In the past few decades, colleges and universities have seen a massive surge in enrollment numbers with students eager to attend college in hopes of finding better job opportunities. However, recent concerns have grown over the number of students who exit higher education without any real experience or job prospects. A staggering 11% of business leaders say that college does not adequately prepare college students for the workforce. With numbers like that, it makes one reconsider whether going an average of $30,000 in debt is worth getting a college degree if you still won’t be prepared for a job afterwards. Of course, the next question is: How can colleges and universities improve the job readiness that 21st century employers are looking for?
Among other solutions, the following guidelines as offered by Gallup.com offer a broad approach towards getting the most bang for your buck while attending a college or university. It has been found that meeting each of these criteria can double your odds of being engaged at work – a vital outcome for overall well-being and life satisfaction.
- Invest in a mentor. Remember that mentor-mentee relationships are two-way streets. You can’t expect someone to always reach out to you. Faculty appreciate ambitious students who take the initiative to reach out and ask for a meeting, are eager to learn, and ask genuine, insightful questions. Be conscious and respectful of this person’s time and resources.
- Pick professors, not courses. Do not be intimidated by the person standing in the front of the class giving the lecture. Chances are they are teaching for a reason, that reason being they care about your learning and success. Professors that don’t care about these things or are just working at a university just to do research, are not worth your time. Find someone who has a reputation for being an amazing teacher and mentor. Ratemyprofessor is a great resource for finding out what other students have to say about professors’ courses, habits, and teaching styles. A more “boots on the ground” approach is to attend your professors’ office hours as much as possible. You should do this anyway, but by asking genuine questions about material professors have *basically* dedicated their life to, is a great way to catch their interest and attention.
- Find a job or internship where you can practically apply what you are learning in the classroom in a true workplace setting. This practice cannot be overstated and is linked to being more likely to find full-time employment after school. Of course, you could find out that the position and company may not be right for you! Either way, you have not lost anything. You have only narrowed your scope of career options, gained additional experience, created more connections, and learned more about yourself.
- Take on long-term projects that require a semester or more of work to complete. This could mean getting involved in ongoing research, establishing video game student club, or bringing a new student service to campus. A long-term commitment will help you establish your sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and belonging on campus – not to mention help you develop real-life applicable skills.
- Get involved in meaningful ways. When I transferred to UM, I wanted to be the president of 4 student groups, have a full time job, do research, and balance a full-time course load… or something like that (p.s. It didn’t happen). The point is, I wanted to be super involved in tons of student organizations so that I could look really smart and committed on my resume. However, it is nearly impossible to juggle multiple responsibilities while undertaking a full-time course load – at least not in any significant way. Rather, get involved in a single, deeply engaging and lasting extracurricular activity, and ONLY if your grades do not suffer from it. Having hundreds of hours and stories to tell of your campus involvement does not help you if your GPA is below the average of where you are trying to go. In fact, it shows that you do not know how to manage and adequately prioritize your time and effort. So, find one thing you are deeply passionate about, or try something new, maybe you will become passionate about it. Getting involved is essential towards creating new connections, learning from others, building a sense of community, and developing leadership and teamwork experience.
If you decide to take the college route, these are a few proven tips to help you make the most of your time and money. The first course of action should be deciding whether achieving your life goals and ambitions requires a college degree. And what level or type of degree do you need? Maybe you only need an associate’s degree, as certificate, or simple training. These could all be done at your community college at an affordable price while you work, care for family, or attend to other responsibilities. Whatever your pathway, I advocate for adopting habits of a lifelong learner. Never cease to be curious, ask questions, discover answers, and share wisdom – you don’t need a college degree to do that.