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Five Tips for Preparing for Your Career During Your First Year in College

As the start of college nears, you may be planning how to decorate your residence hall room or considering what supplies you need for your classes. But there’s something else you need to think about, too: your future career.

Experts say the decisions you make during your freshman year can have implications for your career when you graduate.

UT’s Center for Career Development shares five tips to help first-year college students begin preparing for their careers:

Come to college with an open mind about majors and careers.

Many students change majors during their first year, and that is OK. Spend time during your first year exploring some of the lesser-known majors and careers that might be a great fit for you. Learn about major-to-career connections and be flexible about changing paths if you find something more appealing or better suited to your skills.

“Most of our students have considered careers they commonly see such as doctor, nurse, teacher, or engineer, but they may not be aware of professions such as speech pathologist, business analyst, or neuroscientist,” said Stephanie Kit, director of the Center for Career Development. “There are so many majors that can each lead to dozens of career choices.”

Get to know yourself.

College is a time to explore who you are and reflect on your interests, strengths, values, and personality. Use formal assessments offered by your campus career center, such as interest and personality inventories, to get objective feedback. Pay attention to classes, activities, and campus events that hold your attention. See where you excel. Those experiences can give you insight into majors or careers that you may want to pursue.

Engage on campus.

Universities are filled with opportunities to get involved through student organizations, volunteerism, leadership roles, service-learning, research, and programs abroad. In addition to connecting you to campus, these experiences help you build the skills that future employers seek in new college graduates. As you progress through college, look for internships that will help you gain experience in your field of interest and build valuable contacts with professionals doing jobs you hope to have one day.

“Taking classes and earning a strong GPA are just the beginning. Employers and graduate schools want to see that students are involved on campus and have relevant experience through internships or field work,” Kit said.

Learn about the competencies that most employers seek.

Important skills in communication, leadership, and teamwork are developed both inside and outside the classroom.

“Understanding what employers are looking for helps you make sense of the experiences you’re gaining,” said Center for Career Development Assistant Director Rob Morris.

He recommends starting a resume and LinkedIn profile to update with experiences throughout your time in college. As you prepare to interview for leadership positions, internships, or even part-time jobs, learn how to effectively articulate the ways you have gained these competencies.

Visit your campus career center early and often.

No one expects a new college student to have their career plans mapped out, so take advantage of campus staff, programs, and services, who can help you prepare for life after graduation.

Career center staff want to engage with first-year students to help them develop goals and set a path to achieving those goals. Most universities offer a variety of services from one-on-one appointments to credit-bearing classes to career events designed to help you prepare for the work world.

“Once you get comfortable on campus and in your classes, schedule an appointment to talk about your major or career goals,” said Jenny Ward, the center’s associate director for career exploration and campus engagement.