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Getting the Most Out of College (while still graduating in 4 years)

August 26, 2013
Hannah (Sievers) Reynolds

Hannah with Westmont Professor Dr. Marten

by Hannah (Sievers) Reynolds, Dublin High School Class of 2008 and Westmont College Class of 2012

Staying on track in college can definitely be a challenge. Things like taking Advanced Placement (AP) or community college courses can help prepare you for university classes because of their structure, and can even place you ahead of your peers on the way to a four-year degree. However, if you haven’t taken AP or community college courses, or don’t plan to, there are plenty of other tools out there to help you succeed in college and get you ready for post-grad life.

There are two things that really help when trying to finish your degree in four years instead of five or six: forming relationships with faculty and planning. Getting to know and building relationships with the faculty at your institution will be instrumental in your development as an educated individual. They can offer insights into their field that you may not get in the classroom, and they know the system at your institution better than you do. They can also help you get internships or summer jobs in your field of interest, whether it is at your school or in industry.

Faculty and staff at your school can also help you plan what your years in college will look like academically. Knowing ahead of time what classes are available and when is key to making sure that you won’t get to the end of your senior year missing a credit or two. Building those faculty relationships can also give you that information before it is available to the general public. It is also a good idea to have a plan “B” and “C” in case the classes you want fill up.

Falling behind in your classes can prevent you from getting the most out of college. It is important to do well in all your classes; however, you need to be able to prioritize your work, because there will be a lot of it. As a general rule, courses in your major should take precedence over the general education and elective courses.  Prioritizing your workload will help you to manage the academic, extracurricular, and social aspects of your college years, and possibly give you enough time for some much needed and well-deserved sleep!

Now, how can you use your college years to prepare you for life beyond? Summers in between each year of college are great opportunities to explore jobs, make connections, and find out what you like or love to do on a daily basis. Everyone is different, but I find that during each summer it becomes a little more important to find jobs or internships that are in your field of study, if that is where you plan on starting your career.  For example, the summer before and after my first year I did not really know what sort of career I wanted. So I worked a camp counseling job that I loved and let me have some fun while getting used to working with different kinds of people. Then, summer after my sophomore and junior years, I had finally settled on the field of chemistry so I found jobs and internships that were related to that field. Both working in fun jobs and jobs more related to your field will teach you about what you value in vocation. Are the people you work with more important than the content of the work? Do you need work that is stimulating and different every day, or do you thrive on routine and predictability? The summers are great times to work some of these questions out.

Internships and summer jobs are also great for your resume when you begin to apply for jobs after college. This shows that you are dedicated to working hard, even when tempted to take a few months off. You will be able to collect valuable references who can vouch for your work ethic and abilities when potential employers are reviewing your candidacy for a job. Who knows, an internship could even turn into a full time job! Do not get discouraged if that does not happen; it may feel like jobs are hard to find, but with perseverance and persistence you can find jobs that exceed your expectations. One key to job searching for your first full time position out of college is to apply to a lot of them, even if you do not feel like you are fully qualified; be realistic, but do not be afraid to stretch yourself. I averaged an application a week for most of my senior year in college, for a broad range of jobs. And you have to be persistent; follow up your online applications with phone calls and emails. It also is a good idea to use a free employment agency that specializes in the field of your interest. Finally, do not be afraid of starting “at the bottom.” When you graduate from college, you may feel like you know a lot, but you still have a lot to learn. Employers want to see dedication in your willingness to do whatever work you are given, not an arrogant attitude that demonstrates that you are too good for a task.

All of this is not to say that your college years should be all work and no play; indeed, this unique time of your life offers opportunities beyond your imagination, if you know where to look. For example, most four-year universities today have study abroad programs that can earn you credits toward your degree while you get the wonderful experience of living or traveling abroad. I highly recommend that you take advantage of these opportunities. There are also ways of getting involved in issues you care about, whether it is feeding the homeless or working with children. Study things you like and care about and take courses that are fun. Take some time to explore life; this is the time to do it!

  1. Daniela Fritter permalink
    August 27, 2013 10:42 am

    Congratulations, Hannah! Great advice and well written. (Your major rocks, too 😉 )


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