Our oldest son, Nick, graduated last weekend from University of Puget Sound. I had the chance to hear many students speak on stage at the various award ceremonies and the interfaith service, as well as talk informally at department receptions and parties. I thought it might be worth writing a post before I disappear for much of the summer. The press is full of transcripts and videos every May/June of all kinds of famous, high-achieving people giving inspirational commencement talks. And while I agree with the calls to greatness, the reminders of the problems our society faces that await new eyes and minds, and the warnings that life will be full of challenges, I think some more basic advice on the job hunt and settling into a new place might be useful for new graduates and their families.
You’ve finished college. Not everyone does.
You may have some lifelong friends. Not everyone does.
You may have a job lined up or a graduate school program to start. Not everyone does.
Everyone does move forward from this point and make a life. You will, too. (Be brave.)
Here’s my list of things to do in September for returning students:
- Get a flu shot (you don’t have time to be sick). Most pharmacies can do this, you don’t need a trip to the doctor or student health. It’s likely covered by your insurance, but if not, it’s a great investment of $25-40. You cannot get sick from the shot, and each year’s shot is different.
- Stock up on the stuff you’ll need if you still get sick, as your budget permits. Some vitamin C, Zinc tablets, and other OTC basics like cough syrup, decongestant (nighttime and non-drowsy), and a fever reducer like Advil or Tylenol (or plain old aspirin). When you are sick you won’t want to go out and get this stuff and you need it all to get well faster.
- If your parents are not picking up 100% of the college tab, make sure you’ve got the best possible employment lined up. You need a good hourly rate, sufficient hours (at times that don’t interrupt school), and, ideally, something that is helping you make contacts or build skills. If you’ve got to take a nanny gig, do so, but keep looking—that’s not a job that does much for you in the long run. It tends to have no network and no respect in the career job market. Working your way through college is a great thing to do, but it’s not going to give you much time for extracurriculars that build skills, so you want to make sure jobs are doing double duty as an income generator and a skill builder.
- Go talk to professors in your major, if your school doesn’t provide you with a specific advisor. If you don’t like your advisor, you need to be looking for a professor to replace them. This is not a big deal. Odds are if you are not clicking with someone, they aren’t clicking with you either. In any event they are professionals, they won’t have hurt feelings. You need information on where this major might lead you.
- Go talk to career services NOW. Find out what services they offer on your campus. I went to UCLA and they were great back then and clearly are still terrific. You’ll want to front-load any workshops in September and October. The hunt for a summer internship starts early in the year. If you go to school away from home, you may want/need to live at home in the summer (lots of internships are unpaid), so you need be well underway so you can do informational interviews over the phone in October-November, in the hopes of setting up some meetings in the winter break. Looking for an internship over Spring Break is way too late. (If you are hoping to submit a research proposal for the summer, note that successful proposals get discussed with professors now—it’s a Fall semester project even if it’s got a Spring semester deadline.)
- Career services will certainly have access to programs to help profile careers that might be a fit, but if not, I highly recommend What Color Is Your Parachute. It’s been in print since 1970, and it was the only book my peers and I could use back in the stone age when we graduated—before consumer-directed internet, amazon.com, or anything else. We wrote letters, answering want ads in the newspaper, and sat by landline phones to get a call. (In the snow, uphill both ways.)
- Map out your completed classes and the ones you need to graduate with your major(s), minors, concentrations. You need to know now if it will all fit in and make some choices. (Large schools love to have these meetings late in junior or senior year—this approach is not in your best interest.) Even those without a clear idea of your major, you need to be taking control of your destiny. You may find your choices to date have locked you out of some majors or combinations of majors/minors. The process may also tip you off as to what your major should be based on where you are most engaged and already succeeding. I know there are offices on campus that will assist you, but you need to develop these life skills so some pre-planning before an advising meeting is still a good thing.