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.
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
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 UPenn,
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
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.
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
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.