4 Pieces of Advice for College Students

One of the things I like to do most is help students consider what would maximize their learning and experiences in preparation for the working world.  

I recently had lunch with a student who is majoring in business and thinking about concentrating in Human Resources.  She is bright, well-rounded and is exploring multiple possibilities.  She asked good questions about what to consider, and I found myself offering this advice that I would offer to most college students, in particular, business school students:

1.  Study or work abroad at some point before you graduate.  I know the cost of this may be prohibitive for some, but there are multiple ways to make sure this experience doesn’t cost you anything.  The reason I find this valuable is because so much of the work I do now and see so many people doing, takes place in a global context.  The best way to be equipped and ahead of the curve given this reality is to spend time abroad.  

I spent a summer taking classes in the UK between my sophomore and junior year of college. This was a valuable experience, but the culture and the language were not that different from what I was used to in the States.  I would challenge students to think about a place to study or work that puts them outside of their comfort zone and helps them learn about a different culture.  It not only builds global business acumen but also is one of the best ways to build self-awareness, confidence, and independence.   These are traits I hear a lot of employers say are sometimes lacking in young adults.

2. Take classes outside of your discipline.  I encouraged the student I met with to take more classes than the basic ones required in Accounting and Finance and Marketing/Sales if she does concentrate in Human Resources.  Having a clear understanding of all aspects of business is important for any business professional, especially HR professionals.  This knowledge will provide a competitive advantage.   If you are majoring outside of business, take upper-level classes outside your discipline and not just your required, intro classes to give you a broader perspective and unique insights that could be applied to the direction you want to take your career.  

3. Volunteer and get involved in leadership roles.   I learned a lot about how to lead by some of the successes and mistakes I made being the President of my sorority for half of my junior and half of my senior year.  These leadership lessons and failures helped me apply knowledge learned in the classroom and led me to make different decisions in the real world of work because I had learned a lot about what not to do when it comes to motivating people and getting results.  In addition, I learned a lot through volunteering at a local elementary school’s program where most of the students lived in poverty as well as working with volunteer organizations over summer break earlier in my college years.   Find a cause(es) that you are passionate about on or off campus and see what you can do to volunteer and then lead.

4. Don’t rush into “real” life.   I graduated a semester early (mainly because of earning college credits in high school), started working full-time immediately, and got married about seven months after I graduated.  Whereas I don’t regret getting off my parents payroll quickly because they had already done so much to support me, the experiences learned in my first real job out of college, or the timing of my marriage, I do look back and think it would have been wise to have done something that would have only been possible during that time in my life before jumping right into all things adult.  

This is a balancing act that involves a lot when it comes to finances and long-term plans and goals. The answer to the right path is different for everyone.  All I advise is to take some time to reflect on things before you launch headlong into moving to the next phase in your life while you have unique opportunities and age on your side.  Once you get to certain places in your life (job, mortgage, kids, etc.) you can’t go back and do some things you could have done between college and “the real world.”


What advice would you give to college students today?

Mary Ila Ward

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