After years of hard work, you’ve made it: it’s your senior year of college. Although it can be tempting to let senioritis kick in, your final year of college should be the time that you shift into high gear.
Your senior year’s the time to start focusing on the transition from college to work and how to make the most of your last two semesters so you can increase your chance of getting a job right after graduation.
Maximize Your Electives
These days, not every college program requires a senior thesis or capstone project, but even if you don’t need to write a thesis, doing so can be an excellent way to learn more about a subject you’re intrigued by. Working on a thesis with an advisor also gives you a chance to connect more with a professor. Having established that relationship will help you out, especially if you end up needing a reference for employment or graduate school.
Writing a thesis isn’t the only way to make the most of your final year of classes, though. If you have wiggle room in your schedule, here are a few more ways to maximize the electives you take:
- Learn a new language. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll leave school completely fluent in a new language if you start studying during your senior year, getting one or two semesters under your belt will help you improve communication skills and cultural understanding. Plus, having even a basic level of knowledge of a different language can give you a competitive edge in the job market.
- Complete an independent study. Similar to a thesis or capstone project, working on an independent study gives you a chance to learn more about a subject you’re interested in and also gives you the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor. Choose a topic that’s relevant to your potential career interests.
- Explore a new subject. Colleges offer a unique opportunity to study a wide range of varied and interdisciplinary topics. When else will you have the opportunity to study the effects of the Second World War on literature or to examine the ins and outs of macroeconomics? Sometime during your last two semesters, sign up for a course that’s a new-to-you subject.
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Along with making the most of your last two semesters of coursework, college is an ideal time to participate in extracurricular activities. Even if you spent the first three years of college devoted to your fraternity or sorority, or playing on a sports team, it’s never too late to join a new club or participate in a different activity.
The world beyond college can be intimidating. Getting in the habit of breaking out of your comfort zone before you leave the cozy confines of academia can help prepare you for the unknown that lies ahead.
Plus, participating in a different activity or club helps you hone and develop skills. Wondering what you can do to break out of an extracurricular rut during your last year? Here are a few ideas:
- Audition for a campus play
- Volunteer at a local nonprofit
- Write for the school newspaper
- Run for office with student government
- Join a book club
- Sharpen your soft skills at Toastmasters International®
Consider an Internship
The career world is a very competitive one. One way to give yourself a leg up on the competition is to complete an internship while you are still in school. Internships help you learn necessary on-the-job skills while exposing you to the expectations and norms of the working world. The majority of U.S. 2017 graduates (78 percent) completed an internship before leaving school, Accenture® Strategy’s “Gen Z Rising” report revealed.
Completing an internship before you graduate doesn’t just give you real, hands-on work experience. It can also help you determine if the career you think you want is something you can actually see yourself doing every day. Learning that you love your field will give you more energy for your upcoming job search. Learning while still in college that your intended career may not be for you gives you a chance to ask professors and your school’s career services staff for advice on what other fields may be a good match for your degree and skillset.
Another benefit of interning is that it gives you a big-picture look at a company or career field. You can think of it as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a business or industry, and it can help you know what to do and how to behave when you land your first job after graduation.
If your senior schedule is packed and you’re worried that you might not have time to spend 15 or more hours per week at a company, remember that not every internship needs to last for a full semester. Although some companies do have rigid, scheduled internship programs, some might offer a bit more flexibility.
For example, if there’s a company you’re interested in interning with, but you know you won’t have time during either semester, you can approach them about interning over your term or semester break. You may only get a few weeks on the job, but that short time can prove to be very valuable.
5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship
Once you do land that internship, here are five things you can do to make the most of it:
- Ask for Work
What you end up doing at your internship depends in part on the field you’re in, but it also depends on you. Your interactions with your supervisors during the internship can mean the difference between one that’s full of coffee runs, and one that helps you develop skills and gain practical experience.
Often, the difference between a fulfilling internship and a dull one is asking for work. Your supervisor doesn’t necessarily know your skills or how quickly you get things done. If you’re given a project to do and finish it, don’t wait around for your supervisor to check in on you. Be proactive — go to them, say you’ve finished, then ask for the next project.
