The daunting task of figuring out who you are, and what you want to do with your life is something many students put off. Should freshmen worry about internships? Focus on on-campus organizations? With the continuing rise of college tuition, more students want the security of knowing their degree (no matter if it's in History or Bio-Chemistry) can be used to get a job.
To answer these questions I sat down with professional career coach and host of NPR’s "On The Job," Sasha King. In her usual, "get down to business" fashion, she immediately laid out three steps to help this year’s freshmen start their college careers on the right path.
The first step King laid out was an assessment. “The Myers Briggs test is great.” King explained, “Unscientific, but it lays out possible careers.” Myers Briggs is a well-known personality test that is used around the country to help career seekers discover what they might be good at. It does this through an extensive questionnaire that will determine where you fall in four basic categories described on the Myers Briggs web page as: Favorite World, Information, Decisions, and Structure.
Each category contains two tracks. Favorite World is broken down into Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I). Information branches off into Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), Decisions includes Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and finally Structure uses Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). Altogether there are 16 personality types represented by the test. After completing the questionnaire a list of career options will appear which can be perused. As a follow-up, and to provide more opportunity for self-reflection, King recommended “Do What You Are” by Paul D. Tieger, Barbara Barron, and Kelly Tieger.
2. Use Resources
A newly-arrived-on-campus student might wonder what resources are available for them, or imagine that they can only be accessed by upper classman. Not so, according to King. “Start off by getting to know your department head and advisor. They’re the ones who can really talk to [students] about their career path.” King continued, “Take them out for coffee. Get to know them.” A more relaxed environment provides an opportunity for students to ask questions. A few questions King recommended included inquiring about where alumni are working, scholarship opportunities, and possible fellowships.
“You need to plan early for the prestigious stuff.” King explained, “Find out the requirements.” Additionally, speaking with alumni does two things. It allows the student to begin the early stages of networking, so when a student is ready to look for an internship they have possible leads; and additionally it gives students an idea of where exactly other students have ended up. This will provide an opportunity to think about if those careers are of interest.
3. Find Internships
Finally, incoming freshmen should consider using good old Google to find potential scholarships, and professional organizations. “For example,” said King, “Say you are a sociology major with a long term goal of being a sociologist. You can join the American Sociological Association. Joining an organization like this as a student7 can give students advanced notice on opportunities for attending conferences or potential fellowships. Don’t think because you’re a student that you can’t join.”
When questioned if students should be focused on campus clubs and involvement opportunities, or if students would be better off focusing their efforts outside the university campus, she responded, "Both. However with more emphasis on larger organizations outside university. I’d say about 30% effort on campus, 70% off.”
Aside from these three main steps she encourages students to take, King also stressed the importance of a mentor. “You need a mentor to get through. Talk to advisors or the department head, and you will find mentorship opportunities that could lead to making contributions to your industry.” King recommends that students have their first internship starting the summer their freshmen year. “You take the small internships early, so when you need the big ones that give valuable experience, you’re more competitive,” she explained.
The final piece of advice King had, was not to miss out on entrepreneurial ventures. She wants students not to be afraid of trying to start their own businesses while in college. “A lot of business ideas are created in school,” she explained. By using the constant exposure to people carrying different backgrounds, students are in a unique opportunity to find services and products that serve a wider need. “Be creative!" she said.
So, as freshmen across the country start-up their freshly minted college careers, go out there and be creative. Try not to worry yourself too much about the future. Follow the advice of mentors and career counselors to get yourself on the right foot, and enjoy the journey.