The coveted college experience: The time when we are free to branch out from the binding parental nest and make our own decisions. Most incoming students arrive and are immediately awestruck by the amusement park that awaits of house parties and an endless flow of low-quality liquor. It’s all too easy to get lost in the excitement and forget that this is an experience that is meant to prep you for the cut-throat world of employment. In American society, the four year college plan has become somewhat a rite of passage. For most, it has lost the reputation of being an opportunity reserved for the privileged only to be replaced by a shared sense of entitlement. Consequently, this ideal has made its way into students’ minds concerning landing a job after graduation. I can assure you from my sobering personal experience, though, that it is not that easy.
College is accompanied by a slew of stereotypes, and with good reason. I’ve personally witnessed many of my peers wasting away mommy and daddy’s money by blowing off homework for a frat party or an intense game of beer pong. I’ve witnessed people fail classes because they plagiarized a paper they were too lazy to write on their own, or just not write it at all because they chose a dubstep blasting bar and overpriced drinks over their class priorities. Or there are the ones who just coast along, doing the bare minimum to get the C’s they need to pass the class and not an ounce more.
It should surprise no one that this type of work ethic makes it very unlikely for these people to succeed in securing a career without an absurd amount of luck. But what does surprise me is the enormous amount of students who did nothing of the sort and are still facing great difficulties post-graduation. This means the ones who strived to be the best in their class, who sought personal relationships with their professors, and put their hearts into every assignment thrown their way. This is where I found myself, but I now realize that had I directed those efforts in some alternative areas, I may have been in better shape my senior year as graduation approaches.
After we are handed that diploma, we are sent plummeting full speed into one of the most daunting job markets this country has ever seen. Having a communication studies degree and a journalism minor, something many people these days consider to be an unworthy degree, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Too many students dismiss the cautionary advice to plan ahead while they are in school and justify it with the excuse that they are too busy. Many are quick to assume that if you pass your classes and get a degree, you’re set for life. This is so tragically wrong, and the first step in avoiding this bitter end is to accept the grim truth of the situation that awaits.
It is no longer good enough to have an outstanding GPA if you don’t have experience to back it up; this means internships. Having a 3.8, I swore I was untouchable and employers would be competing for me to come work for them. For the most part, paid internships are really difficult to come by, at least for my major. This was my biggest mistake, and I wish I hadn’t been too stuck up to realize it before it was too late. Many companies are cutting back, and paid intern positions are often the first to go. This is not meant to discourage, but rather re-prioritize your plans. Being in college and fully supported, I should have taken the free work to reap the benefits later. I thought “I’m too good to work for free. I can’t waste my precious time there when I could be out making money.” I wanted the instant gratification of a paycheck, and I realize now that having those unpaid positions padding my resumé could have really helped me out.
In addition to internships, it’s become imperative in this technology-dependent world to utilize social networking tools to your utmost advantage. We students spend so much time surfing Facebook and Twitter, and not enough time using these outlets as a productive way to showcase your skills. As a writer, blogging is also an incredible resource for getting your talent recognized. Instead of just having that you wrote for the school newspaper on your resumé, have a link to on-line copies of all of your articles for employers to review. If you have a particular company in mind, start a blog catering to what they do. If you’ve got a niche, which you’re going to need as a writer, highlight it. Start a fashion blog about how to shop stylishly and affordably as a college student. If you’re into advertising, try designing your own ad campaigns. Getting the ball rolling in any of these areas will show future employers that you have the tenacity to succeed, and it will look a lot better on your behalf than a plain resumé for them to throw into a bottomless pile.
Lastly, if you haven’t figured this out by now, learning how to network is a necessary survival skill for any area. Cliché as it sounds, it really is not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Having a well connected collection of colleagues can help you out beyond belief. Go to career fairs, they are not as stupid as they sound. Join clubs concerning your major, and actively participate. It isn’t just about being there physically, you need to be involved enough to make some lasting connections and oh, you might actually learn a thing or two.
When I started my first day of college, four years seemed like an eternity. I thought I could make tangible every hope and dream I had and still have time to party, study abroad, and make some money. It turned out that those years flew by and, enjoyable as they were, they ended up being a lot less productive than I had originally anticipated.
Have fun, but don’t think you’re above trying. Be creative, and set yourself apart in ways beyond just getting good grades. And, if you’re among the group I mentioned that cannot be bothered with trying at all, well good luck to you because you’re really going to need it.
Leah Skye is a fourth-year student majoring in commincation studies, with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at LS685444@wcupa.edu.