- Be Professional
Even though many workplaces are more casual and relaxed than they were decades ago, they’re still more professional than the typical college campus.
Being professional at your internship means showing up and leaving on time, dressing appropriately, and understanding what you can and can’t do on “company time.” If you’re not sure about how to dress or act, you can always ask.
- Go to Lunch or Networking Events with Coworkers
Your internship is an opportunity to learn more about your industry, as well as connect with people working in it. Don’t miss out on the networking opportunities internships offer.
If fellow interns are going to lunch, go with them. You could also offer to take a coworker or two out to lunch one day so you can ask them questions and get insights on the industry or company.
- Ask for an Evaluation
How did you do during your internship? You’ll never know if you don’t ask. While internship programs at some larger companies include an evaluation at the end, smaller businesses or less formal programs might not have an official evaluation program set up. If that’s the case, you can always ask your supervisor if they would be willing to sit down with you and discuss your performance as the internship comes to an end.
An evaluation gives you an idea of what you did well and what your strengths are. It also gives you knowledge of which areas you can improve in.
- Get a Reference or a Full-time Job
Always think about the next step. After an internship, that can mean tapping your supervisor for a reference or recommendation. If you did well during your time with the company, it could mean asking about ongoing opportunities or full-time work opportunities after college.
Get Involved by Volunteering
Like an internship, doing volunteer work during your last year of college can help you gain hands-on, practical experience. If you can find a volunteer position that somehow relates to your potential career, you can get a sense of whether or not that career path is a good fit for you. Plus, when you volunteer, you don’t just help yourself. You also help others in your community.
Depending on your college schedule, volunteering might be a better use of your time or fit better into your calendar than an internship. Many volunteer programs recognize that people are donating their time, so they don’t require huge commitments. In many cases, you might be able to volunteer for just a couple of hours a week.
Even with a limited time commitment, you’re still helping out organizations in need and discovering more about yourself.
Depending on your major or career interests, volunteer positions can include:
- Working at a community health clinic and checking in patients or helping them complete paperwork
- Participating in an after-school program and helping children with their homework or other projects
- Working with a community legal services organization
- Serving and preparing meals at a soup kitchen
- Visiting and playing with animals at a local shelter
- Helping out with marketing or public relations for a local nonprofit
- Tutoring adults who want to take the GED exam
- Teaching ESL classes
Learn How to Network
If there’s one word that strikes fear into the hearts of college students everywhere, it’s “networking.” Even if you’re not a shy person, the idea of going up to someone you don’t know who’s in a field you’re interested in and striking up a conversation can be intimidating.
However, since who you know is a very important factor in landing a job after school or getting a promotion somewhere down the road, figuring out how to network and conquering your fear is an essential part of making the transition from college to career.
Part of learning how to network is knowing where to go to meet people. Being in college gives you a few more networking opportunities than you might think. For example, you can attend school-sponsored mixers or parties to meet fellow students. If your school has a professional or academic organization for your field, join it and attend any events you can. And if your school holds an alumni weekend or reunion, there are often opportunities for current students to get involved.
When you do meet people who can potentially help you reach your career goals, remember that networking is a two-way street. Don’t just ask them for help. Offer to help them, too. Also, remember that you don’t only have to network with contacts on a professional level. Having shared interests or hobbies with a person can be more valuable than having the same career path.
Don’t forget about the value of online networking. Joining a platform like LinkedIn® can help you connect with people in the field you’re interested in pursuing, as well as your college professors and classmates.
Networking online means more than just adding people as connections or contacts. You want to reach out to them beyond the initial email asking them to join your network. Send a personalized message to each person you connect with. If you’ve met in person, remind them of where you met and who you are. Once you’re connected, like or comment on their posts with some regularity to keep the conversation going.
Seek Out Advice
Your senior year of college might be one of the last times in your life when you have so many people around who are willing and able to help you make decisions about what to do next — but those people are only going to know to give you advice if you ask for it. Talking to individuals who have been there and done that is one way to ease the transition from college to career. Here are some things you can do:
- Talk to Your Professors
Even if you don’t plan on working in academia, your professors are a valuable resource. Some of them might be more than happy to speak with you and offer their two cents about your prospects. Ask the teachers you’re closest to if you can schedule a time to talk to them about life after college.
