Now What? A Guide for College Life and Beyond

Do I really need to get a college degree?

There's plenty of research out there that indicates that those with college degrees earn higher salaries than those folks with only high school degrees, but there are instances in which folks without college degrees succeed, too--Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh, and Kayne West, to name a few, are college drop outs. You need to consider what's right for you -financially and academically. If you're getting a four-year degree just to get a degree, you may be wasting valuable time and money. Perhaps a vocational school better suits you, or perhaps a two-year associate's degree is the best route to determine if college is the right path for you. Explore your options before you commit to the college application process.

College bound

For those of you for whom college is the preferred path, once you get in and commit to a school, it's time to start focusing on what you want to major in. At 18 years old, do you really know what you want to focus on? Sure, some of us know early on what makes us tick, what we love. But it's important not to confuse what you excel in for what you love to do and are passionate about. Ideally, the area in which you excel is what you're passionate about. But that's not always the case. Personally, I excelled in math and science throughout high school. But my passion was for literature - reading and writing - and so I pursued that path. We may be tempted to engage in what comes easy to us, but it's okay to have to work hard at something that matters to you. Consider what you love to do when there's no grade involved; what matters to you when you are alone? Think about what you would be excited to wake up and do each day; what you will persist at, regardless of how difficult it may become?

What if you don't know what to major in? It's fine to enter college without a set plan. Remember - if you don't know what you want to focus on, it's not that you are lost and clueless, but rather that you don't know yet. If you are lucky, you will interact with some amazing professors during your college career who inspire you and remind you daily about critical thinking, which instills self-exploration and understanding. And perhaps you will explore a bit on your own too, via internships, summer jobs, visiting your career office, and research. Once you uncover what interests you--and it may be a few things--then seek out the classes that tap into it. But also remember to take some classes that are out of your realm. Why? Because sometimes what we don't know about turns out to be what we love.

Life after college: the world of work

Choosing a major and pursing a specific course of study--either in a traditional or vocational college--is the first of many decision-making processes that you will face en route to your career. Because remember, after all of the studying, test-taking, paper writing, and internships, it's time to switch gears and get a good job. But what does that mean? Good to whom? And good for what? A pay check, feeding your passion, to make your family proud?

The majority of us choose a career or job for the following reasons:
  • Passion and drive
  • Money and health/other benefits
  • To change the world

Whatever your reason is for working, don't be random! Lose the I don't know and whatever tone and commit to self-exploration when it comes to figuring out what you want to do and why you're doing it. Consider the following questions, and revisit with them often:

  • What do you love to do? ( Your interests)
  • What are you good at? (Your skills)
  • What do you like to spend your days doing? What is your long term goal? (Your values)

The career you opt to pursue should be something that you are passionate about. Something that you want to devote time and energy to. Something that you are willing to work hard at and commit to.

Cultural fit: if the shoe fits...

If you're a hip hop junky, you probably don't spend your free time going to the opera. Just as if you love to read, it's probable that you like to visit book stores or libraries. Cultural fit is critical not just in your personal life, but in your professional life, too. In fact, cultural fit often determines your success on the job. Here's some considerations to help you to determine what culture you will best succeed in:

  • Are you an innovator, or are you content to execute other's ideas and plans?
  • How many hours a week do you want to work? (Do you watch the clock, or do you love to immerse yourself in projects and typically lose track of time?)
  • Do you want to make millions, or are you happier if you make enough to survive and do good in the world?
  • Do you want to travel for work, and if so how much? (weekly, monthly, annually)
  • Do you like to work with teams or independently?
  • Do you like to motivate others or do you like to be motivated? T
  • Do you like to be buttoned up at work, or do you prefer jeans and a t-shirt?

Before you commit to a job, ask questions and if possible, research what employees have to say about an organization on blogs or company websites. Do your homework so that you know what you are committing to!

Career prep to do list

  • Create a resume and update it each year. Remember, you don't need to list every single job that you've ever had, but include the experience and skills that you believe address your capabilities and capacity for growth.
  • Create a Linked In profile (and be sure to use a professional photo versus one of you on the beach!).
  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. - keep it clean, keep it positive, keep it professional. Don't let inappropriate social media posts create a roadblock for your career.
  • Internships! The more you experience pre graduation, the more likely you are to find your way post-graduation. It pays to know sooner rather than later if office life is not for you or if being in the great outdoors is what makes you tick; if you love a creative, artsy environment versus a severely structured corporate environment.
  • Interview advice: always be professional, always research the company and who you are meeting with, always show up on time or a few minutes early, and always know why you want the job and why they should hire you.

The keys to career success

  • Communication skills--remember that once you say something or put it into writing, you often cannot take it back. Be sure to articulate your thoughts and ideas in a clear and concise manner.
  • Strategic thinking/critical thinking - always ask yourself why and consider how - is there a better way? Are you taking every angle into account?
  • Transparency - this is an underrated skill. Sure, we all need to know what to keep to ourselves and when to hold back, but the more you let others get to know you and speak the truth, the more comfortable others will feel around you. Aim for clarity over confusion.
  • Mentors - seek out those people who are doing great things and connect with them. It can be a neighbor, a professor, a famous person, or the person you interned for last summer. Ask questions! True leaders always have time to help lift others up.
  • Develop relationships - stay in touch with professionals that you meet, and remember that adding value is a surefire way for others to remember you.
  • On that note: always add value. Whatever you do, whoever you interact with, let each experience be an opportunity for someone to reflect on how invaluable your interaction was. Give all you do your all, from the most menial tasks, to the most strategic endeavors. It all counts, all the time, to whomever you interact with.
  • Don't be afraid of hard work. Effort is a great educator: it teaches us that we can excel and succeed if we persist.
  • 10,000 hours. If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, it's well worth the read! Gladwell contends that greatness doesn't happen overnight; rather, it occurs over time with persistence and commitment.
  • Mindset; strive for a growth mindset versus a fixed one and refer to Dr. Carol Dweck to learn more about this realm. Trust that people can and do evolve and grow, including yourself!

When it comes to education and careers, remind yourself often that each of us has our own unique journey. Don't be afraid to live yours, and don't fear change along the way. Think big, work hard, tap into your passion, and stay open-minded as you pursue your path.