High School 2 College

May 14, 2010

Congratulations, You’re (Nearly) a College Graduate! Now What?

Many of my previous students are just a year or two from finishing college.  Some of you may even be graduating this month.  Congratulations!   Just as you dreaded the “Where are you going to go to college?” question a few years ago, I bet most of you get a little queasy when you are asked “What are your plans for the future?”  For those of you who are graduating — but even more for those who have a year or more left of college — I have a few words of advice about your future.

You’ve only got a few choices.

1.  Become a bum. Living in your mom’s basement playing endless World of Warcraft on the computer may sound delightful after so many years of college, but it will get old very fast.  In my book, a bum is someone who sponges off his or her parents (whether or not they can afford to indulge you) with no plans for the future. Dreams are not plans.  No one will discover you in your room.  Get out of the house and make your parents proud.

2.  Go to grad school. The recession has made grad students out of many college graduates who might, in better times, have been eager to get out into the adult work world.  News articles abound about how much harder it has been these past two years to get into graduate school, but with good grades, decent GREs or GMATs or LSATs, a recommendation or two, and a stellar “statement of purpose”  (remember your college application essay?  It’s the same thing, just a little less clever and a little more sincere), you too can join the ranks of those hoping that a bit more education and a bit more time will bring them closer to the life they imagine for themselves.

If you’re thinking that graduate school might be necessary for your career (you can’t be a lawyer without law school) or useful for getting a better job (MBAs earn more than accounts receivable clerks), take steps while you’re in college to better your chances of getting accepted to few grad schools.

  • Cozy up to professors. Go to office hours of professors you like in your major. Get to know a few professors well enough that they know your name.  Take a few to lunch.  Ask them where they went to grad school.  Ask them for advice about what schools might fit your interests best.  And then ask them for a recommendation, even if you don’t need it for a year or two.  Some professors change colleges fairly regularly and might not be at your school next year.  Ask now.
  • Make use of your summers. Do something in your field.  Ask that professor you like if he or she needs help with research over the summer.  Find an internship. Get a job, even if it’s getting coffee for others, in a company in the industry you might wind up in.  Stay on campus and take another course or two, especially if you can defray costs by being an RA or getting an on-campus job.  Once again: DO RESEARCH. It will help you define what you like or don’t like about your field, and it looks great on a resume.
  • Investigate grad schools. US News is a great source of information on graduate schools for all kinds of majors.  Invest in the premium online edition.  It’s under $20 for the year and has lots of very practical information.
  • Prep for and take graduate school exams.  I bet you thought when you finished your last SAT and ACT you were done.  Not quite.  Some schools require graduate tests like the GREs or Miller’s Analogies (I’m great at those!).  Investigate and bone up.  Yes, there are tutors for those tests.  Let me know if I can help. Summers are a good time to study and take whatever tests you might need.

It may not be as simple as apply, get in, go to classes, get out with a great job. This article on how to make the most of your graduate school years gives practical and pointed advice about taking charge of your education even as you work toward an advanced degree.

3.  Get a job. Check out this article on mistakes that new graduates often make in their first jobs.  Most first jobs aren’t sexy or exciting or fulfilling.  They’re entry-level jobs meant for entry-level people like you.  Menial doesn’t necessarily mean meaningless.  If you’re lucky enough to get a job in a field you like, don’t worry about what your first job is.  You won’t be there in 5 years anyway if you follow the national trend.  Use this first job to get experience — experience in your field, experience working full-time (did you know that you have to work during July and August in most jobs?), experience having a boss who may or may not like you, experience making friends of different age groups, life circumstances, ethnicities, intelligences.  Any first job is better than being a bum (see life choice #1 above).

When you apply to college, you expect a response one way or the other.  When you apply to ten colleges, you presume you’ll get into at least five of them.  But when you apply for a job, they may not ever get back to you.  It’s up to you to follow up with them. (I should charge for that advice it’s so valuable.)  It’s expected that you will call a week or two after an interview and ask if you’re still being considered for the position or if they need more information from you.  And you might send out 40 resumes, hear from 5 companies, and get zero offers.  That’s the real world, kiddo.  So you might need to send out 80 resumes.  Or better yet, you may need to deliver a few of them in person.  You may need to talk to your college about job fairs or get their help with a resume and cover letter or alumni contacts.  You may need to do something you’re not comfortable with.  It’s called growing up.  None of us like it, but the rewards are pretty good.  Once you  have a job of your own, you get to run your own life.

