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College Success: Preparing to Enter the Working World

CUPO students work in their labs at Clarkson University, Wednesday, May 30, 2018.
College Success: Preparing to Enter the Working World
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Editor's Note: This report is part of a continuing series offering advice to students at colleges and universities on how to be successful throughout their educational experience.

Like most good things, the fun and excitement of the college experience has to one day come to an end.

When that day comes, college and university students must take what they have learned from their study programs and use it in the real world.

Earning a degree takes several years. But Margo Jenkins says students should not wait until they have almost completed their programs to think about their next step.

Jenkins is the director of the Career Center at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. She urges college students to get professional experience early and often.

But, the challenge lies in deciding where to start.

For most students, college is the first time they are making major decisions about the direction their lives will take, Jenkins says. Although students usually choose a field of study that interests them, many do not have a clear idea of what kind of work they want in the future.

“It’s a lot less … being told that they’re going to do a certain thing,” Jenkins told VOA. “It’s a lot more like, ‘What are you interested in? You need to go pursue that now … So … we’re here … to guide the student in the right direction.”

Students gather to do work together at Clarkson University.
Students gather to do work together at Clarkson University.

Almost every college and university in the United States has a career center on campus, she says. The schools usually try to connect new students with these services as soon as they arrive. Even if a student may not know the exact kind of job they want, there are plenty of steps they can take before making such a decision.

Most employers expect people to provide certain materials when applying for a job. These materials usually include a record of previous related experience -- or resume. They also include a short written explanation of why the person wants the job -- or cover letter. The skill of putting these materials together is not often taught in a classroom, Jenkins notes. But college career centers can offer students the advice they need to do so as effectively as possible.

The same goes for training students to present themselves well during job interviews, Jenkins says.

But, for students who have more questions than answers about their career path, there is another very important service these centers offer. They can connect students with temporary employment experiences known as internships and co-ops.

Activities, and Hockey during the 2018 COGO event at Clarkson University, Saturday, January 27,2018
Activities, and Hockey during the 2018 COGO event at Clarkson University, Saturday, January 27,2018

Internships and co-ops are not like normal jobs. They are short-term positions with a company. They let students test their knowledge and abilities in the real world. They also help student make professional connections they can use in the future and decide if a given kind of work or company is a good fit for them.

Internships are usually in the summer, often centering on short-term projects. Some internships are unpaid, so it can be difficult for students with fewer financial resources to become involved in them. Co-ops, on the other hand, are often full-time, paid positions. A student usually suspends their classes for an entire term to become intensely involved in the operations of a company.

Jenkins says these kinds of programs have become increasingly important. More and more employers have come to expect this kind of experience on students’ resumes.

In fact, about 90 percent of Clarkson University students go through an internship, co-op or research experience before completing their studies.

Jenkins said, “This is the only point in a student’s life where they’re going to be able to try out jobs for a couple of months at a time … with absolutely no risk.”

To make this possible, career centers keep close relationships with employers in many industries, she says. They also maintain relationships with former students, who may be able to offer advice to current students on similar career paths.

Jenkins argues this is especially important for students who begin their studies in one field but decide they want to completely change directions.

I’m ­Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor. We want to hear from you. What kinds of career services do colleges and universities in your country offer? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

excitementn. a feeling of eager enthusiasm and interest

degreen. an official document and title that is given to someone who has successfully completed a series of classes at a college or university

professionaladj. relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill

challengen. something that is hard to do

certainadj. used to refer to something or someone that is not named specifically

pursuev. to try to get or do something over a period of time

campusn. the area and buildings around a university, college, or school

apply(ing) forp.v. to ask formally for something, such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan, usually in writing

interview(s) – n. a formal meeting with someone who is being considered for a job or other position