Freshman Welcome Week was really stressful. I didn’t really want to be there, I didn’t have any friends, and I had no idea what the heck I wanted to study. The expectations of what the whole college experience should be vs. what I was feeling created quite the dilemma.
The dichotomy of experience was only magnified when the Student Body President championed from the Welcome Week staged podium, “Welcome to the best years of your life!”
I recall looking around, into the faces of the cheering mostly-eighteen-year-olds, and feeling my stomach twist. I was not happy. I did not want to be here. I was pretty sure I was going to hate college.
Reflecting on my undergraduate experience, I mentally jotted off a few things I wish I’d known as an incredibly lost, quite naïve college student.
Some things are pretty straightforward, like wishing I’d joined ROTC, majored in Economics, dated my now-husband sooner, and landed a McKinsey & Co. internship.
Other are a little more complex, addressing issues of academic struggles, misinformation, and networking strategy. Here are three things I wish I’d understood as a young MSU Bulldog trying to launch my career mid-Recession:
Everyone else does not know what they want to do.
As a major-flopping undergrad, I was totally convinced that I was the only college student that had no idea what they really wanted to do. All my peers talked a big game about how they were going to be an accountant, doctor, engineer, or lawyer, while I was completely lost. I’d taken career assessments, the results – bush pilot? – were totally useless.
It’s been a few years since my undergrad days, and thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, and LinkedIn, it’s easier now than ever to get the real-scoop on members of one’s graduating class. Know what? Only two of my 200+ college friends are actually working in the industry or profession in which they’d originally declared as wet behind the ears college students.
While I felt a lot of pressure to figure my entire career direction out before senior year, I now realize that everyone else was just as lost, they were just blowing smoke for advisors, classmates, parents, etc. So if you don’t know what you want to do post-grad, don’t worry – very few people really do.
Graduate school is nothing like undergrad.
Academically, I struggled through the majority of my undergrad studies. Raised in a fundamentalist cult with religion-based homeschooling as my only educational background, I was incredibly behind my college peers on pretty much every subject. Most of my freshman and sophomore years were spent playing catch up (I once asked my college biology professor what a cell was) and discovering how these not-so-fun-things called learning disabilities affected my reading and retention.
Couple years of college and the verdict was out: I absolutely hated school.
Whenever my professors would suggest exploring graduate school options, I’d display the world’s biggest grimace and think “Me? Grad School? Hell to the no!”
At one of my professor’s insistence, I took the GRE, and actually did pretty well – well enough to get in all the graduate and professional programs in which I’ve ever applied. And you know what? I actually loved (and continue to love) graduate school.
Graduate school is nothing like undergrad (it’s so much better!). All the this-is-stupid, we’ll-never-use-this, why-do-I-pay-for-this elements of undergrad vanished the day I become a graduate student. The professors were better, the course content was really relevant, and the students were super career-focused; graduate school was 10x better than undergrad. If you hated undergrad like I did, don’t dismiss the option of graduate work. Getting your Master’s and/or Doctorate could open up so many career opportunities that are simply out of reach for the typical college grad.
Don’t wait till you’re on the job market to start networking.
As a soon-to-be college grad, who was pretty effing pumped about passing Senior Seminar, I was pretty sure LinkedIn was just a social platform for old people to hook-up, like Tinder, except with resumes instead of sensual descriptions. My then-roommate said she’d heard it was a site that new grads with lots of student loan debt could use to find Sugar Daddies. My then-neighbor/former-lab partner said we were both wrong, and that he’d heard LinkedIn was a site that you could pay to help you find temporary jobs.
Turns out, we were all wrong, and given our collective lack of post-grad career trajectory, figuring out what LinkedIn really was and developing an effective networking strategy before we graduated probably would have done us (and our careers) some good. When you’re slogging through yet another required course, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision on your GPA, and totally neglect a very important (um, essential) aspect of your professional development – networking!
One of the best ways to get started with your I’m-gonna-rock-the-world networking plan is to develop a strong LinkedIn profile: detailed job descriptions, industry-relevant interests, and skill endorsements. Then start building your LinkedIn connections, starting with your classmates, employers, and school staff. Once you’ve got your LinkedIn profile established, you can easily export in pdf format to take with you to Career Fairs and other school-sanctioned networking events.
Everyone’s collegiate experience will be different. If yours is awesome – great! If yours is not the best time of your life, don’t worry – you are so not alone. Higher education presents multiple challenges students may not have encountered in high school settings, so it’s normal to feel stretched and even a little rattled through the whole gettin’-yo-Bachelor’s experience.
While hindsight’s 20/20, I wish I would’ve known then what I know now and saved my undergrad self a lot of stress. So, if you don’t have your career all mapped out, are seriously hating sophomore core classes, and have no idea as to how to network, use my mistakes as a guidebook and save yourself some serious post-grad headache!