College in Fast Forward: Tips from an almost-graduate

As the Florida Keys sun sets on the last day of my last college vacation, I’m filled with both the ease of nature’s beauty and the anxiety of research papers, intern projects, and intensive job searching which awaits back in blustery Iowa.  Packing a four-year education into three and a half seemed like great idea six months ago when I paid my last semester of college tuition at The University of Iowa.  I’m all for saving money and ending the college workload, which sent me to the third floor of the university library countless nights while friends texted me to come out for wings and a frosty pint.  Temptations surround a college student, but to make it out alive, I had to keep one sober eye on my end goal: gainful employment post-graduation.

Dorms:  Just Do It!

Setting foot on a massive campus of over 32,000 students was overwhelming for this farm girl, as I was pulled from my security blanket as senior class president of a cozy 46 classmates at the quaint Iowa cornfield school of Pekin-Packwood.  Without a single friend to follow, I rolled the dice for a random room assignment in Hillcrest Hall for not one but two years of dorm life.  If this sounds crazy and naïve, you’re right.  After the first year with a rambunctious Bahamian and a quiet, just proclaimed lesbian, I thought, why not try one more year of this.  Apparently the university found me to be a diverse scholar, pairing me with two exchange women from South Korea.  I barely made it through four years of Spanish, so picking up on Korean was out of the question.  They year passed quickly as the girls weren’t home much, but the cultural experience was worth it in the end.  The dorm adventure is a must for any first (or second)-year student, if not to make life-long friends then to broaden your perspective both socially and culturally.

Jobs and Internships: Get one…now!

As we begin our college careers, we often have a skewed perception of what the next four years will entail.  Sleep, eat, class, party, eat, repeat.  If only life were so simple!  In nearly any professional industry you plan to enter, previous intern and job experience is essential to even be considered by employers.  The key is to start early.  If your resume is blank, search for a part-time job.  There are plenty of local restaurants and retailers continually hiring on a college campus, and these are the places to gain those necessary transferable skills*.

Once you have something to offer an employer, jump into the internship ring.  Use your college career center, professors, peers, and any college publications and departments that may be seeking intern help.  You’d be surprised by what is out there for freshman and sophomore students.

So you get the internship, now what?  Make the most of it!  I have been interning with the university since the end of my sophomore year, taking on event planning, marketing, external relations, and of course, some minor filing.  Each of these tasks is easily applicable to the real working world, so find your flare and passion and get to practicing.

Volunteer: Giving=Receiving

Getting involved is the best way to make friends, network, and help out the community that you’ll be a part of for the next few years.  These are also opportunities to fill resume white space, even if you helped out for just one day.   Employers love to see a potential hire is doing more than sitting in front of the TV and becoming civically involved.  Watch the college message boards and online volunteer pages, such as United Way for tons of ways to give back for a day or all year.

The next couple weeks are going to be bitter-sweet for me, leaving behind 3 A.M. papers and entering the real world of bills and 40+ hour work weeks.  I know I’m always welcome to come back for good ol’ Iowa tailgating and football in Kinnick Stadium, but my college years have gone in a flash as I prepare to say farewell to the friends I’ve made along my journey.

Speaking of friends, many of those that I’ve made have, one way or another come from involvement in student groups.  So my final word of wisdom for all you undergraduates who haven’t left to FAC and are still reading, get involved on campus as soon as you unpack your bags.  Find a group that interests you, be it swing dancing, taekwondo, student events, or a pre-professional group.  You can make friends, attend socials, and climb the elite leadership ranks of thousands of college students.  Life is short and your college career is even shorter.  Make the most of it now and you will reap the benefits long into the future.

*Transferable skills:

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