Author: Tonya Nelson

Senior Status: Deciding Where to Go Post-Grad

One of the harder decisions for after graduation is deciding where you want to end up. You might have once dreamed about living in NYC, but does that still seem like a possibility now with the job market and the career you want? If you’ve spent your whole life, including college, living close to family, is it time to move away or can you not stand the thought of leaving them behind? For some, it’s as simple as moving to wherever you can find a job. For others, this could be the hardest decision since deciding where to apply for college.

After college is when your life truly begins. Or so everyone says. We have our first real jobs, a house or apartment to ourselves, and we’re completely responsible for our own well being. If that doesn’t sound stressful enough, we have to figure out where will make us happiest—or at least where we can tolerate living until something better comes along. So where do we begin deciding what we want to do and where we want to go?

It seems the best way to go about this decision is to talk to advisors about a career path. Meet with your favorite professors in your field, go to career services at your school, and even talk to your family about what you can do with your degree. Though you might not know what you want to do down to the job title, you probably have some idea as to what kind of workplace you can see yourself in—after all, thinking about a future job is probably what got you into your college major. But if you’ve changed your mind about the career path you may have begun forging for yourself with your degree and internships, definitely do some research on your own and take advantage of people on campus to figure out the best next steps.

When you do have a career path in mind and know what kind of position you want—and can be hired for—it’s time for more research. Though you might feel qualified for a position after your undergrad work, sometimes certain fields or job titles require a higher level of education. Others might scare you in their job descriptions with requests for people with years of experience in the field. Don’t let these things discourage you. If you’re holding off on graduate school or just know you never want to bother with it, it’s important to look into other options; if you’re dead-set on a certain position though, you may want to reconsider your nay to graduate school if it’s needed.

Once you figure out what skills you have, what kind of job you want and can get hired for, it’s time to think about who you want to work for. Obviously, a major part of this decision is paying attention to who’s hiring. But before getting into all that, you should make a list of companies where you would like to work. For example, as an art history major, I looked into a lot of museums, including the big well-knowns like MoMA. Check out their websites, find out what positions they have open or even if they have any internships you can start off with. Though you might not get a job at the big-name companies right off the bat, at least you’ll start to have an idea of what kind of experience they want in their staff and the kinds of positions they offer. If you have a certain place you want to live, start with those companies and begin crafting resumes and cover letters for there first. Though it might be scary, don’t be afraid to apply to jobs farther from home and in places you’d never expect to live in. Even if you don’t end up there long term, it’s a good foot in the door to have and can lead to an even better future.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Take advantage of your family, friends, and campus services to help set you on the right path for you. But don’t be afraid to go after what you really want, even if your family will be on the other side of the world or your friends don’t like your decision. This is where your life really begins, and you can live it the way you want to.

Happy researching!

Senior Status: Networking is Your New Bestie

As a senior, making career connections is more important than ever. That means your social media profiles need to be up to snuff, and you should be taking proactive measures to talk to potential employers and people in the field (aka people who could potentially help you land a job). It’s a lot to think about, so take it a step at a time.

To get started, you should look at your profiles and decide how professional they are. Do your friends write comments about partying, post unflattering pictures or swear all over your Facebook wall? Do all your tweets consist of a play by play of your night, reaching out to friends, or simply focused on stalking your favorite celebrities? It’s time to clean up your act. Making your profile private won’t do much for you. Sometimes employers will have you log in during the interview, or they’ll find some way to find some of your information. The best thing to do is delete and privatize certain things. Maybe make certain friends’ wall posts for your eyes only, so they don’t take your reputation down with them. You can block all pictures you’ve been tagged in so people on your profile can’t see them; however, the pictures are still floating around the Internet and could be found at some point. You should ask whoever posted the images to take them down to be safest. Delete tweets that don’t do anything to boost your professional image. And if you don’t already have one, create a LinkedIn, which is considered one of the most important career tools in social media.

Once your act is all cleaned up, it’s time to go on an outreach frenzy. Take some time to think about your field, and who would be important to follow and learn from. For example, if you’re in journalism, you should be following magazines, newspapers, broadcast stations and any news outlet you like. You should also look to follow writers and reporters. Who you follow on Twitter says a lot about you to employers, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do with your account. Try tweeting to them on occasion, with comments or questions. If they’re really popular, they might not get back to you (ever), but it’s worth a try and helps show you’re proactive with your career. Even some re-tweets from non-celebrities will show you take your social media professionally and demonstrate how you’re trying to improve your skills in the field—by looking at the best of the best.

