College marks a significant era of evolution for high school grads or workers looking to improve their long-term financial situations. What many people don’t tell you is how to maximize this pivot point to achieve more immediate success in the workforce.
Yes, everyone will have to log their time as the “newbie” when they start their first job post-graduation. However, the amount of time spent in that role directly correlates with your preparation in the years before that “first day”.
So, how can you make the most of your time in college to prepare for the next monumental step?
1. Research your chosen career. It’s one thing to envision what your ideal job looks like … it’s another thing to actually know what you’re getting into. Are you in school to become an accountant, or a medical coder? You may know the basics of what that entails, and have probably seen stats on your expected annual income and the availability of jobs in your area.
But have you researched any deeper? Follow industry-specific social media pages, blogs, forums or podcasts. Talk to people you know (or your friends know) who actually work in the field. Attend network events and ask questions. What do peers in the field wish they had known before they started their career? Which specific skills have been most valuable? What elements of the job are most challenging, and how can you best prepare for those difficulties?
2. Focus on gaining skills, not knowledge. No, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t study! But facts in your brain are only the first step—real-world application is the goal. View your college experience as a training camp for the workplace. Assignments and labs are not just items to check off your to-do list. Zero in on the skills you’ll need to be successful in your field, and then use each project, exam and experience to acquire those skills.
- Build your soft skills. Don’t just mindlessly cram the answers to ace your exam. Hone your organizational, time management and research skills as you prepare. Learn the best techniques to manage a complex project while putting in the added effort to build your people skills. Soft skills like teamwork, leadership, creativity and communication are developed through consistent use and practice. Take advantage of every opportunity in and outside the classroom to strengthen these skills.
- Go out of your way to learn new things. Is your class studying the fundamentals of a specific industry tool? Don’t just memorize the bare minimum for your presentation and promptly forget about it. Take the time to download the software or app and spend time learning how to actually USE it. Not sure how to properly cite resources or complete a calculation in Excel? Ask a professor or peer, practice the information taught in class, or find a tutorial online and add that skill to your arsenal. Skills don’t just fall into your lap. Seek them, and put in the work to master them.
3. See the forest, not just the trees. When you graduate, your grades are only a small part of the equation. Don’t get so caught up in the immediate obligations that you forget the purpose of this education. You’re in college to prepare for your career. Employers pull resumes showcasing skilled, experienced applicants—so use this time to add the right skills to your repertoire.
4. Adopt an attitude of self-improvement. College is not simply a means to an end, or the next step on the ladder of life. It’s a rare point in your journey when you can focus on your own transformation. In order to do this, however, you need to adopt a mindset of improvement. Approach each challenge or obstacle not as an inconvenience, but as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become better.
Have you noticed that the most successful people never quit learning and growing? If you want to achieve excellence in your career (and life), then never stop looking for ways to learn a little more, or do a little better. This outlook will set you apart in school, in work, and in a world of "good enough", no matter the obstacles set before you.
Article updated August 7, 2022.