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Three Tips to Get the Most Out of Your College Education

Three Tips to Get the Most Out of Your College Education

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By Kass Williams
Career Services Coordinator, APUS

Looking back over my recent college graduation, there are so many things I wish I’d done as an undergraduate. I was the student who enrolled in college because I felt like I had to, not because I wanted to. And because I started higher education without a clear goal or plan, I didn’t truly get the most out of my education.

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An aspiring novelist, I ended up as an English major at a small liberal arts college. I knew I needed a good job to support myself as I worked on my novels, yet I gave no thought to what I was going to do with my degree until it was too late. There were resources and experiences that I should have explored, but instead, I bided my time until graduation.

If you want to get the most out of your education, you need to have a well-structured plan. Define your passion and your goals, map your path, and seek every opportunity to develop yourself along the way. Here are three tips based on my own experience on getting the most out of your education.

#1: Figure Out Your Degree in Advance, and Don’t Be the ‘Undecided’ Major

Students attend college for different purposes. But whatever your reason is, you are investing valuable time and money to earn a degree — and you want the biggest return on that investment.

Before enrolling, you should figure out which degree you’ll need for the career you want. If you have no plan and enroll thinking, “I’ll figure it out as I go along,” you may end up with a degree — and then a job — that you hate.

If you’ve already enrolled and still don’t know what career to pursue, take an online assessment. This type of career assessment will indicate your skills and interests, and then allow you to hand-pick careers that you might enjoy.

Remember that you’ve enrolled in your program not simply to earn a certificate or diploma, but to develop both intellectually and emotionally. By the way, you don’t have to pursue development just within the online classroom. Gaining new experiences and skills can happen anytime, anywhere — and, yes, they can be listed on your resume.

#2: Constantly Develop New Skills to Demonstrate Your Interest in Growing Professionally

One thing I was repeatedly told in college is that employers don’t care if you meet every qualification in the job description; they only care if you can be trained. But this isn’t the whole picture.

Most employers want candidates who are highly adaptable and educable. There are certain skills you can only gain through on-the-job experience, after all. But employers also want to see well-rounded and curious candidates, the type of people who seek to learn new skills in their free time.

This preference from employers isn’t because they don’t want to train you. It’s because they want candidates who have a passion for their industry and aren’t simply acquiring skills for course requirements.

Telling an employer during an interview that you don’t meet every qualification, but that you can be trained in a new skill, isn’t enough. Have you ever heard the saying “Show, don’t tell”?

When you craft a resume, you want to demonstrate your skills through examples rather than list them (i.e. show, don’t tell). Similarly, in an interview, you want to prove your ability to be trained rather than simply say you can be. And by developing your skillset, you’re demonstrating that you can be trained.

Volunteer or take an internship in your industry to cultivate the kind of skills that on-the-job experience would provide. To develop new skills in your free time, you can take free courses online to learn coding, foreign languages, or written and oral communication skills. Even if you don’t end up using these skills in the workplace, they could help you land a job and develop professionally in your industry.

#3: Use Your Career Services Department

Independent students often overlook a valuable university resource: their Career Services Department. As an undergraduate, I never visited this department because I didn’t think I needed someone else’s help. But Career Services offers a wide variety of tools to equip you for post-graduation job hurdles.

If you’ve enrolled but find you don’t like the major you’ve chosen, you no longer want to pursue your original career goal or you don’t even know where to start, seek support from Career Services. Our Career Coaches are equipped to help you pinpoint the right degree and career path for your interests and skillset.

For job seekers who need support, Career Coaches can provide:

  • Interview preparation
  • Resume, cover letter and social media reviews
  • Help with finding internship opportunities
  • Help with identifying transferable skills
  • Networking tips

Perhaps you’ve held a job in another industry and seek to transition into another field. A Career Coach can identify transferable skills to help you determine a career to which your experience is applicable. And if you have no experience, a Career Coach can identify ways to gain the right experience for the position you’re seeking.

Speaking with a Career Coach might feel intimidating, but they’re here to support you throughout your college career and beyond. As an active university student or alum, you will receive lifetime support from your Career Services Department. So even if you bide your time until graduation as I did, you can still seek help, not matter what stage of the process you’re in.

About the Author

Kass Williams serves as the Career Services Coordinator for APUS, employing her communication, editing and project management skills to support the Career Services Department with content creation. She holds a B.A. in English with a Writing Concentration from Davis & Elkins College.

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