During College: Prepare For Your Career

They say college is the best four years of your life. While that may be true, there is a lot more to your undergrad than sleeping through 9am classes and attending a Friday night party (or any other night of the week for that matter). College is about earning your degree but it is also about putting in the time to learn and advance yourself in your career.

I know quite a few people who focused on school alone only to have to make up for their lack of experience after graduation. Granted, committing to things other than school work is completely dependent on your course load or other responsibilities, but for me college was crunch time. From the second semester of my freshman year all the way until graduation I was going to school full time, working part time and also doing something with in my industry whether that was interning somewhere or freelancing on my own time. During my last semester most people thought I was insane. I had four classes, a practicum (that sent me to SXSW), a staff position with an online magazine, an internship, a management position with a film festival and I worked in the suburbs on the weekends. Looking back on it, it was probably unhealthy to over extend myself so far, but it really paid off. I not only learned how much I was capable of, but I also made lots of friends and gained a ton of industry experience.

Making the most of your time in school isn’t impossible. It just takes some conscious effort to make it work.

Tips for balancing school and your career

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well and make time for your own well-being. Once you start to feel burnt out it snowballs, quickly. So be proactive and live a healthy and balanced life.
  • Communicate. No one is a mind reader. If you feel overwhelmed or overworked no one will understand unless you are upfront and honest about it. Let your professors known you are doing a lot outside of school and your employer/internship know when important things are (like finals). That way if you need a day off or an extended deadline you have prepped them for it ahead of time instead of dropping the ball.
  • Keep a schedule. My semesters always worked best when I kept a strict schedule. Usually along the lines of Monday/Wednesday/Friday internship, Tuesday/Thursday classes, Saturday a shift or two at work, and Sunday was an off day. That way I could compartmentalize my tasks and know exactly how each week would go to plan accordingly. To-Do lists and planners (like this one) were also my best friend.

Things to remember

  • Keep your priorities straight. Sometimes it’s tough to balance school, work and your emotional health but it’s something you need to pay attention to. If you’re feeling burnt out take a day off to recoup or get caught up on school work or f you have an important gig with your internship skip the raging party the night before. Being successful in college is all finding the right amount of give and take for you.
  • Work for free. You can’t get experience without experience. During college is the prime time to put in your time and work for free. After graduation, you shouldn’t have to (unless your resume is still lacking or you want to expand into a new industry), but during college you have to grin and bear it. Most places will give you school credit which you can use as an internship or electives. Some colleges even have scholarship programs that will give you a stipend during an internship (like DePaul).
  • Take whatever you can get. When I was first starting out, I would agree to work at any random event that would have me just to be able to fill some holes in my resume. After a while, I got good at certain things and could be more selective, but at first any opportunity you can get is one you should be (at least consider) taking.
  • Learn. It’s great to have an extensive resume, but if you don’t have skills to show for it, what’s the point? Eventually, it’s important to forgo quantity for quality. You may not get paid monetarily for many things but you are getting paid in knowledge. During college you have the chance to learn a vast array of skills in as many industries as you choose with out having to worry about getting fired or making mistakes. As an intern you are expected to be under the learning curve so take full advantage.

 

At the end of the day, you’re going to college to pursue something you can ultimately get a job in, right? Take the initiative to be prepared for those opportunities so you’re ready to go by graduation. Scour job boards, ask your professors if they know about opportunities, ask friends where they’ve had a good experience interning, or flat out cold-contact people you want to work for. I landed a couple of internships by simply emailing instead of replying to an opportunity. It’s all about the effort and knowing what you can gain from it.

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