Home Commentary Op-ed College Daze: Use Free Time to Gain Experience

College Daze: Use Free Time to Gain Experience


Reflections on undergraduate years: I know that college students have ample time to engage in leisurely activities. College, after all, is not solely a pursuit of book knowledge but also a time to grow as young adults, learning to engage with our peers and the world around us. This journey comes with compromises, which make the decision to spend a few hours volunteering on the weekend versus sleeping in after partying through the wee morning hours, something that hindsight would have me thinking is not a difficult decision.
While in college, the time to gain work experience may seem limited to summer vacations and Christmas holidays; however, students have the advantage of owning enormous amounts of "free" time offered by flexible class schedules.
College students need to understand the competitive nature of the job market and begin strategizing to ensure they accept a position that will enable them to utilize their educational skills while simultaneously gaining experience.
Key elements for college students to secure employment outside of graduating with the best possible grades include experience, volunteerism and association memberships. Students need to explore these options, including working with a professor on a research project.
If at this time you are undecided on a major or profession, college is the time to experiment, not just with a myriad of courses, but actual experience in the field. This exposure affords you the opportunity to network with professionals who can provide insider tips about what a job entails. Students need to be proactive with this interaction and learn to conduct informational interviews or perhaps find someone willing to act as a mentor. Building your professional resources provides you with a larger pool from which to seek referrals or recommendations for future employment and even for attending graduate school.
Potential employers also want to ensure they have a well-rounded individual. Volunteering lets an employer know that you willingly give back to the community in which you live. Volunteer opportunities are also excellent methods to gain hands-on experience. They may not provide financial gain for the present but will increase your net worth for the future. Joining associations and other organizations can also provide you the chance to serve in a leadership role, which can pave the way to management positions.
My personal quest for a "career" has made me realize that four years spent restricted to a classroom could never amount to the value of an education that has been coupled with hands-on experience. This does not downplay the value of a degree, but I am only stating that a degree from any accredited college or university has become second best standing alone. You can ideally get a job nowadays with any college major. Many successful individuals are in careers that are irrelevant to anything they majored in while at school. Yes, a major may give an employer some inkling of your background studies, but relevant experience is just as major if not a greater factor.
More adults are pursuing advanced degrees in hopes of distinguishing themselves from the influx of candidates vying for the top positions in the best companies. Many of these adults are returning to school with a few years experience under their belt. Advanced degrees can give an edge in the job market, but the cost of graduate school has become a major investment that will not prove as rewarding if not coupled with experience. A degree will still put someone on the chopping block when compared to an individual that has gained real life exposure to the field of work. Check any classified ad or online job source and more often even entry-level positions are requiring candidates to have experience.
I want to emphasize that the experience I am suggesting college students seek is not that which is found in the classifieds or online job sources, but right there on your college campus, in your local community and offered through your campus career office. Always keep the window of opportunity open to improve your skills, expand your knowledge, gain exposure and network. Any moment seized can be exactly what you need to propel you in the direction of your career or set you on the road to a new career.
Experience not only gives you the ability to learn the language of a field, but you also develop vital skills such as teamwork where the "group grade" gives you repeat customers and keeps you employed. There is also that confidence boost when you know what a job entails and are able to complete the tasks, which is critical because many jobs today will give a new employee a 90-day trial period in which you learn to either sink or swim – experience cuts your learning curve in half.
Editors Note: Christine M. Boschulte is a 1999 graduate of All Saints Cathedral School. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2003 with a B.A. in English. She is currently working as a real estate assistant at a firm in Williamsburg, Va., where she resides.
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