Make a Plan for College: Don’t Forget Your Dreams

Guess who slept through her alarm this morning (ME!)?

With intentions to wake up a half hour earlier than usual, I slept through all three of my alarms and woke a half hour later than usual. Considering the fact my trivia team bombed last night, perhaps this is a sign I’ve hit a string of bad luck.

Que perfect segue into today’s topic: finding a job. People think finding a job is based on luck these days, especially 20-somethings. I’ve seen so many friends try so hard, only to be met with rejection. The job I have now is a blessing, but I got there through hard work and persistence.

Let’s start where most 20-somethings get their start, college. There is plenty I can say about the job search, resumes, cover letters and interviews, but nothing is more critical than the college experience. College is where you define what you want to do with your life. If you plan out your college years well, everything involved in the job search will be easier. Spoiler alert: they type of major you choose is unimportant. Pursue whatever dream you have and consider these eight points of advice.

  1. Think about what job you want before and during college. I use my own example for this. Since middle school, I’ve wanted to be a writer. More specifically, I want to be a novelist and make a living off of my writing. I didn’t skip college, or get a degree with that one dream in mind. I didn’t  graduate thinking the only thing I would ever do from that moment on is write books. Instead, I choose a Journalism major (paired with an International Studies major focusing on Human Rights). My dad had a mini freak out because people say journalism is a dying art (It’s not, but that’s for another post). Before I started college, I knew that journalism could land me in many positions, including that of a reporter. Again, I did  not go with the intention that I would be a newspaper writer and nothing else.This is key. Choose a major that teaches you to do something. If you want, pair it with a major or minor in an area of interest (history, psychology, art, etc.). Know the different types of jobs that major can get you to and be sure you would feel happy in any of those positions.
  2. Don’t give up on your original dream. The major, college and direction you choose to go in life should have some relation to your dream. No dream is too simple or too ridiculous. Run head first towards your dreams and look back with no regrets. I wrote an article during an internship at a newspaper about a high school student who loved art. I saw what he created. His creations were magnificent. He didn’t plan to skip college and become a starved artist. Instead, he told me he was going to college for graphic art and explained in great detail all the different industries that need graphic artists. This major was a way for him to be an artist and get paid. He can paint, draw and experiment with other mediums in his own time. In a few years, or few decades, maybe his personal work will become famous. If not, what does it matter? His major greatly increases his chances of working in an artistic field, keeping the skills and desires that fuel his dreams.

  3. Find an internship for every summer. Take this to heart: during college, an unpaid internship in your field of study is greater than an unrelated, paid internship. If possible, each internship should involve different aspects of your major. I’m going to use myself again for this example. During one summer, I had a job working at a print newspaper. For another summer, I worked writing web and marketing material for a non-profit. I was lucky to find positions and jobs during college that also revolved around my journalism major. I worked with my fencing club’s website for a year and wrote extensively for online dating blogs during college. Each of these positions taught me skills needed to work in a variety of writing disciplines. I diversified my skill set, becoming more than just a journalist, through the wide rage of writing experiences I gained outside the classroom.
  4. Get involved in an extracurricular activity and make it work for you. I had this discussion with an adviser at my college. I was worried. I loved the fencing club, but it didn’t relate to my major in any fashion. At the time, I was nothing more than a cashier, so I wasn’t gaining any writing experience. She told me to make that activity work for me. That is how I became webmaster of our colleges fencing club. Even though it only lasted for a year, it’s experience I can put on a résumé. In addition, extracurricular activities are important to make yourself stand out. I will expand on this more when I talk about creating resumes. All you need to know for now is that every job I interviewed for outside of college mentioned my fencing club activities. In every interview, they wanted to know about that sport and I am certain it differentiated me from the other applicants.
  5. Save your money. The sooner you start saving, the better. I recommend having a paying job during college (summer internships excluded), a checking account and a savings account. Most banks these days offer a service where they automatically transfer an amount of money, determined by you, into your savings account every month. This keeps the money going into your savings account out of sight and out of mind. Don’t fret if you have to take money out of savings sometimes. The point is save and save a lot. There are no guarantees when you graduate college and you might need the monetary support if you don’t land a job fast enough.
  6. When it comes to loans, be smart. I mention this because you don’t want to be forced to stay in a low paying job just to make monthly loan payments. You need to spend considerable time looking for a job after college, which will be hard if you have to work 40+ hours a week just to make ends meet. Do not agree to pay a portion of your loans or the interest of your loans during college. We all want to pay them off as soon as possible, but you don’t want to shoulder the burden of paying off student loans before you’re ready.
  7. Put everything else you have towards school. Get a paying job during college and work at least 20 – 25 hours. Don’t mistake step 5 to mean you need to save every extra penny; it’s just meant to be an emergency fund. Use your money wisely and try not to spend much on unnecessary activities. During one of the two semesters in the college year, use everything you can sacrifice from your checking account to pay for school. Only take out a loan if needed. Doing this, I was able to pay for one semester out of every year of college. This, combined with good fortune that paid for my entire first year, meant that I only had to take out loans for three college semesters. Even so, the amount of money I let go to my loans every month is heart-wrenching. Not only will this reduce stress, but it will help you when it is time to look for a job. Long story short, if you have lower monthly payments on loans, you will be able to live comfortably on a smaller salary.  No matter what job you land, you will probably have to work your way up.
  8. Live up your college experience to the fullest. You don’t have to give up anything. Whatever you want to do during college, go and do it without fear. When I looked to college, I had three main goals: 1)learn Japanese 2)learn fencing 3) study abroad. I did all of these things during college without thinking twice about the money I spent. The semester I studied abroad in Derry, Norther Ireland cost me twice as much as a semester at home would have cost. Buying my equipment for fencing cost hundreds of dollars and I would not be surprised to find out I spent more than one thousand dollars during four years of college on this sport. Planning, saving money and putting everything you can toward college to lessen your student debt burden are important, but they don’t overshadow your college dreams.

Follow your dreams but follow them with a plan. If you make a plan before starting college surrounding these eight points, you will graduate with a greater chance in the job market. If you’ve already started college, it’s not too late to plan. Wherever you are in your college experience, start planning now. Take on your dreams without fear and charge forward. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of failure. When you fall or when events stray from your plan, remember that it is all for the sake of your dreams. No matter what happens as your pursue your greatest desires, have no regrets. The only regret you should ever hold, is being too afraid to chase after your dreams.

Disclaimer: I am not a job or career expert. Most of the above is based off of my own experience and the advice I've given to friends and family. I write these posts because I noticed my advice made a difference for those that took it and I hope that you can too. If possible, I highly recommend taking some for of career preparation class. A lot of this information is based on what I learned through the Career Leadership Academy at the University of Iowa and it was a huge benefit to my job search after graduation.

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