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Advice for Students: Start Planning Now for Life After College

Advice for Students: Start Planning Now for Life After College

College Graduate

    At the end of every school year, the media is stuffed with advice for soon-to-be graduates looking forward with excitement — and not a little fear – to setting out on their careers. I’ve althinways felt that this was just a little bit too late – by the time June rolls around, you’re competing with literally millions of recent grads, all frantic to find some kind of handhold in this thing called “real life”.

    No, the time to start thinking about life after graduation is now – no matter where you are in your education process. The earlier you stop thinking about college as a break from “real life” and start thinking about it as a stage of real life, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to start sending out resumes the first day of your freshman year, but rather that you should always be thinking about the arc you’re following in college and where it’s likely to take you – and how you can shape it to take you where you’ll be happiest.

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    Lindsey Pollak, the author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World, offers a ton of advice for job-seeking grads – and future job-seeking grades – on her blog. Some of the more important tips she offers include:

    1. Network.

    College students, in my experience, suffer from an inferiority complex. They assume that nobody on “the real world” would be interested in their thoughts, talents, or problems, one consequence of which is that they do very little to reach out to people in fields they’re interested in until they’re “finished”, which usually means when they’re actively looking for work – and by then, it’s too late.

    Start making connections as early as you can. Email people in fields you’re interested in, even if only to say “I read your book and it really had an impact on me” or “I really like what your company is doing with X”. Join professional organizations – most offer low-priced student memberships – and attend conferences. Join or create groups on campus devoted to topics that interest you.

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    In most cases, you’ll find that people are more than willing to lend a hand to a bright student. It’s flattering to be recognized for what you’re accomplishing, no matter what the source, and it feels good to know you’re helping someone set out on the right path. There are exceptions, of course, but few enough that you can always move on to the next person.

    2. Do your research.

    Visit and use the career services office on your campus.Virtually nobody else does, so you’ll be received with open arms. Keep an eye out for unusual job titles, and research them – maybe Corporate Happiness Officer (a real job title!) is something you’d be good at? How about Vice President of Environmental Sustainability?

    Look up companies that interest you and see where you might fit – there are thousands of tasks that have to get done in a typical company regardless of whether they make tractor parts or iPod accessories. Pay attention to media stories about new fields opening up, or about skills that are experiencing a growing demand – these are the career paths of tomorrow.

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    3. Use your summers wisely.

    A great internship or summer job can be a huge help, but there are other things you can do in the summer, too. Start your own business, or create a website. Temp to get experience working in a wide range of companies. Take summer courses through your school’s adult extension, or at a local community college, to build up non-academic skills like bookkeeping, business networking, leadership, or computer programming. Read widely and wisely – forego your usual beach reading for recent publications in fields that interest you. If you can afford it, travel – learn to adapt readily to strange and unusual circumstances.

    4. Craft your online persona.

    In today’s world, one of the worst ways students damage their future careers is by sharing too much of the wrong kind of information online. Assume that everything you post online is going to be available to prospective employers, clients, or investors, all of whom increasingly turn to the Internet to research potential employees or partners. Keep the drunken stories either anonymous/pseudonymous, or marked as “private”, and be sure to build out public-ready profiles, under your own name if at all possible.

    5. Look at small companies.

    Although going from college to Google might seem like a real coup, a small company offers a lot of benefits early on in your career. At Google (or another mega-company) you’ll be an insignificant fish in a huge sea, whereas small companies may well give you the chance to shine. According to Pollak, small companies allow students:

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    • Opportunities to take on responsibility beyond your job description.
    • Less strict policies about working hours and days off.
    • The possibility of making a real difference in the company’s success.
    • The ability to work closely with high-level people.

    6. Pay attention!

    Whether you end up at a big company or a little company, consider your summer jobs and first jobs out of college as a training ground – an extension of your education. Listen more than you talk, and learn as much as you can from the “old hands” – and from their critics. “Give colleagues and clients the opportunity to share their advice, guidance and tricks of the trade,” Pollak writes. Stay on the lookout for opportunities to grow your skills, by taking on new responsibilities, joining projects, or getting yourself attached to the teams of company visionaries.

    7. Become a great writer.

    No matter what field you hope to go into, and no matter what job you hope to have in that field, writing skills will get you further than almost any other competency. “Written communication skills are ESSENTIAL for most careers today,” writes Pollak. Look at every written assignment as a chance to develop better writing and editing skills. Ask for feedback from your professors. Take writing classes, either for credit or through adult extension. Join a writing group, or form one. Read writing books (Stephen King’s On Writing is a great one and highly readable). In short, do whatever you can to become a better writer – you’ll be putting yourself two or three steps ahead of the rest of your graduating class.

    None of these things should be the only thing you do in college. Go to classes, of course, but have fun, take adequate time to relax and blow off steam, take a risk or two, and make friends. But make sure you spend at least a little bit of time – an hour every week or so is plenty – to think about what you want to do when college is over. If you’re anything like I was, and like most of my students are, you honestly have no idea what you want to do when you graduate – so take some time now, with graduation still over the horizon, to get some ideas and lay some groundwork, so you don’t join the ranks of terrified recent grads groping blindly around the job market and grasping at the first thing that comes along.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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