If you’re heading into college this fall, chances are it will take years and years to see a return on your educational investment. “But wait!” you say. “College is not just about getting a job and making money; it’s about discovering passions, learning to think critically and becoming an independent adult!”
That’s all true, but will you feel that’s all there is to college when you’re forced to move back home, aimless, jobless and with a mountain of debt? The fact is, attending college today requires a different mindset than when your parents went to school. While your mom and dad could graduate without direction or serious planning and still be confident they could live the American dream, you won’t have it so easy.
You need to take matters into your own hands and bring a DIY mentality to career planning—even as early as your senior year in high school. Follow these four steps, and four years from now you’ll find yourself with more than a cap and gown; you’ll be on your way to landing a great job in your ideal career path.
1. Learn which careers fit you
Career planning fits perfectly as part of the college selection and application process. Just as you evaluate your interests and passions to select the right school, you should also take this opportunity to consider different career paths and use those paths in your college selection process.
Thankfully, finding information and resources to identify which careers might make the most sense is easier than ever. The key is to find an engaging way to bring those resources and tools together to make a real impact on your college years. As with any endeavor, complementing online research with individualized guidance can be vital, so turn to the wisdom of parents, family and friends to fill in gaps in your career understanding. Just keep in mind that not all career guides—whether they be a website or an industry pro—are created equal; finding the right resource is half the battle.
2. Create a college roadmap
With this more focused career lens based on your interests and skills (or desired skills), you’ll be able to identify suitable careers for which you can easily build a tailored college roadmap beyond just choosing a generic “major.”
And if you can create that college roadmap as early as possible, even before setting foot on campus, it will be that much easier to select appropriate majors and courses, find the right extracurricular activities (clubs, speaker series, athletics, etc.) and internships and refine your career focus.
3. Set milestones
Roadmap in hand, identify annual milestones to hit as you advance toward graduation. For example, while conventional wisdom might say that your freshman and sophomore years should be filled with basic college requirements like “rocks for jocks” (a.k.a. Geology 101), you may instead want to load your schedule with more skill-centered courses to have a leg up on landing great internships earlier in your academic career.
These early internships will not only help build attractive and practical skill sets, but also help you further refine your career trajectory. That experience will lead to a higher likelihood of landing great job offers at graduation.
4. Be open to change
The last step to avoid unemployment (or underemployment) at graduation is both the easiest and the scariest: be open to change. Growth and self-discovery are fundamental parts of the college experience, and there’s little doubt your priorities and interests will change. If this happens, adapt your roadmap so that past decisions don’t push you toward a less-than-perfect career path.
Just remember to always give serious thought before you make a change. The less disciplined you are, the longer it will take to figure out your career trajectory, the larger the deficit you will face and the harder it will be to get the right job.
While you have just four steps ahead of you, it certainly won’t be easy. But little is easy for today’s college student facing long odds due to high unemployment and skyrocketing tuition.
That said, if you buckle down and bring a DIY mentality to career planning, you can identify the right career path and collect the passions, skills and knowledge required to be an insanely attractive candidate when recruiters hit campus.
Adrien Fraise is a former recruiter for Deloitte and CEO of Modern Guild, an online one-on-one career mentoring service for college students and high school seniors. Modern Guild is a member of the inaugural Kaplan TechStars EdTech Accelerator in New York City.