College, or any other form of secondary education, is a great way to invest in yourself. But it’s easy to wander down the wrong path. Maximize the value of your college and don’t turn that investment into an expense. Here we discuss 10 tips to maximize the value of your college experience.
As a 23-year-old with a bachelor’s degree under my belt, I’ve seen a number of people make mistakes that leave them either unemployed or underemployed and constricted financially by their student loan payments.
That doesn’t have to be you.
I reached out to people who pursued bachelors, associates, and trade programs and asked for their advice on what you can do in school and after graduation to maximize the value of your degree.
Today, we’ll cover what they had to say about steps you can take now, while you’re in school.
Internships, Internships, Internships!
This, by far, was the biggest piece of advice shared by everyone I asked. I agree that internships are the best way to turn your education into a tangible experience that will maximize the value of your college experience.
Some of the many benefits of internships include:
- Building new skills and experience for your resume
- Developing skills, you learned in class by using them in the field
- Making great connections (many offices hire on interns full-time after graduation)
- Exposure to the actual area you’re pursuing
That last point is a big one. Sure, classes acquaint you with the subject matter of your chosen field, but an internship is a great way to see what it’s really like (and if you want it).
Try to get an internship, or comparable experience, as early as you can in your education. That way, you have time to change your approach if you realize that field isn’t a good fit for you.
On a related note…
Changing Majors/Fields of Study is Okay
You’re 18, and you’re not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. Is anyone really?
It’s okay to be unsure. Many universities have the option to go in “undeclared” or “general studies.” My university allowed undeclared students to take classes from different departments and simply keep the extras as electives when they figured out what they wanted to choose.
My university, and probably many others, also offered additional counseling to help students figure it out.
If you don’t want to spend big-university money while figuring out your field of study, start with community college. I knew a lot of people who completed their first two years of electives and general courses at a community college and then finished their last two years taking specific major courses at a university.
And if you go in with a declared major and change your mind, that’s okay, too.
My sister changed her major twice in college. A best friend changed hers on the first day. Another couple of friends started and left a couple of different colleges and trade programs before finding the right fit.
You’re going to spend a lot of money to invest in your education, and you’re going to spend even more time working on the job.
Let’s say you work from ages 22-65, 40-hours a week at a full-time job. Between holidays and vacation time, you get an average of three weeks off a year. 49 working weeks x 40 hours a week x 43 years = 84,280 hours.
You want to spend those hours doing something you like, so don’t be afraid to change what you’re studying if it’s not the right fit. Afterall if you’re not happy you are not going to maximize the value of your college experience.
Use Your School’s Resources
Part of the expense of your chosen program is the resources your school has to offer. You probably have some sort of career center—get acquainted with them for internship and job searching advice.
That’s the obvious place to start, but don’t forget about the less-obvious one—your professors. They’ve been working in the industry for a while, so chances are they have a contact or two. Ask them for advice on internship opportunities.
If nothing else, your school is teeming with great people to connect within your field. The power of networking is what drives a career forward.
Get Involved and Take on Different Experiences
As tempting as binge-watching shows and movies are, try to get out of your room sometimes and get involved. It’s a great way to make new friends and expose yourself to different experiences.
Join a club. Can’t find a club you like? Create one. They’re a great place to make valuable connections and friendships with people who have shared interests.
Get a job. On-campus jobs are a great way to strengthen your ties with your school’s community, but off-campus jobs are great, too (provided they’re understanding of your schedule). Even a retail job builds essential skills, like communication and patience.
Jobs also show potential employers that you have a strong work ethic. Being able to take classes, be involved in clubs, and have a job shows that you can work hard. Plus, you can make a little money!
Even when it comes to internships, push yourself to take on experiences that don’t necessarily fit into your envisioned “career path.” Sometimes the experiences you discount in your mind end up being the most influential.
For example, I was strictly on the editing and publishing industry path in my head while I was in college. But I opened myself up to a couple of marketing internships, which I never thought I’d pursue after graduation.
The writing I got to do in my marketing internships showed me a new branch of writing I hadn’t known existed—content marketing—and actually shaped my “career path” more than my editing/publishing internships.
You will maximize the value of your college experience with more involvement, new friends and may find yourself on a new career path!
Pay off Loan Interest
Many types of student loans, like unsubsidized loans, accrue interest while you’re in school. That interest compounds over time and becomes part of the amount you have to pay off.
You aren’t obligated to make student loan payments while in college, but paying off the interest while in school keeps your balance from growing and your monthly payment after graduation smaller.
In this example, the minimum required payment after graduation was reduced by $65 per month by paying off interest while in school.
A smaller payment will leave you more flexible when making financial decisions after college.
Choose a Minor to Maximize the Value of Your College Experience
Minors are a great way to boost your Bachelor’s Degree and open up opportunities.
I chose a Business minor to accompany my English degree. In theory, it gave a “practical” edge to the degree that people usually discount as useless. In actuality, it gave my writing experience the adaptability to work in a publishing house or an office.
Minors, at the least, show employers that you have the ambition to do something a little extra than the average person. Plus, they allow you to give a little direction to your elective courses.
Seek out a Specific Skill or Two
On a related note to minors, research what skills are valued in your field.
For example, one person I spoke to was pursuing a marketing degree and learned that many companies look for marketers to have familiarity with the Adobe Creative Suite. So, she took a class centered on that. It helped her get the internship that ended up turning into her full-time job. A great suggestion for you to maximize the value of your college experience.
Save Some Money—Even if It’s Just a Little
Few graduates walk out of school with a job lined up. It takes the average grad six months to find something. Any money you can put aside while you’re in school will give you better flexibility after graduation.
Even if you forego one coffee a week and set aside $5, it can make a difference. If you spend four years in college and put away $5 a week, you’ll have around $1,000 by graduation. Even that can make a difference post-graduation.
If You’re Not Doing Well, Try Something New
The thing about making education investment in you is that it’s an investment in you. Your mind works in its own unique way, so general study strategies and program approaches might not be the way you learn best.
If your performance is lacking, be honest. Are you putting in your best effort? If you’re genuinely trying your hardest and getting nowhere, don’t be afraid to try a new approach to maximize the value of your college experience.
This is where your school’s resources—professors, tutors, student success centers—can be great to help you formulate new approaches to try.
Find Time to Reflect
You’re going to have a lot of new experiences through your education that can inspire a lot of personal growth. Set some time aside to reflect on yourself, the ways you’re growing, and the ways you want to continue to grow.
You might find that the goals you started with change.
Most Importantly—Have Fun!
A big part of secondary education has new, fun experiences. Work hard and take this “investment” seriously, but don’t forget to have a little fun along the way.
With this advice, you can set yourself up to have a prosperous future and a smoother transition to the “real world” everyone talks about after graduation. You can enjoy a higher return on your investment and maximize the value of your college experience with a life long dividend of higher earnings.
The most important part of seeing that return is how you use your degree or certification after you get it. In the next article, we’ll go over our best post-graduation advice.
I’m Ally, a 23-year-old writer, and marketing professional. I graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Business from a small, private university in Massachusetts. After graduation, I moved to New England to live with Mike, my fiancé. In January of 2019, we made the big decision to move from New England to the greater Philadelphia area, where we’re now planning our wedding and saving up to buy a house.