Many students are experiencing their first semester of college this fall and are discovering many new things at once. First time living on their own, more rigorous course work, living in a new city, and finding new friends are all exciting and sometimes scary parts of the college experience.
As if that weren’t enough, college freshmen also have the daunting task of choosing what they want to study. Some of us are lucky enough to have known years before we got to college, but most of us are less sure, and some of us even switch multiple times. Having been through college myself, these are five of the things that I would have liked to hear at orientation.
1. Diversify your Schedule in your First Year
As I said before, most college freshmen don’t know exactly what they want to major in and that’s completely fine. Freshman year is a great time to get your general credits out of the way and take a wide variety of classes in the areas you are interested in majoring in. This helps to make you a generally more informed individual. For instance, taking a class on WWII or a music class gives you a broader knowledge of the world and you never know when that will come in handy during a job interview!
2. Apply for Scholarships
This is something I really wish I had pursued more actively during my college tenure because, believe me, paying student loans is the worst. Well, maybe not the worst, but it certainly doesn’t add enjoyment to your life. The U.S. alone has 1.3 trillion in student debt, with the average undergraduate carrying $46,000 in student loan debt upon graduation. That is a burden that will stick around with you for awhile. Fortunately, you can mitigate that cost with scholarships.
When applying for scholarships you need to be prepared to write essays, complete projects and pass tests to prove why you should be selected. Make sure to stay on top of deadlines, apply for scholarships that you actually qualify for. Don’t waste your time or the committee’s, and thoroughly follow all instructions for the application so you give yourself the best chance of being selected. Once you’re ready, check out one of these or numerous other sites to find scholarships: Peterson’s, Unigo, Chegg, Scholarships.com, and Niche.
3. Declare your Major Early
This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. Graduating as soon as possible will help to cut down on your student loan debt. Graduating in the traditional four years or sooner also shows initiative to employers, proves that you’re focused and can set your mind to a long-term task without getting sidetracked.
This isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing to change your major later in college if the major you’re seeking really doesn’t fit you, but the earlier you figure out your major, the better off you will be in the long run.
4. Pick a Degree in a Growth Industry
Everyone wants to get a job as soon as possible when they graduate. Student loans kick in six months after graduation and you want the assurance that the last four or so years wasn’t a total waste. The best way to place yourself in a hireable position upon graduation is to major in a growth industry.
I’ll give you an example of both sides: for many years the oil industry was booming, consistently seeing growth year after year and petroleum engineering was a major that would virtually guarantee you a high paying job upon graduation. Recently, however, that has changed. The industry has seen a significant downturn as alternative energies continue to grow, leaving many recent petroleum engineering graduates, like Radiohead before them, high and dry.
The flip side of the coin would be a computer sciences major. As the internet continues to expand exponentially, so does the demand for good coders. A Bachelor’s degree in computer sciences essentially guarantees you a job upon graduation and is the second highest paying undergraduate degree.
5. Complete As Many Internships as Possible
Nothing speaks as loudly as real world experience. The knowledge you gain in the classroom is great, invaluable in most cases, but it needs to be supplemented with actual, on the job experience. According to a study done by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 62% of undergraduates that were employed upon graduation had completed at least one internship.
In addition to the experience you gain during an internship, if you apply yourself, you’ll gain a reference as well, which will set you apart when applying for jobs. Even before you qualify for internships, just holding a job during college will help to bolster your resume and shows initiative. Sites like Craigslist are good places to start pitching and advertising your talents. Learn about the top industries hiring in your area to really get ahead of the game.
I know this is a lot to process and you still have 40 pages of reading to do before class tomorrow, but if you start implementing these tips into your college experience, you will have a leg up on the competition when you graduate!