Very few decisions you’ll make now are permanent. If you go to grad school, you can also work either during or afterwards.  If you work, you can go back to grad school some day.  If you’re a bum (shame on you!), you can get out and do something useful.  If you can’t decide what you want to do, volunteer and make someone else’s life better while you work on your own life.  (This website from the government is a good place to start looking for a worthwhile volunteer position.)

I sincerely enjoyed working with (nearly) all of my students, so let me know what your plans are for the future!

Wendy Segal

October 18, 2009

There IS Life After College

You survived middle school.  You managed to finish high school, complete with extracurricular activities and community service.  You mastered the college application process with its amorphous topics of your choice, quirky application websites and all those SATs.  Some colleges flirted with you via glossy viewbooks, and you flirted back with interviews and tours.  Finally, a college (or two) proposed, and you accepted.  Congratulations, you’re in college.

What next? As I see it, you have a few choices:  work, more school, or bum.  Let’s presume you don’t want to be a bum.  Let’s presume you want to make a valuable contribution either to your own world or to the wider community.  That means school or work.

School means deciding what you want to study next. Most people continue on the same path they were on in college, but you don’t necessarily have to.  My son graduated with a degree in economics and math, but realized as his senior year began that he would be much happier and more successful in the field of computers.  He scrambled around, took a bunch of additional computer classes, and got himself into grad school for computer science.

School means doing the same investigative work you did to get into college, but this time without so much help from mom.  This time, you’ll have to research schools on your own.  Here’s a great site (they charge for the premium edition, but it’s worth the $20 to get the online AND print versions:


Research early and often!  You know what to do — visit schools, send for brochures, click on websites.

You also have to investigate graduate standardized exams.  Yes, more SATs (or at least more tests like them)!  This time, you’ll be taking GMATs for business school, or MCATs for medical school, or LSATs for law school, or GREs for nearly everything else.  (Yes, I do tutor for the GREs.  Thanks for asking!)  The GREs have sub-tests for different specialties and are taken at computer testing sites pretty much at your convenience.

Remember college application essays? The ones they made you write in English class senior year of high school?  Well, you’ll need another one (it may be called a “statement of purpose” for graduate school).  (Yes, I do help with “statement of purpose” essays.  But you guessed that, right?)

Competition for grad schools is particularly fierce now since not only graduating college students but adults who are out of work are going back to school, but it can be done.  Financing can be tricky (see this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/education/edlife/26spending-t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 ) but there are plenty of loans out there for grad school.

If you can’t bear the thought of another few years of school, or if your chosen profession doesn’t require grad school, or if you’re eager to get out there, there’s always work.

Having an internship during college is an excellent way to sample the world of work.  If you like where you’re interning and if they like you, you might be set for a while at least.  But not everyone gets an internship.

You’ve paid quite a bit to your college.  Now is the time for them to pay you back.  Most decent schools have an office which tries to find you work — or at least leads.  Get your money’s worth.  Get resume help.  Get interviewing skills help.  Let them hook you up with an interview or two or three.  Don’t be afraid to have them make a contact for you with an alumnus.  It’s part of what your parents paid for every time they paid your tuition.

If despite your best efforts you can’t find a job, consider unpaid work. A great place to start is http://www.serve.gov/ , a volunteer clearinghouse begun by President Obama’s administration to encourage giving back to communities.  If you want to work abroad, there’s the Peace Corps, and if you want to stay in the U.S. , there’s AmeriCorps.  Just google “volunteer,” and you’ll have thousands of opportunites to suit every interest and needy population.

If you volunteer, at least you’ll be doing some good for the world while you build your resume, refine your interests, and wait out the recession.

But don’t wait until graduation to decide. Just like in high school, you have to get started even if you don’t feel terribly motivated.  But in high school, you had your guidance counselor and your parents and the momentum of  your peers propelling you to action.

Now it’s all up to you.  “Bum” doesn’t look good on a resume.  Think, plan, and do something now to create your own future now.

Wendy Segal

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