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Career Advice & Tips for College Students

Dear College Student:                                                                  

First, I would like to say congratulations for getting to your senior year and for all the hard work and dedication you have put through to get to this highly looked-forward-to year in college. This reminds me of the years I was in your shoes and it was such as a great joy when I got to my senior at the same time a continuous brainstorming moment for what’s next after the college chapter. I therefore have shared herein the main tips that helped me and others too; and I hope you will find them helpful as well.

Winter Okoth 277x300 Career Advice & Tips for College Students

The most important Career Advice for the Stepping-out Seniors

1.     Set goals and make a plan

Even though this is not the only moment to start setting your goals and plans for your senior year and after graduation plans, it is that time to finally have a scheduled plan and start setting the goals that you would really need to attain during this school-year and after graduation. Some of the goal setting should be focused mainly on your GPA, career path, leadership exposure, your resume & CV, among others that will be shared herein. Learning and knowing how to set up your goals and most importantly work smartly to attaining them is a very crucial key to your success at the end of the four or five years race.

 

2.     Your GPA

By the end of your junior year you should be able to do your GPA projection and see what GPA you will finish with in the end. During your senior year remember you only have two more semesters left before you finish your college studies; therefore this is the year to really give it your all and add even more effort by acing your baccalaureate remaining courses to boost your GPA. This may get tricky for some depending on what major you are taking, for instance, the science and engineering majors may be having elective classes only being offered during the senior year and therefore they end up with three or more challenging courses that are all time demanding. This is why it is good to plan ahead with your major advisor at your various colleges and universities, if possible during the second year, so that you know what and how many classes you will be taking during your senior year. Remember besides everything else, your GPA will help distinguish you from the other job applicant or professional school applicant.

3.     Leadership position

Even though this is not the right time to start getting involved on campus by taking up leadership positions or getting engaged on the activities going on, you still have the last chance to at least do something to help boost your resume because besides the near 4.0 GPA your future employers would want to see: what is it you were doing besides being a study-hard & smart guru? What’s your personality type? Can handle dealing with people? Can you manage balancing your school work and other activities going on? Are you a well-rounded person? Getting involved helps you a lot besides boosting your CV & resume, you are also experimenting and trying to figure out if you are a people’s person and does your future dreamed or potential career path demands of that? It is also important to note that finding the balance between school work and the activities on campus is very crucial to your success because for the seniors, this is your last year remember and some of you might be taking more than 18 credits or even 21 so that they be able to graduate in time. There are so many skills that your future employer will be looking for and therefore Being a leader adds a whole other dimension of key skills and abilities that are vital to the workforce, such as delegating, motivating, inspiring, problem-solving, conflict-managing, and others. You don’t have to be a leader of multiple organizations, but if you haven’t stepped up, your senior year is the time to do it” anonymous.

4.     Work experience

It is important that you have some work experience by now, or else this is your last chance to try getting something before or after graduation depending on your after graduation plans that you have set on your goals. Getting work experience can be in the form of internships you might have been able to attain during your freshman, sophomore and junior years: the on-campus student work-study programs related to your career path; volunteering to get the experience whether it relates to your career path or not because you will be gaining more skills that will make you stand out amongst a pool of applicants remember. By this time you should be aware of what’s going on in within your school and your school’s community, find out ways to reach out by volunteering for instance as a mentor, tutor, habitat for humanity, and other service learning activities. The skills you will gain from these experiences will help you so much in your next endeavors.

5.     Career path, job and professional school search and after graduation plans

It is advisable to start exploring jobs and schools you would like to apply to as early as you can so that you have the most important details about the schools, jobs on the market, application processes, amongst other necessary stuff. It is important that you have a variety after-graduation plans such that you prioritize them into A, B, C, D and even E; and as an international student, at least this will help you such that you have something to cling onto and doing to avoid being out of status.  What is it you prioritize doing the most and why? Is it your plan A? And if it doesn’t work out then what’s the plan B and how will you attain it? If not what’s your plan C so on and so forth.. it needs a lot of thinking and also consultations with your mentors especially talking about this with your academic advisors and also sharing with your mentors or colleagues just to find out what worked for them and how did they go about choosing that route. For instance some may choose to go straight to graduate/professional school after graduation others may choose to take a year off and gain more experience in the fields they are interested in before they join schools afterwards for their masters, PhD’s, MD’s etc.

