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by Kaitlin McManus | September 10, 2019

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Today List Notebook

Welcome back to school! Are you settling in? I hope so—Syllabus Week is probably over, and it’s time to get to actual work. The year can absolutely fly by, so I thought now would be a good time to take stock and set up some goals before you start to pack up for Thanksgiving and everything gets put off for another…who knows how long? Your goals and challenges are going to be different depending on what year you are, so check out the tips below to see if you’re on track for the coming school year!

Freshmen

Join some clubs: Before I came to college, I didn’t think anyone took clubs seriously. And then I went to that fall club fair event—which was a regulation soccer field jam-packed with booths for clubs of every variety, from arts to intramural sports to ethnic pride groups to political affiliations. It was insanity, I ended up joining seven clubs because everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I made good friends with the people on my floor and in my classes, but it was the people I did theatre and played Quidditch with (yes, Quidditch, it’s for Muggles now) that became my real friends in college. Clubs and teams can make up a significant part of your college social life, so make sure you check out your school’s offerings and attend a few meetings—even if it’s something that wouldn’t normally be your “thing,” you can still meet some great people.

Stock up on gen eds: When I declared for an English major, I was almost offended that I still had to take Comp 101. More writing? All I was going to do was write! But here’s the thing—gen eds are a really good foundation for the classes you have to take later. Comp 101 taught me to write the way that my college expected me to write, not in the way that my high school teachers had let me get away with for four years. It prepared me for all those papers down the line. Plus, these entry-level classes mean a lot less (and would be really boring) if you wait until senior year to take them. Bite the bullet, and knock some of these guys out early.

Sophomores

Pick your major: Alright second years, listen up—the time for “finding yourself” during freshman year is over. Most colleges require that you pick your major—for good—by the end of sophomore year, which means at the start of sophomore year, you better have it mostly narrowed down. The sooner you can lock in your major, the better. Majors have a lot of required classes, and if you wait until the last second to pick what you’re studying, you may wind up having to take a “victory lap” in the form of a fifth year. No one wants that if they can avoid it.

Ask yourself the “transfer” question: This is a tough one, of course, but sophomore year is basically your last chance to make a smooth transfer—it gets a lot harder in later years, particularly to transfer credits (in my experience, gen eds transfer easier than major requirements, and some schools have cutoffs on how many credits they can allow you to transfer). So this year is a good time to ask yourself if you’re happy at your current school, if you’re getting what you need from it, or if it might be worth it to explore other options.

Juniors

Make friends with the career center: You’ve been to the career center by now, right? …Right? I really hope so—the career center is a key resource, and while junior year may be the year where you start to get some real use out of it, hitting up a job fair shouldn’t be the first time you go to the office. If you haven’t already done so, stop by the career center and chat with a counselor about your career goals, your accomplishments, and what some next steps could be. A little time at the career center can go a long way.

Find an internship: In a world where “entry-level” jobs also, somehow, mandate two years of experience (someone want to explain the math on that to me?), an internship or two is basically required. And junior year is the optimal time for them. So whether you want to be part of a big internship class at a AAA company, the single intern at a small nonprofit, or anywhere in between, now’s the time to start getting your resume out there. Your campus career center can be a huge help when it comes to finding internships and brushing up your resume—and don’t forget to check out Vault’s multitude of internship rankings to help find the best internship for you!

Seniors

Check out your alumni network: You thought I was going to tell you to get a job, right? Well, yes. Your main goal upon graduating college is to get a job—that’s why we go to college. But finding a job is hard, especially without support. Your school’s alumni network can be a great resource for finding out what happens to people from your school when they graduate. You might be surprised by where you find fellow Bulldogs or Tigers or Narwhals or whatever your college mascot is, and if they’re part of the alumni network, they’re probably happy to provide advice to the younger generations.

Ask yourself the “grad school” question: Going to grad school is a big step and definitely a path worth considering. It can be a great place to continue studying something you’re really passionate about, and for some careers, grad school is all but necessary. But really think about if it’s something you want to do. Grad school can be fulfilling, but it’s also insanely expensive—and you’re nearly done racking up what I’m sure is an immense amount of debt. Some people go to grad school because they don’t really know what they want to do, and it seems like a way to buy some time to figure it out—that’s pretty much the worst reason to go to grad school. So ask the question, but really give it some thought instead of making a snap decision.

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