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Success in College and Beyond

Success in College and Beyond

If you want to be successful in college and after you graduate, you need to start college with a blueprint for your life. As soon as you arrive on the campus, here are sevens steps to get you started:

1. Use Your Time On Campus Wisely

In the survey of 30,000 Americans in 2014, a Gallup-Purdue study concluded that the type of college that graduates attended, selective or nonselective, private or public, hardly mattered.

What was critical to the graduates’ success was how they spent their college years and the interactions that they had with college faculty.

Graduates who could strongly agree with the following six statements were more likely to be happy after college:

  • I had at least one professor who made me excited about learning
  • My professors cared about me as a person
  • I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams
  • I worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete
  • I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom
  • I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations in college

2. You Don’t Have to Pursue a Hot Major

Although many students and their parents think STEM and business majors are the only ones worth pursuing, it’s not true. “Not every student is cut out for a STEM-based career and they don’t need to be,” suggested Jane Horowitz, a career-launch coach at More Than a Resume in Denver, who works with college students and young graduates.

“For the most part, there is no linear path that takes you from a major to a career. Art history majors become palliative care doctors, history majors become SEO specialists and philosophy majors become lawyers.”

The workplace students are entering values interpersonal and soft skills that students develop in college. In other words, think skills, not majors.

3. Pay Attention to Hard and Soft Skills

According to a 2016 survey of employers by PayScale, recruiters say they are looking for recent graduates who possess hard and soft skills.

The hard skill that employers say is most lacking in new graduates is writing proficiency. The soft skill most frequently missing is critical thinking/problem solving. You can enjoy a competitive advantage if you make sure you leave college with these skills.

Here are the hard skills that the highest percentage of managers say are lacking in new grads:

  • Writing proficiency: 44%
  • Public speaking: 39%
  • Data analysis (Excel, Tableau, Python): 36%
  • Industry-specific software (Salesforce, CAD, Quickbooks): 34%
  • Math: 19%

Here are the soft skills that the highest percentage of managers said are lacking in new grads:

  • Critical thinking/problem solving: 60%
  • Attention to detail: 56%
  • Communication: 46%
  • Ownership: 44%
  • Leadership: 44%

4. Know Where to Look For a Mentor

Finding a mentor can be valuable. You should look for opportunities to find one or more mentors among your professors. Alumni also can be excellent mentors because they’re in the working world. Ask your college if it offers a mentoring program with alumni.

Another option is to serve as an ambassador for alumni events at your college. I know a recent graduate of Rockhurst University who volunteered as an ambassador during his undergrad years to meet alumni. In reaching out, he found great support from alumni, who were eager to help enterprising students. Thanks to his efforts, he ended up with tremendous summer internships at a major accounting firm and a national bank. He is finishing up his MBA and has a consulting job lined up with the accounting firm where he interned.

5. Always Network

Don’t assume that waltzing into your college’s career services office when you are a senior will magically generate job offers. It isn’t going to happen that way. And that’s true even if you attend the type of elite universities that are widely assumed to be the dispensers of the mythical golden tickets.

Many jobs are filled before the vacancies are ever posted, which is just one of the compelling reasons you need to focus on networking early in your college career. While networking, you can explore potential careers by talking to people in those fields.

To find these individuals, talk to alumni, your parents and friends of your parents to see who knows someone in particular fields. It’s a great way to start building your professional network. Summer internships also can be great ways of expanding your network. They can also provide the experience that employers want.

Ask individuals if you can conduct informational interviews to learn more about what they do, what it takes to get into the field and the future prospects of the profession. You should also create a LinkedIn account.

6. Be Open to Failure

College is an excellent time to experiment. You shouldn’t be afraid to stretch and potentially fail since that’s when growth and learning happen, says Susan Lyon, the author of Launch Like a Rocket: Build the Soft Skills You Need for Your Career by Leveraging Your Entire College Experience.

Parents need to absorb this message, too, says Lyon, the mother of a college student at Denison University and a recent graduate at the University of Puget Sound. “Parents: let your children fail so they don’t have a perfect first year experience.”

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on

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