Career Planning Tips for College Students

Career signWith an economic recession looming and rising college costs, students realize it makes sense to begin career planning early in their college education. Waiting until senior year to explore careers leaves little time and flexibility for changing the major course of study. Students who begin to research careers early in college will be able to make the most of their investment. Check out these proven strategies for career exploration.

Visit the campus career center
Most colleges offer their students a wide variety of career services for free. Students can begin exploring career center offerings during college visits in high school. Students who are undecided about major and career will find trained career counselors to offer guidance and encouragement and access to career exploration tools such as computerized assessments and interest inventories. Career centers also help students prepare for the job market through workshops on resume writing and job interview skills. Some colleges also offer job placement and networking opportunities through alumni.

Check out the University of Notre Dame’s Career Center to get a sense of the services available through career centers.  At the career center, students find everything from preparation support for graduate school testing and help finding an internships. Princeton University’s Career Center offers one on one support with career exploration and regular workshops on all aspects of career preparation.

Some universities offer lifetime access to career planning and placement services to alumni. Other colleges will limit access to many services, for example, only allowing graduates to access help for a period of two years.

Make connections with professors
Students should take the initiative to introduce themselves to professors and ask for guidance in exploring careers. Professors are also a crucial sources of recommendations and information about internships and research opportunities. Students who have gotten to know their professors  will be better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities a college education offers.

Internships and part-time jobs
Research suggests that students who intern are better prepared for the job market. Internships and part-time jobs offer a low-risk opportunity to try different career fields. While student interns won’t have the full responsibilities of a paid professional in the field, they may gain familiarity with the jobs available in their area of interest. Some students are also fortunate to be able to begin to explore their career interests through paid part-time work such as tutoring or computer programming. In some fields such as engineering many students end up working after graduation for a company they interned with during college.

career tipsCareer and major clubs
College students should consider joining a campus organization related to their major or career interests. Many opportunities filter through these organizations, and students who don’t participate will be disadvantaged. Major clubs often bring in professionals for guest lectures, a helpful way to learn about possible future careers. Information about career training and internships will also often be distributed through these clubs. Involvement in campus clubs can also be a way to develop leadership skills. The time to begin to look at major clubs is during the college search process. Examples of major clubs include the pre-med club at the University of Michigan.

Club participants can gain career exposure by shadowing a current physician or volunteering with the group. Other options include mentorships and preparation for the MCAT medical school admissions test. Women in computer science at Stanford University can join the WICS club, where they can attend guest lectures and begin to make connections with the IT industry.  Some colleges offer several different specialized clubs for students in particular major areas. For example, students in the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business can choose from over a dozen service, education, and club opportunities.

Earn high grades
One of the best moves students can make for future career success is earning excellent grades. Some people believe that simply having a college degree is enough, and employers don’t ask about grades earned in college. In reality, grades are one of the best indications of the seriousness of a college student. Grades are considered a key part of graduate and professional school admissions, and many employers care about GPA. Stronger students with higher grades are better respected and will have more opportunities for internships and special opportunities.  Because some employers consider GPA when establishing the base salary, a lower GPA could affect earnings well into a person’s career.

Bottom line
Career exploration should be a priority all through college. Waiting until the second-semester senior year is too late to fully utilize the resources available through college courses and the career center. Encourage your students to begin thinking about careers even before they start college. More information and resources can help improve the student’s chance of being well-prepared to enter the job market and find a career they enjoy.


  • Thanks you for this article. We will check out career services on our upcoming college visits. Is there anything we should pay particular attention to?

    • Linda,
      The main thing is just to visit and see what services are offered. It might be good to ask if they offer career testing or have workshops scheduled for students.
      Good luck with your visits,

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