“If you have yet to fine-tune the exact types of jobs you want to seek, now is the time to develop a list. Schedule a meeting with your faculty adviser or a favorite professor and discuss  and career paths. You should also consider scheduling a few informational interviews with key professionals in your field so you can pick their brains about different types of jobs and careers. You need direction if you want to find a job that you will enjoy; just having an idea of “something in marketing” will lead to a frustrating job-search. One of the major considerations at this point, and the subject of a short sidebar, is whether you plan to seek additional studies by applying to professional school rather than enter the job market. Assuming you are in the job-hunt, your other options include issues such as where you want to work and live (if you have preferences at all), the type of companies you want to work for (size, culture, ownership type), and specific industries you prefer” anonymous

6.     Some of the most useful resources on campus

Career Services Office

This is one of the most resourceful offices on campus because they help you fine tune your career and any paths you would like to follow. This office always reaches out to the job market and the higher-learning professional schools; therefore the most helpful information regarding a certain company or even schools within the State or other areas can be obtained here. The career counselors also help students and especially the seniors with resume/CV writing by having the workshops and also career fairs/exhibitions and on-campus recruiting events by inviting speakers may be invited to give informational talks and also the companies are invited to interact with mainly the seniors whom will be stepping out soon and hitting the job market immediately or are thinking of a certain profession after further studies. This is a great way to start knowing these companies and organizations and therefore it helps introduce you to them and them to you. This also helps you continue enriching your portfolios and having many more alternatives to choose from if others do not work out. I may have not exhausted all regarding this office, BUT I would like to strongly urge and advise you to engage in the activities offered by your career centers on campus and if you have never visited the center, please make an attempt to do so because there is a lot that they help you with free of charge and for something like resume/CV writing, there are courses offered in certain majors (for instance I took the biological literature course) that introduce the students to this and helps them start writing CV or polish them. The career planning counselor at school is also another great resource for this as well. So reach out to them and knock on their doors, don’t be shy.

Career fairs

These are wonderful events that always turn into job opportunities for many stepping-out seniors. A great opportunity to also start, if you haven’t already, and continue researching on the companies and schools you would like to join in the future or immediately after graduation. You can also attend to the career fairs off-campus, do not just limit yourself to the ones brought to you, you need to reach out too.

Resume and CV writing

This is something you should have started working on, at least having a draft, by the end of your freshman year. For the last three years, hopefully you have been engaged in different activities both on and off campus. It is always helpful to write down on activities portfolio and journal whenever you finish a certain activity, this helped me a lot and still helps me because you might forget a date or even the name of the place where the even/activity you were involved with took place, leave alone the name of the eventJ. So I would advise that whatever activity you engage in, be it small or big, just get into your portfolio/journal and exhaust the basic details besides what you learnt from that activity. What kind of skills do you think you gained from it? What was most challenging thing? Did you connect with, met and made new friends? Remember this list of the new connections may be really important to you in the coming future through networking as I will share below. Journaling helps you keep the information on record and therefore saves you time when it comes to polishing and enhancing your resume/CV and also during the interviews, it’s a great review resource before that interview. So if you haven’t been doing this, it’s never too late to start doing this because it will help you with your future planning and endeavors as well.

It is also very paramount to keep your official resume/CV document and keep it updated whenever any activity is done because you never know when that company or school door will open, it can be anytime and this finds when you are ready; because remember there are thousands or even millions of other stepping-out seniors too and competing for that same school or company you are applying to. So keep up the pace and always be ready!

Job and professional/graduate school search plan, applications, interviews

Someone once shared that not having a school or job search plan in time is the “very biggest weakness we see in all job-seekers”. Having a concrete plan ahead of time may help you get to very many opportunities and therefore having alternatives as I shared before, helps you have something you can hang onto and also widens your horizons as well. The plan you will lay out will help you draw the map of what is it you would like to pursue after graduation and what does the future hold? What is it you are so passionate about and what are the ways you will use to reach there? and what’s the timeline? These are some of the questions that should linger your mind as you sit down to map-out this plan that is only unique to you because it will be you doing this or whatever you end up doing.

