The most important part of generating a return on the investment of an education is how you pursue a career after graduation. Here is a collection of 10 tips for getting a return on your degree.
Since high school, adults have been lecturing you about getting a job to join the “real world.” They’ve made it sound big, bad, and scary—like it’ll swallow you up if you make the wrong decisions.
Sometimes the guidance we get comes across differently than intended. A college degree is an exceptional long-term investment and to get that return we need to find a good job in the “real world.” It’s not an all or nothing proposition there’s always room to adjust later.
The “real world” doesn’t have to be scary. You’ve already made the decision to invest in yourself with education, now you just need to take steps to make that investment pay off.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out our tips for maximizing the value of your college experience while you’re still in college. But even if you’ve already graduated, it’s not too late to ensure your degree is an investment by using it the right way.
Let’s dive into 10 tips for getting a return on your degree.
Forget About the “Real World” Hype
The “real world” is somewhat of a scare tactic, a threat of responsibility and pressure. But guess what? You’ve already been living in the “real world.”
So what is it, anyway? It’s accepting responsibility. It’s taking on challenges and growing as a person.
You’re only in your early 20s. You’re not expected to have everything pulled together and get the perfect job.
You may not feel ready to be an adult, or anything close. But no “adult in the real world” has it all figured out. Seeking out advice and setting goals is a great place to start.
Too many people are so overwhelmed by the idea of the “real world” that they don’t put a strong effort into taking the steps towards using their degree.
Start Your Job Search Early
If you haven’t graduated yet, start job searching a few months before graduation. This won’t work for every career path, but some may be able to secure a job before graduating.
Even if you don’t get a job that soon, it lets you practice with your resume and cover letter to see which formats/wording get the best response.
Interviewing is the same as anything else—practice makes you better at it.
There are thousands of articles out there on questions commonly asked in interviews and useful ways to answer them. Practice writing or speaking out your answers to these questions. Then you can play with the wording until it feels right.
Try to ask someone you don’t feel entirely comfortable with to do a practice interview, like a parent’s friend.
My fiancé had my uncle and cousin ask him some practice interview questions during his last job search, and he said it helped to have someone he wasn’t super familiar with go through it in a pressure-free setting. It was more helpful than having me or a friend interview him because it gave him practice interviewing with more of a “stranger.”
They’re Not Looking for Perfection, They’re Looking for Someone to Learn
They’ve looked at your resume and must have liked what they saw, or you wouldn’t have the interview. Entry-level and college-graduate level openings know you haven’t mastered the universe quite yet, or they would interview people with more experience for the job.
In a job search, you’re interviewing companies as much as they’re interviewing you. Go in with the objective to figure out if that company, team, and position are a good fit for you, and it takes some of the pressure off of you to be perfect for them.
At the end of the day, you both want to find a good fit.
Remember that Your First Job isn’t Your Forever Job
This is a BIG one. Many whom I know have trouble finding a job because they put a lot of pressure on that first job. The entry-level positions they’re seeing aren’t exactly what they want to do, so they don’t even want to apply to them.
Whatever your first “full-time adult” job is probably isn’t what you’re going to be doing the rest of your life. But it is a step in that direction. Take it to gain experience so you can leverage that experience for the next position that interests you.
The path from A to B in life is rarely a straight line. So instead of putting pressure on your first job to be exactly what you want to do (or even in the same field), instead look for a job that can help you build the skills you need for what you want to do and the career you want.
And you never know, that first job may be more than you thought and lead to opportunities and promotions within that company.
Getting a Return on Your Degree; Continue Learning
Learning isn’t exclusive to school. Learn from your experiences, and seek out continuing education classes, seminars, or conferences to enhance your degree/certification.
Even when it comes to interviews, analyze your meeting afterward to figure out if there’s anything you could’ve done better. Talk to your friends and learn from their interview experiences.
Never stop learning, and your investment will only get stronger.
Get Out There and Meet People
Similarly to getting involved in college, getting involved after college is important.
Like it or not, who you know can help you get a job faster than your qualifications alone. A business invests a lot of time and money to bring in a new employee. They’re more likely to bring in someone they already “trust.”
Knowing someone can get you in the door, and your qualifications get you hired. If your parents have friends in the industry, ask to take them out to lunch and pick their brain.
If there are any networking groups in your town, join them. Even if the people you meet don’t directly bring you a job, they still have a wealth of information that comes with experience in the field.
Like I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, a job search can take time. During that time, try to get creative to build more experience in your field.
The summer after I graduated, I took on freelance writing and editing. That experience improved my writing, time management, organizational, communication skills, and more.
Doing even part-time work related to my field showed potential employers that I had the drive to get involved with writing and marketing, even without the full-time employment benefits.
Don’t be Embarrassed to Live with Your Parents
The media loves to make jokes about young people being too lazy to afford to move out of their parents’ house (or, in one Australian millionaire’s opinion, spending too much on avocado toast to hit their financial goals).
In reality, many new graduates work hard and turn living with their parents into an amazing opportunity (and not all parents are anxious for their kids to get out, either).
In 2017, the median US rent was $1,012. If you live with your parents for three years after college, you’re saving $36,432 in rent alone, not including any utility or grocery bills, your parents might also cover.
You might live with them because you can’t afford rent, but try to pretend that you have rent to pay. Even if it’s only $200 or $300 a month, pretend that’s your “rent” and put it in your savings account every month.
Or, put that money towards paying off student debt to lower that payment for the future and create a little more financial freedom after you move out.
If you incorporate specific financial goals while living with your parents, it’s a fantastic opportunity (just make sure to thank your parents for their kindness).
Don’t Get Discouraged
The first job is the hardest one to get, for sure. You’ll probably be told “no” by a lot of companies.
When I graduated from college, I put in around 100 applications, only hearing back from maybe ten of those companies at all. I got rejected a lot, but I got accepted by one that became an amazing opportunity in my life.
It’s hard—I know—but try not to let the rejections keep you down. Instead, focus one application at a time on working towards the one that will allow you to move forward.
Welcome to the Real World
With these 10 tips for getting a return on your degree the transition from school to full-time work can be a little easier. And, your investment in yourself can start working towards a return.
Let the steps you take now build the momentum towards success in your future.
And when you inevitably hit a few failures? Learn from them.
That’s the Real World. Chances are, you’re already living there.
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.