Getting the Most Out of College

It starts with focus on life after college.

When you get to college, it will be tempting to sign up for the classes taught by professors with reputations for being easy and letting students slide. Remember that getting that sheepskin is no longer a guarantee for a good job upon graduation. You want to leave college with skills that will make someone hire you. Have a plan.

It may change sometime during your freshmen or sophomore year. That’s okay, but by the time you’re a junior, you should have a good idea of the type of work you’ll want upon graduation, and you should establish a plan. Even if you get an easy prof, do the job. Read the assignments and make sure you understand. Just because many sheepskins are meaningless doesn’t mean yours has to be. It’s up to you to make sure you graduate with skills needed for the job you’re looking.

What could improve your chances of being hired upon graduation? The Social Science Research Council (SSRC), with the authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, set out to discover what could improve learning among college students. They found the following to improve performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA):

  • Studying alone (rather than in groups)
  • Taking courses that require reading more than 40 pages per week
  • Taking courses that require writing more than 20 pages over the semester.

The researchers also found that students perform better when they have instructors who have high expectations. They also found that studying in groups and spending greater hours in a sorority and fraternity activities actually diminished learning, while working and doing community services did not (Arum et al., 2011).

Not all industries are looking for four-year, bachelor degrees. In 2012, about half the college degrees awarded throughout the U.S. were short-term degrees (termed “subbaccalaureate” degrees, these include certificates and associate degrees). Employment with these degrees can be lucrative, and many employees who have earned them make more money after graduating than their peers with four-year degrees. Subbaccalaureate degrees that take more than a year to earn have more value than those that take less than a year (M. Schneider, 2015).

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What does industry want?

Research tells us some of the things most industries desire in their workers. First and foremost, they want employees who can write. According to a 2006 Conference Board survey of 431 human resource professionals, writing skills are one of the biggest gaps in workplace readiness (Spiegel & Nolop, 2013). Basic math and computer skills are necessary for many jobs. Because our economy is so technically oriented, applicants with computer skills are usually hired before those who lack them (Doyle, 2016). “Soft skills,” are important in any job. Common soft skills employers look for

Basic math and computer skills are necessary for many jobs. Because our economy is so technically oriented, applicants with computer skills are usually hired before those who lack them (Doyle, 2016). “Soft skills,” are important in any job. Common soft skills employers look for are communication, decision-making, commitment, flexibility, time management, leadership, creativity and problem-solving, being a team player, accepting responsibility, and working well under pressure.

Although many of these skills can’t be taught, their importance could be stressed in college. Certainly, passing students who mismanage their time or refuse to accept responsibility only discourages these soft skills, and makes job applicants believe the world outside of academia will continue to cut them slack. Employers want people who will show up on time and work hard (National Careers Service, n.d.).