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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

Take Advantage of These Opportunities During College to Prepare Yourself for Future Career Success

Young Black woman reading a book
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High academic achievement is important in college because it helps prepare students for their future careers. Although technical skills gained from academic study are important, there are noncognitive skills not often taught in college that are equally important for professional success. For example, many college students graduate without any personal or professional development. Some graduate without any exposure to culturally diverse environments. Other college graduates do not understand the importance of networking for career advancement. Below are five opportunities that every student should consider in college if he or she wants to better prepare for a successful career.

Student Organizations

Active membership in a student organization can help students gain important personal and professional development skills. Participating in an on-campus student organization will benefit college graduates in the workplace by helping them develop in the following areas:

  • Leadership

  • Collaboration and Teamwork

  • Time Management

  • Organization and Multitasking

  • Negotiation and Persuasion

  • Money Management

  • Public Speaking

  • Networking

Additionally, according to a Gallup study of 30,000 college graduates across the United States, college graduates who were extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while in college were 1.8 times more engaged than their peers who were not active while in college.

Make it happen

Most universities have an online registry of student organizations on campus. Go online and identify a few organizations that you may be interested in. For example, consider student organizations related to your major. Next, research the organizations online and narrow down your list. After narrowing down your list, attend a few meetings for each organization and ask student leaders what leadership opportunities exist. For each organization, please ask them to share their mission statement and how they fulfill their mission. Ask about opportunities for networking, professional development, and community involvement. Finally, take some time to consider each group and then decide which one or ones will allow you to grow the most, apply for membership, and become active.

If you are adventurous and can't find an active organization on campus that you're interested in, you could check to see if there's a dormant organization that you can reactivate. Alternatively, you could start your own group with friends who share your interests. Starting or reactivating a group can be a lot of work, but you will almost certainly acquire personal and professional development skills that you wouldn't get from academic study alone.

Bonus Tip: In the interview process, activity in a student organization will distinguish you from students with similar academic scores who are not active within student organizations.

Undergraduate Professional Experience

Most employers are looking for college graduates with some work experience. Internship positions are great because they allow students to gain work experience and apply academic learning in a professional environment. Interns also gain valuable experience working with various professionals and are exposed to workplace etiquette and culture. Because students get early exposure to working in their field of study, internships are a good predictor of future engagement. Gallup’s research reports that “the odds of being engaged at work are two times higher if a college graduate had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they learned in the classroom” (p. 10).

Cooperative education, also known as co-op, provides excellent opportunities to help prepare young professionals to transition from college to work. Co-ops offer more extensive work experiences than internships because they can last up to a year in length. Unlike most internships, this allows co-ops to make a greater impact on the company. Gallup’s research finds that “the odds of being engaged at work are 1.8 times higher if a college graduate worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete” (p. 10).

If a co-op is not an option, consider participating in undergraduate research. Undergraduate research can allow students to explore career opportunities. Additionally, undergraduate research allows students to develop problem-solving skills and prepare them for defending their work, which is important in the workplace.

Make it happen

Start early! It is not uncommon for underclassmen to get internships and co-ops; the more professional college experiences, the better. Also, speak with your professors and determine what undergraduate research opportunities exist.

Utilize your university career services center to get help creating a resume and updating your LinkedIn profile. Make sure that you take a professional-quality headshot for your LinkedIn profile. Then identify companies that you are interested in. Visit the company websites online and interact with the companies on LinkedIn. Contact companies directly to see if they offer internships or co-ops. Ask the companies if they will be conducting any recruiting on campus during the semester.

Next, get some business attire and attend your university or college career fair. If your student professional organization has a regional or national career fair, plan to attend those career fairs, too. If you get invited for an interview, practice your interview skills. Once you have finished your interview, follow up with the company with a thank you letter or email.

Bonus Tip: Gallup’s research indicates that if a college graduate experienced an internship, was involved in student organizations, and participated in a semester project, the graduate was 2.4 times more likely to be engaged at work (p. 10).

Foreign Language

The workplace has become increasingly global, and language is the key to communicating with teams and customers worldwide. As a result, learning a foreign language could greatly help students in their future careers.

Many leaders at the top of organizations worldwide speak more than their native language. A Korn/Ferry International poll reports that 31% of executives speak two languages. An additional 20% speak three languages, 9% speak four languages, and as many as 4% speak more than four languages (see Note 1 at the bottom).

Also, a study published in Psychological Science found that decisions made in a second language are more analytical than identical decisions made in one’s native language. Additionally, the National Institute of Health Research concluded that bilingual individuals have a greater ability to multitask than monolingual individuals.

Learning a foreign language can be difficult for most and is not for everyone, however, but if you have the capability and discipline to learn a foreign language, it could give you an advantage over your monolingual colleagues in the areas of multitasking and decision-making.

Make it happen

First, evaluate the career that you intend to pursue. What region of the world may your career take you? Who will your audience, customers, and colleagues be? What languages do they speak and conduct business in?

