The college experience is rich in choices. You could be a double major or pursue two minors. After class, you could go to soccer practice, drama club, debate team, or band. You might study abroad one semester—or maybe even two. You could also have a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus, begin mentoring younger students, or spend a lot of time with older ones, just hanging out.
What do all of these different activities hold in common?
They’ll command your attention—and a lot of it.
In fact, it could be pretty easy to graduate just having enjoyed the college experience—and even having excelled at it—without looking beyond, to the next chapter, to contemplate the application of college to your life.
Contemplating what college will mean for you in your mid-twenties, thirties, and beyond might be an idea that seems fairly hazy right now (after all, many of you reading this blog are just doing the hard work to get into college—a major feat in itself). So I’ve thought of five questions you could ask yourself throughout the course of your college career—from day one ‘til your last—to help make this thought process relevant now.
Here we go:
1) What industries are booming now, and which ones are saturated?
Forbes Magazine is a great source for information like this. A quick look at the fastest growing industries may reveal some, like manufacturing or cattle ranching, for example, that you’ve never considered. But these businesses—like most—require communicators, leaders, technicians, and people of all kinds to think outside the box and keep them connected and stable. You wouldn’t need a background in manufacturing or cattle ranching to make a significant contribution. You would need a strong set of skills in one of the abovementioned fields and awareness that these industries are hungry.
It’s equally important to know which industries aren’t as open to job applicants. If you’re planning to pursue one, contemplate what skills to develop to set yourself apart.
2) What are three different types of jobs people who pursued my major have done, or are doing?
Get to know some of those people. Ask if you might email or call them from time to time to understand how what they learned in college is helping them in their current role. Ask them what gaps they had in their learning. Maybe you could take one of the classes they wished they’d taken.
3) What is my elevator pitch?
Can you explain your interests and strengths—and even how you want to apply them to your tentative career goals—in the time it’d take you to ride the elevator a few floors?
You’ll often need to present a similar pitch in job interviews, but more importantly, stating your intentions for your career aloud forces you to clarify them in your own mind. Thoughts that floated around comfortably in your head may come across as phony once spoken.
Sometimes the results of this exercise are surprising, particularly if you let people who know you well weigh in on what you say.
4) Where is the nearest business that’d let me shadow for a day?
Even if you don’t yet know what line of work you’d like to pursue, just getting out of the classroom and into a working environment offers important lessons, including the roles communication skills and thinking ahead play in successfully managing people. You might also learn about new cross-industry technologies that businesses are using—and hope their employees will walk in the door knowing.
Check out a previous post, here, for more details on the values of shadowing: The Importance of Internships & Work Experiences While in High School
5) What are my friends thinking of doing after college?
Though this question could make your friends a little uneasy, it’s ok to ask it. For starters, you’re all most likely in the same boat, especially in the first year or two—without a clear cut vision of just what you’ll do with your college degree. Secondly, hearing your friends think through the process of how they will apply what they will learn may give you some ideas.
Lots of people talk about questions to ask before you get to college—and these are important questions to consider. You want to find a good fit for your four-year journey.
But I propose staying just as inquisitive during your collegiate experience. Doing a little each week so you get comfortable with the hard parts.
Evaluating your efforts regularly as you make your way to graduation will mean you’re not nervous when you get there. You’ll be able to celebrate both the closing of that chapter, and the beginning of the next.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
What other questions should you ask yourself while at college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
Post your tips/comments below.