During your meeting, you can ask them what they wished they had done differently after graduating, how they ended up where they are today, and what the most important piece of advice they’ve ever received is.
If you’re interested in graduate school and continuing in academia, your professors can be the most valuable resource you have. Most of them have a Ph.D and aren’t shy about sharing details regarding the amount of work that goes into earning a doctorate. Your professors can give you an honest opinion about what the job prospects might be like once you finish your Ph.D.
- Use Your School’s Career Center
The career center at your college or university is often a wonderful source of information and advice. The people who work in the career center are there to help you figure out what’s next after college.
Find out what events your school’s career center offers. Many hold job fairs regularly or put together networking events to connect students with companies that are hiring.
Your career center might also offer help putting together resumes, writing cover letters, and preparing for interviews.
- Schedule a Few Informational Interviews
During an informational interview, you have the opportunity to ask an employer questions. An informational interview is by no means the same thing as a job interview. Instead, it’s a chance for you to learn more about a company, what it’s like to work there, and how the person you’re interviewing got started.
That said, it’s likely that during the interview, the person you’re speaking with will ask you a few questions about yourself and why you’re interested in a particular field or company. An informational interview isn’t just a chance to learn — it’s an opportunity to position yourself as a potential candidate or employee.
Keep in mind, though, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about asking for and setting up informational interviews. The right way involves making initial contact either by phone or email. In your message, introduce yourself and explain why you’re contacting the person. If you have a connection to that person, such as a mutual friend, mention that.
Then ask the person if he or she would agree to speak with you. Give a timeframe for the interview, such as 15 or 30 minutes, and explain what you’d like to know. It’s important not to come across as if you’re fishing for a job. Whatever you do, be as polite as possible in your initial contact and remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
The wrong way to go about scheduling an informational interview is to assume that the person “owes” you the opportunity. Being rude or vague in your messages won’t help you get very far and may get you no response at all.
Before the interview, come up with a list of questions to ask. Ideally, the questions will give you more insight or information than you could find online. Treat your informational interviews like you would a regular job interview — dress for the occasion and be sure to show up on time. Afterward, send a thank you note to the person and explain in the note how you’ll put their advice to work.
Learn How to Interview
There’s more to nailing a job interview than dressing the part and showing up 10 to 15 minutes early.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Beforehand, make a list of your strengths, outline why you want the job, and sketch out a plan for your future
- Remember to shake hands firmly at the beginning and end of the interview
- Make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to
- Sit up straight in your chair – no slouching or sitting nervously on the edge of the seat
- Listen to the questions being asked and make sure you answer them – if you’re unsure about the question, ask the interviewer for clarification
- Avoid fidgeting during the interview – for example, don’t play with your hair
Remember that job interviews go both ways. It’s not only the person conducting the interview who gets to ask questions. You should also prepare a few questions to ask.
One way to improve your interview skills is to practice. Find a classmate or other friend and have them play the role of employer, asking you typical job interview questions. Your school’s career services staff might also be able to work with you and help you with a practice or mock interview session.
Adjust to a “Real-World Schedule”
One aspect of the transition from college to work that’s particularly challenging is making the switch from “college time” to a “real-world schedule.” If you never scheduled classes on Fridays during your first three years of school or haven’t had a class before 11 a.m. since freshman year, you might want to adjust your schedule to better reflect the typical 9-to-5 reality of the working world.
Changing your schedule before you graduate will give you plenty of time to get used to waking up earlier and going to bed before midnight. It also helps you get into the swing of having to be somewhere Monday through Friday.
Save Money for the Future
There’s a chance you won’t land a job right after you graduate from college, despite all that you do to prepare.
A bit of planning while you’re still in school can provide you with a financial cushion to help you weather a period of unemployment after graduation. Opening a savings account now and starting to set aside whatever you can from work-study or a part-time job can help you out when you’re out of school and on the hunt for a job. For a fun and easy way to save, download the PSECU Savings app.