New Expectations of College Students (And The Secret to Meeting Them)

Scott Wofford

Expectations of college students have increased dramatically in the past few years.  With rising tuition costs and an extremely competitive job market, students are expected to do more with less.  From the perspective of a recent college graduate, here are some thoughts about what it takes to be a competitive candidate for entry-level positions in today’s economy:

In addition to stellar grades, active campus involvement, and tenacious networking, college students need the following things to be competitive candidates for entry-level positions:

  1. Career goals.  Students must start their careers at the beginning of college, not the end.  A specific, but flexible plan allows students to fit the elements (below) necessary to become a qualified graduate.  This includes tenacious devotion to networking with professionals in your chosen sector/city and early internships.
  2. Four or more internships.  Perhaps in a better economy two or three internships would suffice.  However given the competitive job market, four or more internships set you apart from the competition.  Job experience is the single-most important factor in hiring and internships are the best way to gain career experience in college. 
  3. One semester of international experience.  Globalization is the business trend of the 21st century, and a semester abroad during college is the key to getting in on the action.  Not only does a semester abroad show adaptability to an unfamiliar environment, but also it shows you can provide value to a company by understanding global trends. 
  4. Fluency in a second language.  Although many job descriptions do not explicitly require a second language, fluency impresses employers and positions you as a professional equipped for  future assignments. It demonstrates discipline and illustrates the ability to learn new skills. 

Unreasonable expectations?  Not if you know the secret to success: Blend not Balance (adapted from Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Who’s Got Your Back).  Instead of trying to fit everything into a time slot, it’s essential to creatively blend these expectations.

Here are a few creative ways to blend:

  1. Quit your job and get a paid internship to pay for college.  As a student who paid for my own education, I understand how difficult it is to make ends meet while trying to build your resume.  The solution: get a paid internship.  In PR, paid internships are most common in the corporate and financial sectors.  Even if finance is not your passion, you will gain valuable experience and expertise.  (I gained a new appreciation for business fundamentals and uncovered a personal interest in international finance.)
  2. Work a part-time internship during the semester and two part-time internships during the summer.  During the semester, schedule all of your classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make time for an internship the other days of the week.  During the summer, work two part-time internships two and three days a week each.  It’s twice the exposure in the same amount of time! 
  3. Leverage a semester abroad to learn a language or do an internship.  Being proactive while you are abroad shows initiative.  Learning a language is much easier and fun through immersion than through classroom learning.  International internships are valuable because they provide experience you cannot get at home. 
  4. Take an extra semester and graduate late.  An extra semester creates time to finish a minor or to get a few more internships.  College is broadening! Why rush it?  Then, when you do graduate you’ll be more qualified than your competition for entry-level positions. 

With initiative, follow-through, and hard work you too can build an impressive resume during college.

Please comment with your thoughts or questions about “New Expectations of College Students.”  Also, you can read more about me and my college experience on my website and I’m happy to answer specific questions.

4 thoughts on “New Expectations of College Students (And The Secret to Meeting Them)

  1. Good post. But I don’t agree with you that an extra semester is worth it.

    Like you said, tuition is forever rising and the benefit of an extra semester does not outweigh the cost of tuition imo.

    You’d be much better off graduating on time and then finding an internship if you can’t find a job.

  2. Hi Sam,

    I agree, the decision to stay an extra semester depends on tuition costs.

    I went to a state school and paid in-state tuition partly offset by some scholarships, so an extra semester was a good fit.

    However, at schools with higher tuition it would make more sense to graduate on time. Good point.

  3. Great tips! Unfortunately most college freshmen don’t know what they would like to do for a career yet. It’s important they know to start early.

    I agree a semester abroad is invaluable. There are a lot of great programs out there that set students up with international internships. EUSA has an impressive record of successful placements.

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