Each year, freshmen arrive on college campuses with visions of their future success dictating every move. While it may feel safe, especially in this economy, to focus on a career path (pre-med, pre-law, and business comprise most entering students’ planned majors), staying open to new possibilities may land you on an academic path that ultimately leads to a more fulfilling life, and to greater economic success.
The following three strategies can open career paths that you never dreamed of, and will help craft your college years into the defining life experience that they are meant to be:
- Pick classes that excite you. This may seem obvious, but many serious students overload their academic plans with pre-graduate school or career “requirements”. Even if you have a pre-med focus, sign up for that language term abroad. Take an art or drama class alongside organic chemistry. Fulfill an English requirement with a course in creative writing. You want to look forward to attending class each day. If you love your course load, you will perform well, receive a higher GPA, and be more interesting to future employers.
- Push the edges of your limits (academic & extracurricular). While it is tempting to fill your course card with subjects in which you already excel, trying a new language or challenging yourself with a computer programming or webpage design class can open your mind to flashes of a whole new life. Liberal arts colleges understand that an inter-related curriculum of ideas creates successful learners, and require their students to balance course loads with selections from the arts and the sciences. Trying classes and extracurricular activities that seem intimidating -- but that interest you – is a sure-fire way to expand your options and your fun.
- Think of college as expanding your life, not just your economic potential. My daughter, who graduated from college this June with a technology consulting job in hand, acquired the skills that made her resume attractive to employers not through her major (psychology), but through her work as publisher of the college newspaper. By choosing a major that allowed her to explore her interest in people, and by pushing her limits with a few years in the business department of the independent campus newspaper, she created a college life that was interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. Employers love applicants who challenge themselves and who work outside of their self-created comfort zones.
Explore one new possibility (a friend, an activity, an event, a lecture) every week; be open to unplanned opportunities. Companies look for smart, well-rounded liberal arts candidates because they can master a wide variety of new topics in a short period of time, just as they had to do in college. College is not simply a path to your future wonderful life; it is your wonderful life right now. The more you explore its possibilities, the greater its long-term return will be.