It is very important that you should have started researching on the professional/graduate schools you would like to attend. During your last year of college should that time that you have either already applied to these schools or still narrowing your list. As an international student it is really crucial that you start looking into this earlier enough and by now at least you have a couple of schools on your list. This goes to the freshman, sophomores and juniors as well, when you are looking into internships, it’s good to be on the look-out and research on the schools that offer these internships and what are the requirements? You benefit a lot from the internships because they introduce you to your career path and this will help you unravel if it is something you really look forward to doing more in the future, are you happy with what you are doing? Do you learn more from it? Does it suit your personality? For the stepping-out seniors, if you have not had any sought of internship or co-op experience then any work experience you have had or are looking forward to pursuing will also enable  you see if this is something you would like to do even more. There is nothing important as being passionate for something; you really need to achieve this and you know the reason why. Therefore you will go for it and will enjoy the pursuance journey no matter what time it will take. So the earlier you start working on these plans the better.

By now you might have started applications already, took the standardized tests already or are planning on starting ASAP. Remember it’s never too late and therefore go ahead send in your resumes/CV as well as meeting the schools deadlines because the competition gets really tough at this juncture. The quicker you pace this the better. All of these really need serious discipline because it does take time to research on schools/companies and go through the application process, interviews and the follow-ups you have to do besides your classes you will be taking this year. So, you really need to be organized and learn to set your goals. What is it you need to achieve? Knowing to distinguish between your “need” from just a “want” is very key to success; this will apply even in life after graduation.

Make great use of your major advisors because they are a great resource you have when it comes to your academic progress and further studies plans. They will be of great help when going through the applications and also when preparing for interviews, they have had many students pass through their hands and therefore have at least much experience and they won’t hesitate to share with you if really need it. Having a great relationship with your advisor is important because remember they are your first professional references and therefore you would need a strong recommendation letter when applying to these schools and companies/organizations. Therefore it is helpful that they know you more and can articulately write something about you. It is also advisable to share your updated resume/CV with your advisors before requesting LOR’s. Regarding the interviews, you may also request your major advisor to have a practicing interview session for you including a couple of the faculty within the department. This prepares you mainly with how you will respond to questions and it gives you confidence too.

Your key references: personal and professional

Your major advisors, internship mentors/advisors and supervisors are your professional references and you they should always know about you; therefore it is important to update them on what you are doing by sharing your updated CV/resumes as needed. You will also need one or two personal reference for certain applications. It is up to you to always keep up with these relationships because you need someone who can recommend strongly besides mentor you through the process as well. These are the people who will share more about your skills, abilities and the accomplishments you have garnered throughout; they therefore help make you stand out amongst other applicants.

Following-up

Remember to follow up on your applications, letters of recommendation (LOR) requests, interviews etc. It is important to continuously follow up because this shows the school or your future employer that you are really interested and are passionate. This is the most difficult part for many and therefore learning to balance the classes and communication is very paramount. After submitting those applications isn’t the end of the journey, rather the beginning. So go ahead and follow-up on that enquiry you made last year, month, week or day and check with the company/school, request more information etc.

7.     NETWORKING!!!!

 This is the KEY you should always strive to attain and have! You can achieve a lot through the power of networking and therefore it is vital that you keep and always maintain your relationships with the new people you meet because you never know who will help you and how. So expanding and diversifying your networking circle is important. So keep networking spirit alive and you will reach far!

I may have not exhausted all herein; I hope you find helpful all I shared with you, especially the stepping-out seniors. Congratulations again and should you have any questions never hesitate to reach out. I wish you all a bright and blessed journey, whatever journey you will be embarking on after graduation. All the best with your final undergrad classes and, believe me you, afterwards you will have many memories flinging your mind/head after graduation, so make the best out of each day because each day counts and is unique to itself. Mine is to pray for you and that God see and lead you through the journey ahead!

Best Regards,

Winter Okoth

Biomedical Researcher, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine

Founder & Executive Director Pamoja Kenya Mentorship Alliance (P.A.K.E.M.A) Inc.

Cellular & Molecular Biology Pre-medicine major, Chemistry  Thomas More College ‘12

http://winterokoth.wordpress.com/college-students/

https://twitter.com/WinterOkoth

http://www.pamojakenyamentorshipalliance.org/

https://www.facebook.com/pamoja.kenya.mentorship.alliance1?hc_location=timeline

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