Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda: 3 Things I Wish I Knew in College

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It’s been a while since I last updated the site since it has had to go on the backburner due to other projects. And no, I have not purchased that Elysium chair that I’ve been wanting. But after discussing college with my niece, I thought it might be beneficial to quickly share something about my own college experience.

I finished college with the mindset of the typical 20-something graduate—confident and optimistic, as if I had the whole world (and my future career) in the palm of my hand. In other words, a bit clueless about adult life.

Fast forward a few years, and I haven’t lost my confidence or optimism, but I have gained a bit of insight, as well as a few regrets. Specifically, I’ve have realized how I could have better taken advantage of my collegiate years to prepare for the daunting “career search” that followed.

For those of you lucky enough to still be in college (yes lucky, because your college years really are the best years of your life!), I thought I’d share with you my list of Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda’s – College Edition.

1)  Get Involved

Yes, it sounds completely clichéd and somewhat abstract, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get involved in something outside of your required classes. Be it the Business Club, the Track and Field Team, or the Student Gospel Choir, extra-curricular activities not only allow you to get the most out of your precious college years but also help to differentiate you later down the road. And with the job market becoming increasingly competitive and selective, standing out (even in seemingly trivial ways) can be the deciding factor in landing a decent job right out of college.

To illustrate my point, in one of my first post-college interviews, the interviewer spent a surprisingly big chunk of time asking me about the French Culture and Cinema Club, which I had joined on a whim in my last semester of college. Why? Who knows…maybe because it intrigued him or maybe simply because he was tired of asking the same old “tell me why I should hire you” type questions. Either way – I got the job! And I can’t help believing it was partly due to separating myself in this way from the other candidates.

2) Just Getting By No Longer Gets By

One of the popular student sayings at my University was “C’s Get Degrees.” Sure, a 2.0 GPA will get you a diploma, but will it get you a good job offer?

Sadly, a college degree today is probably not worth as much as it once was unless you attended one of those “big name” types of colleges in the US. As someone once jokingly told me: “A Bachelors Degree is the new High School Diploma.”  But if that statement contains even a modicum of truth, excelling in your courses will be even more important from here on out.  Looking back, I wish I had spent more hours studying for finals or researching in the library and less time playing beer pong at parties.  Turning B’s into A’s may seem inconsequential to you now, but it can make all the difference when you are competing against 20 or 30 other college graduates for one job.

So crack open that textbook and get to it. Before you know it, the new motto will be “Only A’s really pay”. (Yes, I admit that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…)

3) Network, Network, Network

The only networking I ever did in college was social — and even using the word networking in this context is a stretch. Clicking through hundreds of Facebook profiles of “friends” may be a distractingly mindless way of dallying through a Sunday afternoon, but it will do little for your career prospects.

Here’s what I suggest:  Forge some relationships that will be meaningful and beneficial for years to come. Volunteer at a charitable organization. Join the Alumni Association to connect with graduates in the same field. Meet with your favorite professor during his or her regular office hours. Professors (and other professional contacts) who truly know and like you, will gladly help you in your future endeavors, perhaps by writing a Letter of Recommendation or by introducing you to a valuable business contact. Like it or not, it is often who you know that will get you to where you want to be. (As a side note, I strongly suggest requesting Letters of Recommendation from your professors before your graduate. Calling an old professor 5 years down the road will not only result in a lot of confusion on the professor’s part, but it will probably also result in a less heart-felt and sincere recommendation.)

So there you have it, three pieces of advice from a college graduate who wishes she had done a few things differently. Start using your college years to their full potential. And begin differentiating yourself now from your peers (i.e. soon-to-be competitors!). Because believe me, a few years from now, you don’t want to be in your mid-20s, writing your own list of shoulda-woulda-coulda’s….