Consider: China is an emerging global power. Over a billion people speak one of the Chinese languages, with Mandarin being the most popular Chinese language. Although Chinese languages are difficult to learn, this may be a wise choice to consider. Spanish is the second most spoken language by the number of native speakers and is also a wise choice to consider.

Finally, speak with your academic advisor. Once you’ve determined that you will pursue a foreign language, decide if you are only taking a few classes or if you will declare a minor or double major.

Bonus Tip: If you don’t want to spend time learning a foreign language in an academic setting, consider joining an ethnic organization on campus and immerse yourself in their language or find a friend willing to help you learn the language. Another option is that there are several language learning apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and others. Each app has its strengths, but know that learning language apps are limited compared to instructor-led language study.

Overseas Study

The workplace is more culturally diverse than ever due to changing demographics within the country. For this reason, students must be better prepared to work in these diverse environments. An overseas study provides students with an excellent opportunity to appreciate new cultures and adapt to an unfamiliar environment. This will benefit students greatly in the workplace. An overseas study also allows students to learn a new language and grow their global network.

Many of the leaders within organizations have studied overseas, too. A 2017 study by the study choice portal Study.Eu found that 32% of the world's top CEOs spent part of their university studies abroad, strongly exceeding the general average of around 6%. This suggests that studying overseas can be a valuable experience for aspiring executives.

Make it happen

If you are a college student, talk to your academic advisors and see if a foreign exchange or study abroad program exists. Also, ask your academic advisors if any scholarships or grants are available for studying overseas.

Some school departments have faculty-led abroad opportunities. If a formal exchange or overseas study is not an option, explore a faculty-led opportunity.

If you can afford not to work for a year, consider taking a gap year after high school or college and traveling abroad.

Bonus Tip: Studying overseas in college could help better position yourself for an overseas assignment as a professional.

Sports & Leisure Activities

Golf and Tennis

Golf is a great way for professionals to get to know clients better, create new business, and expand their network. The networking potential of golf is undeniable. According to data compiled by Syracuse University’s online MBA Program:

  • 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf.

  • CEOs who regularly play golf are paid 17% more on average than those who do not.

  • In a survey of business professionals who play golf, 50% agree that how a person plays is very similar to how he or she conducts business.

  • 54% see golf as the perfect networking tool.

  • 80% agree that playing golf aids in establishing new business contacts.

  • 93% say playing golf with a business associate is a good way to establish a closer relationship.

Although tennis may not be as popular as golf in the business world, there are still many opportunities to network via tennis. Tennis is also a great alternative to golf because it takes less time to play so it can be played both after work and on the weekends. Golf, however, is typically a weekend activity unless you can get out of the office for a day. Another benefit of tennis is that unless you’re playing doubles, it’s just you against the person you’re trying to network with.

Make it happen

If you are a beginner, first learn the rules of the sport. There are many books and videos online where you can learn the basic rules.

Next, invest in some affordable equipment. Golf clearly requires more equipment than tennis to play. Check out Amazon and golf outlet stores for deals. Don’t be afraid to buy preowned equipment. Depending on how frequently you play, consider renting equipment.

Now, take some lessons. If you cannot afford lessons, find a friend willing to give you some simple instructions. For golf, practice at your local driving range. Some universities have a physical education requirement, so you should see if your university offers golf or tennis as an elective. Most colleges have intramural golf and tennis leagues. Student fees often pay for these intramural leagues and could provide another opportunity to learn to play with other students.

For even more information about golf for beginners, Golf Digest provides much advice.

Golf Note: Remain patient. It takes time to become good at golf. You don’t have to play like Tiger Woods to benefit from golf. Focus on the basics and be committed to growing your skill, and you will fit right in with your peers at work who golf.

Lastly, some universities have a club golf team affiliated with the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA). Also, some universities offer club tennis through the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Tennis on Campus program. Club sports are organized competitions against students at other schools. Club sports are more competitive than intramural golf and offer opportunities to play in regional and national tournaments. If you are a more experienced golfer or tennis player, try out for the club teams at your university.

Hunting, Angling, and Shooting

Leisure activities such as hunting and fishing (angling) are common networking activities in the business world. Rifling and shotgun sports such as clay, trap, double trap, and skeet shooting are popular. Firing a pistol at the shooting range is also a common networking activity. So, if you want to build relationships, it could be wise to learn the basics of these leisure activities and shooting sports.

Make it happen:

Check to see if you need a state license for outdoor activity. Check to see if your school offers fishing and shooting classes or find a group of friends or classmates that do these leisure activities and join them. Many colleges have recreational teams for hunters, fishers, and shotgunners. Those with advanced abilities should consider trying out for their club sports or college NCAA team.


College is a great time to learn and try new things, but don’t feel pressured to pursue all five suggested opportunities. It is best to choose only activities that you are genuinely interested in. However, if you explore maybe three of the five opportunities above, you will be more likely to be engaged in your future career and increase your ability to network. High technical skills, engagement, and networking will help prepare you for a long prosperous career.

Thanks for reading. Please support Professional Plus!

Note 1: The Korn/Ferry International poll results are widely quoted on the internet, but the results could not be found on the Korn/Ferry website.


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