Besides reaching out on Twitter, LinkedIn is key. The easiest way to reach out to people not in your networks and working in a field you desperately want to get into is searching for alums. Though you haven’t graduated yet, you can join your college’s alumni group on LinkedIn and from there, life will be so much easier. You can search the group for companies, location, and even similar interests to learn about the job market in a certain area, what a company looks for when hiring, or what working like the field is like in general. People like to help others, and if they’re passionate for their school, they’ll definitely be willing to help a new graduate. Just remember to be polite, not be pushy, and never straight up ask for a job. Seek advice and tips instead, which will serve you better in the long run.

In other words, social media isn’t just for fun anymore. That doesn’t mean you can’t put up fun statuses for your friends’ birthdays or ever post any pictures from a party (though try to avoid the drinking pics if they exist), but you should be more conscious of what you post. You should focus on connecting with people who make a difference in your field and show you’re paying attention to what’s new. Look for roles models so your own Twitter can one day serve as a strong model for new young professionals entering the field. Now’s the time to really focus on yourself and the future, so why not put in the extra effort to look like the prime candidate for a job offer?

Best of luck and happy (professional) tweeting!

Should I Stay or Should I Drop?

Deciding whether to stay in or drop a class can be challenging. Sometimes it’s tempting to drop just based on the professor alone, the class time or the work load. But before making a hasty decision, you need to weigh the pros and cons and determine if staying might be better for your future courses after all.

When considering dropping a class, you should first consider why you want to drop it in the first place. Do you just want to take the class with a different professor? Do you feel bad about your friends all being in a different section? Is it just too hard to wake up for 9:30 am? If you only have one reason to drop—and not a very good one—you should stick it out for the semester. One early class won’t kill you, and might actually make you more productive later on. Being without buddies is a good way to make new ones…or just make your way through the class being the quiet observer that doesn’t annoy the professor. If your desire to drop the class is more than superficial reasoning, you have some more consideration to do.

If you have an overloaded schedule (and by that, I mean more than 15 credits), lots of upper level classes and just overall lots of work, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to drop that killer class that is so not going to be a GPA booster. If you just want to drop one class because you’re taking too many, you should also consider how dropping your hardest class will affect your schedule the next time around. Would saving it for later mean an even harder semester? Sometimes letting go of the fun elective is the better decision when you have to create a sequence or have to take classes in a certain order for your major.

So, before you even think about hitting that drop class button, you need to do some planning ahead. If the course is a prerequisite for another class you have to take, say no to the temptation. If it’s a course required for your major that you can take at any time…well, consider how hard the class will really be (sometimes the profs scare you on the first day wit their syllabus and grading policies, but they turn out to be super lenient and get off track almost immediately) before deciding whether or not you should put it off. If it’s a prerequisite for classes that you really want to take, then it’s up to you whether or not you want to stick it out; sometimes you can replace it with another class or change up a sequence to still get into the ones you want to take and avoid the classes you could care less about.

If you have a job or internship over the course of the semester, its workload shouldn’t be taken lightly when added to all your school work. If you need a lot of work hours and it’s hard to fit into your schedule with an extra class, then maybe dropping will help your work opportunities. If all you do at work is sit at a desk and do homework while occasionally helping someone on a project, I think you can handle having one more class in your schedule.

At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your sanity. Figure out what you can handle—there’s no reason to completely stress yourself out if the course is unnecessary or can wait to be taken later. Consider your work load, the time needed to put into the class, if not taking the class will mess up your schedule for the rest of your college career and whether or not the class is actually needed. Don’t automatically drop if you don’t like the professor—having a good relationship with them is important, but one bad teacher for a class you really need to take isn’t too much to handle now and then.

Good luck and happy studies!

Graduating Early: Facing the Last Semester of College

Spring semester, just a few months ago really (though it feels like forever), I decided with my parents’ help to graduate a semester early. I studied abroad in Italy over the summer, giving me extra credits with only a regular semester’s worth needed to fulfill all of my graduation requirements. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I felt like I should celebrate the fact that I wouldn’t be in school forever. I would save myself and my parents a nice chunk of change. Even better, I’d miss a good portion of walking around campus in the brutal Syracuse winter.

