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Think About Your Future

By: Professor Christopher Linne/Special to the Daily Record
04/14/2014, 09:16 AM

Many of us have used the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And in the context in which we used the phrase, we may have been thinking about older people. However, I suggest that by the time an 18-year-old enters college, the student has already developed attitudes, behaviors and values that set him or her on a course for success or failure in both college and in life. But I do believe we can teach our “experienced” students new things. For students already on course toward success, advice can enhance their skills further. For at-risk students, we can offer strategies that will give them the opportunity to succeed.

In August 2014, many young men and women will embark on a four-year academic journey that will take them to new heights. The cost may range from $160,000 to $200,000 by the time it ends. For some of these students, it may take longer than four years and-for others, it may end prematurely. The cost of higher education has increased significantly in recent years and many new college graduates (and their families) may incur significant debt. And when these graduates enter the job market, they will be competing against thousands of others for very few jobs with a decent starting salary and medical benefits.

So, how do graduates distinguish themselves from all the other candidates applying for the same job? Unfortunately, some college students do not even think about this until senior year of college. But many others plan early. The most successful college graduates I know began the planning process in their first semester of college. I would like to share some of the key strategies used by these exceptional students:

• Set Goals: Ideally, all students should set realistic long-term and short-term goals. A good long-term goal is to graduate with honors. A transcript bearing the phrase “summa cum laude” is going to get the right kind of attention from a career counselor or job interviewer. And, by setting appropriate short-term goals (e.g., passing each class with a good grade), the student has a better chance of reaching the ultimate goal.

Prioritize: It is important for a student to have a balanced life; however, academic responsibilities should be a priority over athletics, clubs, jobs and other activities. It is understood that students need to work to support their college expenses and even their families, but the student must prioritize. I know a number of struggling college students who attend college full-time while working full-time at a job. The results are missed assignments, frequent absences and failing grades. Even a part-time job, usually off campus, can be a distraction — a number of students work hours that conflict with their class schedule. Their attempt to do both is admirable; however, they are setting themselves up for low grades and possible failure if the job conflicts with their academic goal and responsibilities.

• College Networking: The more successful graduates established a relationship early on with their advisors and the faculty in their academic discipline. These individuals helped guide the student as he or she chose courses and considered co-curricular activities (clubs and organizations). They also served as mentors and role models. Academic advisors also have professional networks that may help students obtain a meaningful internship for college credit.

While in college, some students consider changing their course of study since it impacts the rest of their life. Having a rapport with their advisor/professor can help them consider and explore other academic programs. Many times I have referred my advisees to a faculty colleague who can provide better insight into another course of study and the associated career opportunities. Faculty advisors can also suggest a “minor.” Students graduating with a minor have more to talk about in a job interview. I have several students who double-majored or double-minored. Not everyone can manage the extra coursework, so students should discuss this at length before attempting it.

Additionally, students should take advantage of the various support services available on college campuses. These include health and counseling centers, tutoring services, and math and writing labs. Students pay for these services through their tuition fees.
 Social Awareness: Students should be aware of the world around them. As technology improves and access to information increases, it is perplexing to see that fewer students read a newspaper or watch a network news show. Some students are only aware of the latest sports news or celebrity gossip. Successful students are always aware of the issues in their community, state, nation and the rest of the world. In the area I teach (criminal justice), not a week goes by without some significant issue being reported. I encourage my students to read a newspaper (or two) every day and to watch local and national/world news programs on a daily basis. With the technology available today, all students should be able to have access to hard news.

• Service: Graduating with honors is not sufficient in today’s job market. Some of my most successful former students did not graduate with honors, but did possess excellent soft skills and a service record that complemented their education. When a college graduate goes for a job interview, the interviewer is looking beyond the student’s college transcript. A prior job is an indicator that the applicant is a good hiring risk — just ensure the job does not interfere with your academic progress. And, just as important, if the applicant has an established record of community service and volunteerism, the interviewer has a better understanding of the applicant’s character, integrity, and work ethic.

If incoming college students consider these recommendations, I believe they will have a greater college experience that will lead to greater success in life.