and learning experiences. In fact, going to a 2 year college is a smart financial decision. You get more for the value and since it’s standardized, the credits will transfer to nearly any other legitimate public college or university system. The courses are very similar. Students also tell me that they enjoy the smaller class sizes with community colleges.
It might make sense to attend a university for all work, especially if they are offering a scholarship that pays for the majority of your stay and tuition. Always consider scholarships.
4. Diversify Your Credits
Provided that you can use them as electives or credits for your major, students should always try to diversify their courses. Diverse courses spread your learning out in various potential career areas. For example, during my undergraduate time, I took some digital art classes and ended up learning how to use Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and many other industry standard software resources. Years later, I end up using those technologies on the job and to make money in my free time. You can also list many of these skills on your resume, giving it a diversity boost.
5. Avoid Distractions
The internet is full of misleading information, even from major news outlets (which I will not mention). I’m always hearing about useless degrees, job hiring rates, jobless students, frustrated people, etc. The truth is you’re in a game of finders and seekers. You have to do the work to get yourself notice, apply to the right jobs, get the right connections, expand your skills, and keep up with the changing world, regardless of when you will graduate.
Sometimes the job market will be terrible and there’s not much you can do about it. However, it’s important to do what you can. If you’re out of work after graduating, consider going to graduate school. If you’re out of work, open your career choices to other industries. Sometimes, even odd industries will have openings for something you wouldn’t mind doing.
Don’t let yourself get distracted by random blogs or asking career questions on internet message boards. Get your information from reputable and experienced sources that you can trust. They will give you the best information. After all, why would you make major decisions based on misleading anonymous internet information?
6. Avoid Credit Cards & Private Loans
While you’re in college, you will become a target for terrible credit card rates and predatory lending. Both can turn out to be a future nightmare for you. Friends don’t let friends get credit cards and private loans in college.
7. Don’t Worry Too Much
There must be hundreds of students each year that either come up to me or email me about how worried they are about the economy and their grade point average. I will make this simple. Don’t worry. The economy is out of your control. Although you should put effort into college (you get out what you put in), constantly being worried about maintaining a 4.1 GPA isn’t productive. I know of many students with such a GPA that graduated with honors, but never obtained any gainful employment afterwards.
Worrying will get you nowhere. Thinking and doing will get you somewhere. Don’t spend your time worrying about being perfect. Life is not perfect. People are not perfect. You will make mistakes in life. Mistakes will happen in your place of employment. Focus on what you can control and not on things you can’t.
8. Have an Open Mind
The most interesting and smartest people soak up all kinds of skills and information. They also learn by observing, doing, and being patient. Having an open mind will also keep your job possibilities wide open. There are too many people that only apply at one place or just give up. They are also not open to anything new. Things are changing so fast in our world today that you must have an open mind to have the advantage over others. People that are open-minded also tend to be able to adapt to the most environments, which is something employers want.
9. Make Friends
College is an exciting time, no matter what age you’re at. Enjoy your time, get out, network, and don’t party too hard. Making friends during this time could actually help you get a job later. For example, I had a student that graduated from a computer school. He had lots of friends and was one of the only people to immediately get hired by an internet company. He was such a good friend that he also helped two of his other college friends get a job at the same place, simply by emailing his boss a copy of a resume. Friends can help you by getting you in the door where they work.
10. Make Yourself Marketable
A resume isn’t enough anymore, neither is possessing just one skill. I hear (all too often) from students that they are frustrated that their degree and resume didn’t land them their dream job. They also get frustrated from reading all of the random, sometimes terrible advice, misleading career information available online.
Here’s what I tell students and it’s the truth. What makes you different than any of the other millions of people with a degree and resume? Many are aware of the sheer number of job applicants for most openings, but they fail to make themselves noticeable or different than any other average person. What sets you apart? What’s so special about you? Provided that you can back up your claims, this is your chance to literally pimp yourself out. Yes, that’s life. You must sell yourself. Your resume is a piece of marketing material, think of it that way.
I recommend using a professional resume writing service that has a good reputation, unless you’re good at writing your own resume, which would mean that you probably already have a decent job. Otherwise, let someone that knows what they are doing help you with your resume. After all, how much money could you be making if you had the job you wanted by now? Invest in yourself and make yourself marketable.
Good luck college students! I hope you found these tips to be useful — they will only help you to increase your future job prospects.