Making the Transition from College… | Counseling | Therapy

Making the Transition from College to Career

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director


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Making the Transition from College to Career

So you’re coming into the home stretch of your senior year at college, and the list of things to do keeps getting longer as time grows shorter. There are final exams, term papers, presentations and senior projects. Not only does all that classwork have to get done, but there seems to be a ton of paperwork you need to fill out in order to get your cap and gown, to receive your degree, to walk in the big ceremony. In a few short months you’re going to be out of the dorms, so some sort of new housing arrangement has to be made. Will you move back in with your parents? Find a new apartment? Will you need roommates? And of course, there is the business of keeping track of all your college friends when school is over, getting all the names and addresses and emails, making plans to get together over the summer, promising to keep in touch. It’s a lot to juggle in your mind, and a lot to keep track of. Somehow, you pull it all together, everything fits into place, and you make it up to April. And then it suddenly strikes you, with only one short month to go, that the one thing you haven’t made any time for was career planning. The end of college is only one short month away….now what?

Making the Transition from College to Career

With all the demands and timetables of college, especially toward the end, it can be easy for students to lose track of what they went to school for in the first place – getting a job. With so many immediate demands on your time, things that need to be taken care of within a month, or a week, or by tomorrow, it’s easy to see career concerns as something hazy and far off, something that won’t effect your for a long time. Many students assume that as long as they get their degree, the job will just fall into place, and it isn’t really something they have to worry about. After all, you just spent for years preparing yourself for a career, right? What more could you need?

It comes as a somewhat unpleasant surprise to many students that the answer is “lots.” Thirty years ago, a four-year-degree from any accredited college made you a valuable commodity in almost any job market. In today’s competitive job market, a four-year degree is a minimum qualification for entry level in many fields. Making the transition from college to career has never been harder. Many of the most important, helpful, and practical things to know about leaving school and entering “the real world” are things that they don’t teach you in class. However, no matter what stage of the process you are in, whether you’re just starting college or getting ready to leave, there are steps you can take to prepare. By knowing what you can expect and using the resources available to you, both during your college term and during your job hunting process, you can make yourself more marketable and better prepared to be making the transition from college to career.

Focus On The Future - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
With all the time and effort that college takes, it can be easy to feel like you already have a full-time career just getting your schoolwork done. Many students put the idea of a job on the back burner, thinking that the more immediate deadlines are more important, and deserve more attention. Don’t lose sight of the fact that college is the preparation, not the end goal, and that all that hard work is going to be wasted without somewhere to apply it. Throughout your time at college, especially in your last two years, it is important to focus on what comes after graduation. Yes, you want to get good grades, and yes, you shouldn’t neglect your schoolwork, but you need to make sure that your career needs don’t sneak up on you.

Have a Set Goal - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
Sit down, do some planning, and pick out a clear, attainable goal for yourself after college. What exactly would you like to do? Where do you want to be in a year? Avoid nebulous goals like “I want to work in the communications industry,” or “I want to get a well-paying job.” Give yourself a specific job title or function that you would like to fill, pick a salary that you think you are worth, and keep track of what steps you are taking or can take next to achieve that goal. Make sure this is something reasonable – remember that it’s your first job – but don’t underestimate yourself either. Even if you can’t command a high salary, think about what you might be able to ask for as far as benefits, stock options, and profit-sharing. Perhaps you get a performance evaluation at three months instead of six. Be as specific as possible, since goals are easier to attain the more tangible they are.

Make Yourself Marketable - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
If you begin thinking about your career when you have a year or two to go instead of a month or two, there are many things you can do at college to make yourself more desirable on the job market. The biggest two are internships and extracurriculars. An internship, particularly if you can get one in your field, looks great on a resume and is priceless on-the-job-experience. Extracurriculars in your field are worth more than just brownie points as well. Going into PR? Biology? Engineering? Most campuses will have student or junior organizations that are accredited in these fields. Even if it isn’t exactly what you want to do, stick with it – it looks particularly if you can eventually move into a titled position such as Treasurer or Events Coordinator. When you are job hunting or at the negotiating table with a potential employer, like things like these distinguish you from the competition and have more weight than you might think.

Get To Know Your Professors - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
Having at least one professor in your department who knows you as a person (and hopefully likes you!) is invaluable. This is the person you are going to use a reference, and who can write you letters of recommendation that show he or she is familiar with your work. This does not have to be the professor of the class where you are getting the highest grade; rather, it should be for a class where you have distinguished yourself in a unique way. Maybe this is a class where you raise your hand and participate and contribute noticeably, or maybe you’ve written a thought-provoking paper. Either way, get to know your professors, and when job-hunting time comes around, ask them if they know of any openings in the field. Professors, particularly those with doctorates, tend to keep in touch with peers and colleagues and may well give you job leads. They may even put in a good word for you.

Use Your College’s Resources - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
Almost every college today has a career-planning center of some sort, and it is worth your time to drop in. These centers offer appointments with career counselors, who can help you sort out your qualifications, your limitations, and figure out what job would be a good fit for you. Many of these centers often offer resume and cover letter services, to make sure that that you look professional, and include all the right things. This is very much worth your time, since your resume and cover letter will often be the first thing a potential employer sees of you, and many fields have specific standards for these documents. In addition, most career centers have lists of current job openings and upcoming job fairs; these are mostly updated through the web. These centers tend to be very busy in the last few weeks of school, so make an appointment as early as possible. If you don’t know where to find it on your campus, ask a professor or check your campus website.

Have Realistic Expectations - a useful step for making the transition from college to career
Many students just leaving college think that they will be working in a matter of months. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. For most college students, getting that first full-time job after leaving school take eight months to a year. You need to be prepared to wait a while before your professional plans take off. Moving into a spacious new apartment and remaining unemployed while you wait for your big break is a good way to get painfully disillusioned, and go broke in a hurry. Get a part time job at a local retail store, and live within your current budget – not the budget you anticipate having. You will probably have to work your way up in any company, even with good qualifications, so don’t limit yourself by not looking at entry-level or other less glamorous positions. Above all, don’t let the job hunt get you down. Remember that eventually, you’ll find that perfect job for you, and until then you just have to keep plugging away.


When you’re out looking for that first job, it’s important to remember the three P’s: patience, persistence, and preparation. That dream job is probably not something that you’re going to stumble on in your first week of looking, so make sure that your plans for the future don’t revolve around that happening. Be persistent, and get yourself out there by applying to every job you can – even if you don’t think it’s an exact fit with your education and qualifications, or if your had pictured something a little different. You never know what opportunities you could turn up, so be flexible and keep at it. And above all, be ready. Use the resources that your college has to offer, and start getting focused ahead of time. Figure out your qualifications and your strong points, and get them organized into a well-written resume and cover letter, and know what your goals are and what steps you can take right now to achieve them. And of course, have a plan for getting by until you do find that job. It can be a bit scary stepping out into the world for the first time. But by doing everything you can beforehand and knowing what you might expect, you will reduce the uncertainty and hopefully bring yourself a little closer to that perfect job.

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