Charlie Harper: Unsolicited Advice for College Students
Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
Students across the state have returned to school. “Summer” is now over in Georgia by early August for public school students and for college students by late month. Alas, by my old-school standards, college hasn’t started until the University of Georgia is playing football. As kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 this Saturday in the relic we know as the Georgia Dome, it’s time for advice for college students disguised as this week’s column.
1. Call your mother and your father.
Your parents actually do want to hear from you (other than your calls where you ask for money). You won’t want to admit this, but you need to talk to them too. Leaving for college is a time when independence is asserted at a new level that is difficult for all parties involved. That doesn’t mean you need to pretend that you can do it all yourself. Their advice is better than you want to admit right now, and you still need them (beyond the money you’re still going to ask for). Don’t be too big to let them know that from time to time.
2. Find your career placement office now, and use it.
You will never have the opportunity to chart your future on a blank canvas again like you have right now. Whether you know what you want to do or are currently “finding yourself”, get to know the folks who are the link between you and future employers. “Who is hiring?”, “What are employers looking for for the job I want?”, “What is the starting salary range for graduates in my major?”, and “What is the placement rate for graduates with my major?” are basic questions to start with. They can also help you find internships and other opportunities even before you graduate.
3. Make a budget.
Take that salary you now expect to make when you graduate, take 60% of that amount for disposable income after taxes, and divide by 12 for your monthly income. Deduct rent for a place you would like to live, a car payment, student loans, and that’s what you have to live on. Hopefully that’s still a positive number. If not, time to re-assess some of your expectations. Or your major.
4. Make an academic plan.
Your college career carries both a direct cost (tuition, fees, books, etc) and an opportunity cost (the time you could be spending doing something else). Plan your advisement sessions, rather than treating them as a bureaucratic requirement to register for next semester. If you don’t know what it is going to take to graduate and when, you’re putting the path to your success in the hands of a college administrator that may very well be the equal and opposite of you by checking a box for a bureaucratic requirement.
The job market for college graduates has become hyper competitive over the past decade and shows little sign of getting better. Find an internship or consider a co-op position if available. Employers see a lot of folks with freshly minted diplomas but no experience. They see many of these folks with unrealistic expectations about their role in a professional environment, many who are unable or unwilling to conform to an employers’ work setting. Get some relevant experience on your resume before you graduate. It will show you what is expected post graduation in a trial environment, and signal to a prospective employer that you’re a better risk than many of your peers.
6. Round out your skill set.
Don’t restrict yourself to the skills taught in your major classes. Communication skills transcend all majors. Basic technical skills are becoming common requirements in most fields. Assess your skills beyond your comfort zone, and find classes or activities that help you round out your skills.
7. Surround yourself with people who aren’t like you.
Throughout your career, life will be an exercise of having to work with people that are not like you, may not have your background, and may not share your values. You are still expected to get along and be productive in a group environment. College isn’t a place to insulate yourself in your comfort zone, though it is quite easy to do so. Resist that trap.
8. Call your mother and father, again.
You can’t do this enough, unless you’re asking for money. They really do miss you. And you know that you miss them too. So quit reading and start dialing.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.