I graduated with some impressive business experience considering I was a 22-year-old who’d yet to work a real full-time job.
In my four years of college, I’d recruited, interviewed, hired, managed, and on one occasion had to fire, employees. I’d drawn up marketing plans. I’d talked down angry customers. I’d written advertising copy, pitched ideas, created training programs, planned events, worked in teams, bounced back from failures, and done lots and lots of selling.
And yet, as an English and history major, I never took a single course related to business. I never had an off-campus internship, either. I just availed myself of the opportunities around me.
I volunteered as part of the staff for new student orientation and was hired to run the program during my senior year. I ran discussion groups as the TA for a course. I worked as a security guard at the library and as a conference planning assistant in the dorms one summer. And I ran a spectacularly unsuccessful new-member rush for my fraternity (it was the first time I learned that “This is how we’ve always done it” is not a compelling reason to do something).
I was nowhere near the most successful or involved person in my peer group, much less in the entire student community. My comparatively short list of involvements wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Some were even pedestrian. But baked into them were countless opportunities to lean in, to try new things, to take responsibility, and to fail. And best of all, they were available to any student on campus regardless of their area of interest.
As college costs and the associated student debt continue to rise, families are smartly starting to look more critically at the outcomes of college when compared to the cost. Investments are made based on the likelihood of a return, and it doesn’t make sense to pay that much for college only to cross your fingers and hope for the best after graduation.
But with some notable exceptions of programs built to combine applicable skills with job placement, it’s difficult for most colleges to promise (and to substantiate) an outcome at graduation, career-related or otherwise. A college can only present the opportunities, but the student is the x-factor.
It’s the student who gets to make the choice. You can view the boundless clubs, organizations, jobs, and other opportunities as a limited-time offer, one you must take advantage of before they disappear. Or you can view them as optional add-ons if and when the desire strikes.
The opportunities are there at every college, famous and otherwise. But you have to invest the initiative in pursuit of a successful return.