(Last Updated On: 04/04/2017)

No matter where you are enrolled, one truth is evident: summer is officially over. Dorms have been decorated. Books have been purchased. Friends have been reunited. Classes have begun.

It’s a very busy time of the semester, as new students get settled in, and returning students get back into the swing of things. In the midst of all of the excitement, don’t forget to make some career-related goals. It is easy to forget there is a world waiting for you after college. The following are some tips to help you stay on track this fall.

First and Second Year Students

Concentrate on your GPA

One of the common downfalls for many students early on is letting the adjustment to college, whether easy or challenging, get in the way of academics.

A very hard lesson to learn is how swiftly a GPA can fall, and how sluggishly it will rise again. Starting with a strong academic foundation will serve as a safety net when classes inexorably get more difficult, helping your GPA stay resilient if you have a misstep.

Figure out what classes are of interest, and where you perform well

Most students come in with an idea of what they want to study, either based on a career they’ve already chosen, or what they enjoyed in high school. For some this works out wonderfully. For others, they find these courses at the college level aren’t what they expected, or are much more difficult than they are prepared to handle.

Hanging on to courses semester after semester when you are not performing well can be a big mistake. Many times, it’s a sign that you really aren’t enjoying the material, or it just isn’t coming easy to you. Always study what you enjoy; the solid grades will follow.

Choose a major

By the end of your sophomore year, most colleges will expect for you to declare a major. Before you choose, refer to the advice above. Think about those days where you really look forward to class. What holds your interest? Where do you shine? What topics have been captivating?

Don’t worry just yet about how it’ll translate into a career, particularly if you’re at a liberal arts institution. There is always a way to build your experiences, particularly outside of the classroom, around your future plans.

Create a college resume

The resume you used to apply to college is very different from the college resume. It is more than a list of extracurricular activities, volunteer projects, and honors courses. It is a document that begins to tell your professional story, highlighting your education, accomplishments and the skills you’ve learned along the way. There are a few acceptable formats, and you’ll want to work with a professional to learn about them. Your career center is there to assist in this process.

Meet with a career counselor to explore career options

Aside from helping you create a resume, as mentioned above, career center staff is there to help you figure out your path(s). You don’t have to have a plan in mind before visiting, nor do you have to feel obliged to share a solid idea with your advisor. She is not there to judge you, but to help you, from stage 1 if needed, in figuring out just where you might fit in the world of work. Going in sooner than later can prove very beneficial!

Upperclassmen

Evaluate your courses and grades

How is your major coming along? Do you need to make some changes to improve your academic profile? Are you in need of extra tutoring to boost your grade in a particular area? Do you have the credits you need so far to graduate on time? All of these questions need to be answered as you near the end of college. They will ultimately decide the where, what and when of your professional journey after graduation.

Update your resume

Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to gain some work experience, participate in school or community activities, and build other areas of your resume with special skills or courses. More than likely at this stage, you’ve already put this into a working resume, and are just building on that document. Work with a career counselor to ensure you are highlighting the right skills/experiences and using the best formatting for the purpose of your resume.

Meet with a career counselor to discuss your post-undergrad plans

You do not have to go at it alone. No one expects you to totally figure out your options in a silo. Perhaps you aren’t even sure what you want to do yet. Use your career center staff to talk through your ideas, and decipher which are the best to pursue with your particular goals and background. What’s absolutely possible? What makes the most sense? Which plan might require additional schooling? Arm yourself with the knowledge needed to succeed!

Form a plan of action

Now that you’ve hashed it all out, what’s the plan? Or plans? It’s okay to have plan A, and backups in the case that doesn’t come through. Have strategies in place for reaching your goals. Will it require informational interviews or networking with professionals? Graduate school exploration? Getting an internship in the industry of interest? Perfecting your personal statement? What are the individual steps that need to be in place? Write them down with an expected deadline for each item. Post it somewhere you’ll see it, and check it often. Hold yourself accountable. Edit as needed.

Attend career-related events of interest that will help you fulfill your checklist

Most career centers, even the most under-staffed, will hold events here and there to help prepare students in a variety of ways. Workshops in the areas of resume writing, networking, interviewing, and personal statement creation are all very common topics. You also have large events, such as graduate school or career fairs that enable you to meet with recruiters coming to find their next crop of talent. And if your college or university does not hold these larger happenings, often you’ll find comparable events in major cities nearby.

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Britney Fields
Britney wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. She has worked in career services and higher education for nearly ten years, focused mainly on campus recruiting and college student advising. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA, working as an Associate Director at Emory University. Check her profile here.

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