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Transitioning from high school to college is a big deal. Beyond the overwhelming college application process, many students wrestle with questions about their major, career goals, moving away from home and financing college expenses.
Many college officials worry that high school students are not prepared for college. They say the key to a successful college experience is preparation.
“College is about finding out what you love,” says Sean Wagner, associate vice president of Phi Delta Theta, an international fraternity serving more than 11,000 students. “Instead of looking back from where you came, you need to imagine where you’ll be and set your mind toward achieving those goals. A huge part of this is networking – connecting with other students, professors and alumni who believe in you and can help you toward establishing your career.”
Preparing college students for a successful college experience is the focus of a free guidebook called “A College-Bound Guide to Achieving Your Dreams,” available at www.thegreatestu.com. Here are some other practical tips for college-bound students:
Begin early. Don’t wait until your senior year in high school to start thinking about college and what you want to do for a career. Start researching colleges and seeking informational interviews with people who are working in the career field that you’re interested in pursuing.
Map out your goals and dreams. Think about where you want to be at commencement and work backwards. In other words, do you see yourself in a great job? Do you see yourself heading to law or medical school? Going into the military? Seek help from your college career center and find a trusted mentor in your career field who can offer insight and advice on your plan.
Think networking. In college, you need to start building your professional network. Build relationships with classmates, professors, alumni and others you meet who can help connect you with potential employers. Open a Linkedin account to start building your professional profile. If you have a Facebook account, take greater care in what you post. Future employers regularly look at the Facebook profiles of potential candidates.
Make your summers count. The students who graduate with jobs usually have one thing in common – they had internships and professor-led research projects in the career field of their choice. Don’t wait until your senior year in college – start building your resume with career-related part-time jobs, internships and research projects in your freshman year.
Build relationships with professors. Having strong working relationships with your professors is critical to the early stages of your career development. Professors can write letters of recommendation for scholarships, summer research programs and grad school. They also can serve as references in a job search. To connect with professors, start by getting to know upper classmen, who can offer advice about meeting professors and tapping your school’s career resources.
Join professional societies. Clubs and student-led professional societies offer opportunities for students to learn more about their career path and meet professionals.
Get familiar with college life. The more you can familiarize yourself with the college you’re attending, the more confident you’ll feel. If you can, visit the college campus before school starts and take part in orientation sessions.
Get your financial house in order. Work with your parents and the school’s financial aid department to make sure all of your finances are in order before you start school. Open a checking account before college starts with a debit card to manage money you’ll need for dining out, tickets and shopping. Learn budgeting skills and develop a plan to graduate with as little debt as possible.
Surround yourself with people who will support you. Find people who have goals and aspirations similar to yours. A great place to start is fraternities and sororities. Contrary to pop culture perceptions, many fraternities and sororities offer fellowship, active participation in college activities and generally, opportunities to build your study skills. Use the summer before you start college to reach out to fraternities and sororities on campus to learn what they have to offer.
Get involved. College is a great place to learn what you’re passionate about. If you enjoyed an activity in high school like student council or Model UN or if you love to go downhill skiing, start researching clubs and teams that you can join.