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How To Make Your College Experience Pay

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The traditional 4-year college experience has taken a beating in recent years. Once seen as a rite of passage for the best and brightest in the nation, its value is now questioned by leaders in society and industry. The proliferation of adult education and online degree programs make those who go through the traditional path an ever-shrinking minority.

The great colleges and universities no longer hold a monopoly on knowledge, nor are they the only ones empowered to impart it. Nevertheless, the 4-year college experience is not without advantages. If you are pursuing this well-trodden path of education and enlightenment, there are actions you can take and habits of mind you can adopt to ensure it pays off—that is, makes you competitive in the job market.

Your first job out of college may be unrelated to what you studied, or at least it may seem that way. However, given the current state of the economy, and its likely future development, you should make getting experience in a high-end profession of any kind your aim and priority.

It is well-known that hiring managers like to see a college degree on a resume. It is a sign that, at the very least, you can show up at a designated place at a designated time to carry out a designated task. Since the country produces millions of college graduates each year, simply getting your parchment will not set you apart in the vast pool of new graduates applying for jobs.

One thing you can do to improve your chances of getting an interview, a call back, and even a job offer is to polish your communications skills to the point of perfection. The most common complaint among managers in big and small firms alike is the poor writing and speaking skills of their employees. You can stand out from your peers by showing mastery of your native tongue.

No matter your major, you should use your time in college to improve your skill in expression. Turn every assigned paper into an opportunity to practice writing clear, coherent, and logical prose. After mastering the mechanics, dedicate yourself to enhancing the eloquence and literary quality of your style. Read good fiction—particularly the classics. You should also purchase a few books on English usage. I recommend Follett’s Modern American Usage and Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences.

Taking on leadership roles is a another action that will put you ahead of your peers. Employers want to hire individuals who will show initiative. They want people who are able to manage themselves and others, handle complex situations, and solve difficult problems. Working your way up the leadership chain of civic and non-profit organizations will show you as a person who understands the nature and demands of authority, responsibility, and accountability. Getting involved in off-campus activities is an especially good way of demonstrating this quality.

Finally, it is important for you to have professional work experience on your resume when you graduate. You should, at some point during your 4 years, spend time as an intern. Although you will want to spend your summers working for cash—to pay bills and go on vacation—it is essential that you dedicate at least a part of one summer (two, if you can manage it) doing an internship at a professional service firm. The experience will give you some insight into how such organizations work. It will also serve as proof to a potential employer that you are a serious and mentally mature person.

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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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