A famous quote attributed to world-renowned American author Mark Twain states that the secret of getting ahead is getting started. In the case of college students, the same principle applies with a small twist. To get ahead, students must get started – and do so early.
For future graduates, the outlook of entering an already competitive job market can be frightening. The numbers are not particularly encouraging, either. According to a study done by the Associated Press, more than half of all college graduates become either jobless or underemployed right after graduating.
Another recent survey by aftercollege.com showed that more than 83 percent of college students and graduates didn’t have a job lined up before graduation, even after actively looking.
Fortunately for many W students, those odds can be defeated.
At the forefront of this effort is the Student Success Center, an office created with the goal of helping students achieve academic excellence and success during their time at the W and beyond. Previously known as the Center for Academic Excellence, the SSC provides a variety of services including free tutoring, disability services, testing services, academic counseling, career guidance, workshops and seminars.
The name change reflects a renovated focus. That focus includes career guidance and training for success after graduation, a responsibility that used to lay with the university’s Student Affairs office. Still, according to Dr. David Brooking, director of the Student Success Center, most services the SSC provides have a strong impact both during a student’s time here and after they leave.
“Most of what we do is to try to make you successful while you are a student, and that will almost always translate into success in the real world,” said Brooking.
Initiatives like the newly created Supplemental Instruction program aim to increase both academic performance and skills that will be useful in the future. Other activities such as workshops and seminars tend to cater to more specific skills and knowledge that will apply in most fields of work.
“Our workshops on studying skills and research, for example, are something that will help you through the rest of your life,” said Brooking. “Being able to research anything comes handy in many situations.”
Other workshops the SSC offers are more directly related to life after graduation and mastering the art of finding a job. Resume building, resume marketing, mock interviews, graduate school and social media use are just some of the topics tackled by these activities in the past.
Jenny Box, the student success specialist for the center, recently hosted a workshop called “Insta-career: Leveraging Social Media for Jobs.” The event featured Laura Tubb Prestwich, a W alum and social media manager. She discussed how to properly prepare personal social media pages for career searches, networking and job searching.
“Our job is to bring speakers and plan seminars that are relevant to what the student needs to succeed,” said Box.
With all these resources available to students, one important questions remains. When is the best time to start worrying and make use of these services?
As soon as you step on campus.
According to Towanda Williams, a career specialist for the SSC with almost 10 years of experience at the W, there is no time to waste.
“I personally think the sooner the better, because then you are more prepared, you can plan better and even adjust your classes and know in depth you need to go with them for what you want to do later,” said Williams. “Also you learn and research about companies in your field early on and can find out what it is they are looking for.”
Williams’s duties at the center include advising students with undeclared majors and helping them pinpoint what they want to do. She also manages most of the programming that specifically relates to success after graduation. This includes job fairs, classroom presentations on skills and other basic job training.
“We teach them how to get resumes prepared, teaching them how to meet specific requirements with the jobs and how to market themselves with the resumes prior to an interview, and of course we have sessions teaching how to conduct yourself during interviews, what we call the mock interviews,” said Williams.
The SSC also works with employers to try and line up internships for students who wish to get one early on in their student careers. While the SSC can’t guarantee placement, most employers take students and allow them to be part of their programs.
William’s office acts as a point of contact with the local employers, getting information about any available jobs or internships and relating the information to students. In her opinion, getting any kind of professional experience while still in college is always a big plus.
“Hands-on experience makes the things you learn in the books make sense and looks good on a resume,” she said.
Keeping up with the early preparation concept, Williams encourages students to be proactive from the very beginning. An idea she promotes is to check the requirements and qualifications of the major you wish to pursue and what is required of graduates later on in the field.
“That way you are better prepared for what’s gonna be needed or what employers are looking for specifically in that particular area instead of waiting until the job you want opens when you turn a senior and have to go ‘Oh, I should have taken this class’ and ‘Oh, I should have focused a little bit more’,” said Williams. “But if you already know what they are looking for you can go ahead and prepare yourself so when the time comes you are already qualified."
Finally, Williams recommends that students accumulate any experience they can, paid or unpaid. Simple things like volunteering or spending time talking with someone who is doing what you want to do can go a long way in helping students gain skill, do some networking and gain useful knowledge. Sometimes this knowledge can even make students reconsider their life paths.
“A lot of times a profession may sound good, but then you find some things behind the scenes that you may not like that much. We want students to know those things ahead of time and not get to graduation thinking ‘this is not what we want to do,’” she said.
This sort of situation is something that Megan Occhipinti, the Student Success Navigator for the College of Nursing and Speech-Language Pathology, tries to avoid.
As navigator, Occhipinti mainly acts as the professional advisor to 79 freshmen and pre-nursing students in her college, providing them with personalized attention and helping them sort through any academic barriers or any personal challenges they may have.
When it comes to her students, she also challenges them to think about life after college and the future. She wants to make sure they truly want to pursue a career in a field they will love and be passionate about.
“Many students say, for example, that they want to work in the medical field without really realizing what that entails. So I think is important to have real life conversations with those students to really get them to explore what they want to do,” said Occhipinti. “Because many times they just say they want to be a nurse, and then they realize that ‘Oh I have to administer this IV or give this injection’ and they say ‘I don’t think I want to do that anymore.’”
Whatever field a student might be pursuing, early preparation is the key to getting ahead in a field. It not only helps students be ready to work immediately after graduation, but also can put them ahead in the job chase.