But now the semester is starting. And I’m freaking out. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up—correction: what I want to be when I graduate…because I’m already grown up! Am I ready to really be off on my own, paying all my own bills, taking care of myself completely? Where will I find this job? Should I look into grad school or take a break? What connections do I have to make this process easier? Brain overload! I thought leaving school early would make my life easier. But it truly isn’t when your whole life has been focused on school and letting your parents support you.

Here’s the thing…we’re all going to go through this eventually, sooner or later. Whether you’re just a freshman starting out or a senior with a whole year ahead of you, faster than we think we’ll be out on our own. Our parents did it before us, so why can’t we? Right now, on the brink of my life really beginning, I feel really nervous because I don’t have a definite plan or the certainty of what I want to do, where I want to be. In reality, that’s some of the excitement. Even if I knew exactly what kind of job I wanted down to the company, the city, the title, there’s no guarantees I’d get that job. Life in unpredictable, and all I can do is work my hardest and try my best to succeed.

For anyone considering graduating early or in the same boat as me, let’s take a deep breath. We made it through college. We’re graduating, and that’s an amazing thing. Being hard working enough to graduate early is even better. We stressed about school and homework and finals our whole lives. Now we can take a breath and plunge into our future, what we’ve been striving for forever. You might not feel like it now, but you can do this. You have friends and family to call on if you need help figuring out why your one apartment door doesn’t close all the way, or what’s the best way to ask for a deserved raise, or even how to change your career path if it’s not working out. We’re never alone. We’re not the only ones starting our careers or finding our way in the world. And though that’s still unnerving, just know we can do it. Optimism is the best way to face the future, especially when you still have months or years to go until having to make these sorts of decisions.

So, going into this semester, I don’t have a plan. I’m going to go to class, do my work, complain about how hard these classes are, try to find time to relax, and hope for the best. And somewhere along the line, my future will become clearer. I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with my life, apply for jobs or grad schools and just let the chips fall where they may. It’s ok to not have a definite plan or always know where life is going to take you. As a young adult, this it the time more than ever to try and fail and try again. Let’s see where this semester takes us—we’re in this together.

Best wishes and happy new school year!

Study Abroad: Preparing to Come Home

Your study abroad adventure is coming to a close. You have to say goodbye to your host family and your new home and prepare to come back to the old one. It may sound simple enough. Enjoy your last few nights, soak in your memories and make promises to return. Get excited to sleep in your own bed, reunite with your puppy and make plans with your friends at the homefront. But a lot will have changed when you return—including you.

After being in a foreign country for so long, you may experience reverse culture shock. Everything at home may start to feel weird to you from how you flush the toilet (in Italy, you either push a button or use a foot pedal), to the height of the ceilings (so much lower in America), to your relationship with friends. You and your friends had completely different experiences while you were away and it may take some time to relate to one another—if that relationship hasn’t changed completely by your own personal growths. Not to freak you out. You won’t necessarily not have your friends anymore or hate everything about home. It will just take time to adjust and get used to being back in America. With time, you’ll fall back into your old habits and things will be back to normal. But before heading home, you should start mentally preparing for the differences in culture, so it will be less of a shock to your system.

A good way to ready yourself for home is to skype with your friends and family the week of your planned departure. You can have your siblings walk you through your halls and your room so it feels more familiar again. You can ask your parents to prepare meals similar to what you had been eating while you were away so you can ease your stomach back into its usual eating habits. Make plans with your friends to hang out in your usual places to catch up. But also, give yourself time to relax and adjust. The second you get back doesn’t have to be go! Go! Go! Your sleep schedule will need time to right itself too, so take it easy and mentally get back into the American mindset.

Besides getting ready to return home, you need to prepare yourself to say goodbye. Visit your favorite spots and soak in the smells, the atmosphere, the feeling you get when you go there. Take in all the views and the architecture and the people (besides all the tourists) wandering around the streets nearby. Spend more time lingering over your food and paying attention to all the different flavors. And spend more time with your host family, even if it is sitting around a bit longer after dinner or watching one more show on TV with them at night. Even better, plan to keep in touch with them after you return home. Give them your address and email—even your phone number if you’re willing to overlook the expense of those calls. Remember as much as you can so you can have a piece of your experience with you at all times, wherever you are.

At the end of the day, coming home is bittersweet. You have the chance for a wonderful reunion and a break from school, but you have to say goodbye to all your new loves. But that’s ok. Your memories and craving to go back to that country will lead you back eventually. In the meantime, home, sweet home.