Six College Experiences That Will Boost Your Career Success

A college degree is a great asset, but it is no guarantee of success in life – or in the job market. A recent study by Gallup identified six things that consistently determine those who get the most value out of their college degree. Even if you’re headed into your last semester, here are six things that give college grads a distinct advantage in making the most of their degree. Make them a priority in your time on campus.

1. Find a professor who gets you excited about learning.

Hopefully, you’ve already found a teacher whose approach to their subject is really exhilarating. If not, make it a priority to look for great teachers during the rest of your college (and grad school) experience.

Can you find a hilarious science prof who shows you that physics is actually something you like, or an encouraging English teacher who proves you’re a promising writer? Maybe you’ll take a class with a patient math professor who gives you confidence that equations make sense.

There is an old saying, “Take the professor, not the class.” You’ll learn a lot more about learning and the motivation to learn by studying with great teachers.

2. Connect with professors who care about you as a person.

Developing personal relationships with several important teachers is another marker of a successful college experience. This is where smaller colleges and smaller classes present a great advantage. Most professors love to connect with students who seem excited about learning, or interested in the subject they’re teaching. Unfortunately, faculty teaching very large classes may not have as much time as they’d like to connect with students. No matter what the size of your school is, it’s always up to you to take the initiative.

Visit teachers you’re drawn to during their office hours, or ask them if they would like to have coffee or lunch some time. They’ll be full of questions for you and you can always ask them for advice about other courses to take, or how to apply what you’re learning in class to future endeavors. Becoming friends with a couple of your professors makes school much more rewarding and can get you some great advice.

3. Find a mentor who encourages you to pursue your goals and dreams.

That mentor could turnout to be a professor you’ve befriended. Or it might be a staff member, such as an assistant dean, a coach, or a counselor in the career center. It might even be someone outside of school, like an old family friend, or a former employer.

Continually be on the look out for someone – or several people – who you can rely on for career advice. This should be someone who challenges you in a constructive, supportive way to think about your future. The people who can help you as mentors will evolve over time, but you’ll benefit greatly from having them throughout your career.

4. Work on a long-term project in school.

The Gallup study also found that working on a project in college that took a semester or more to complete predicted higher levels of engagement in future jobs. These kinds of deep learning experiences can demonstrate important traits that employers value, such as commitment and tenacity. Long-term projects can also help improve your organizing, research and writing skills.

The best kinds of projects can be those that have outcomes that potential employers value. For example, Pablo was an economics and philosophy major at Union College who wanted to work in finance after graduation. So he did an investment-based senior thesis, studying banks in the Northeast. He pointed to this big research project during job interviews as evidence of his interest in the field.

5. Get an internship or job that allows you to apply what you’re learning in the classroom.

If you don’t know that internships are important for college students today, you’ve been living under a rock. Or you’ve been partying way too much! Experience in the workplace is the main thing potential employers are looking for, beyond your college degree.

But Gallup researchers found that it’s not just having an internship or a job while in school that matters. You’ll get a lot more out of those experiences if you connect them to what you’ve been studying in one or more of your classes. So when you’re considering different opportunities to gain experience, look for ones that offer a chance to apply some of what you’ve been learning in class. If you’re a psychology major, a part time gig at Jamba Juice isn’t the same as interning in a public health agency.

6. Be very active in extracurricular activities and organizations while in college.

This doesn’t mean just be social chairman of your fraternity! But getting very involved in other non-academic activities can develop important leadership, teamwork and organizing skills. So if you have time, get off the couch and get involved in campus organizations or sports. These experiences, if pursed with passion and commitment, are likely to make you a more interesting job candidate in the future.

 Landing great jobs after college will depend a lot on your job search skills, but Gallup researchers have also shown your experiences in school go a long way to predicting career success. Look for ways to incorporate these “Big Six” college experiences into your college adventure.