Turn college into career prep

Many families want to draw a straight line between a college student’s major and his or her future career plans. If you’re one of those seventeen-year-olds who has already decided what you want to do with your life and you’re going to college intent on preparing for that goal, picking your school and major to best get you to that desired outcome might make good sense.

But you can also use college to find a way to develop an existing talent or interest, to find a way to put it to good use while you’re there, and come out of college with experience on your resume that will impress employers.

If you like to write, you could major in journalism. But you could also:

  • Write for the school paper
  • Start an online literary review blog
  • Write newsletters for your club, for your internship at a local business, or for the athletic department
  • Help your favorite professor write, research or edit her academic publications
  • Get an internship at a local non-profit and learn to write grant proposals
  • Write the bios for the players on the school’s athletic department website

If you like computers, you could major in computer science. But you could also:

  • Work part-time with an on-campus department’s tech support staff
  • Volunteer to build and maintain websites for clubs, departments, or local non-profits
  • Take one class every semester to learn a different programming language or skill
  • Get an internship at a local tech, web design, or computer company
  • Teach computer classes in the community for people who want to learn how to use Photoshop, create PowerPoint presentations, or manage their finances in Excel

If you like numbers, you could major in accounting. But you could also:

  • Get an internship at an accounting firm
  • Volunteer in a department on campus that writes and approves budgets
  • Manage the finances for your fraternity or sorority
  • Raise funds for a local non-profit
  • Get a summer job at a bank
  • Teach a free class on campus for students who want to learn how to write a personal budget and manage their finances

If you like working with people, you could major in public relations or management. But you could also:

  • Run for leadership positions in your organization
  • Start a club
  • Work as a resident advisor or peer counselor
  • Volunteer in the campus counseling center
  • Manage a group of students, like the summer orientation volunteers, intramural sports referees, or student tutors
  • Get an internship in the campus’s public relations department

Following a direct pre-professional path is the right choice for some students. And everyone (especially parents paying the college bills) wants your college degree to pay off in the form of meaningful employment when the time comes.

But remember that your college major is not the only way to prepare for a career. College will be the only time in your life when you learn, try, and experience just about anything, and do so with not only boundless choices in front of you, but also with experts like your academic advisor, campus career center, and faculty members who can help you find and secure those opportunities.

Whether or not your major ties to a job, the best way to land yourself a paying gig at the end of college, especially one in your field of interest, is to use your four collegiate years to discover and develop your talents, to fill your resume with valuable experiences where you put those skills to use, and have a willing team of former professors, advisors, and employers who will happily serve as references.

And you don’t need to attend a famous college to do any of those things.