College is a new stage of life, where you have opportunities to experience things you never have before. Although not every opportunity is right for everyone, by considering your interests, goals, and plans for the future, you can get an idea of what experiences might benefit you. College may also be the time in your life during which you have the most flexibility to travel, build skills for your future career, and take advantage of what’s around you. Below is a list of experiences and opportunities that every college student should at least consider!
Study abroad: Traveling to another country, even if it’s just for a weeklong vacation, is an amazing experience. Studying abroad not only gives you the opportunity to travel somewhere new, but also to live somewhere foreign for a period of time (and to take classes for credit while you’re there!). Although it’s totally possible to travel after you graduate and start your career, your time will be much more limited. Most American companies give only two weeks of paid vacation, which isn’t nearly the same thing as the four months you’d get by participating in a study abroad program. Unless you end up working from home, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to go live somewhere else for several months without getting a new job. The point is, study abroad is an opportunity that won’t be available after college. Talk to your professors and the study abroad office to ensure that any credits you earn will transfer back to your school.
Internships: As a way to get experience and make connections in a competitive field, internships are hard to beat. Although they may be paid or unpaid, either type could lead to a job offer at the end. Students pursuing especially competitive fields should consider internships the most strongly, as it shows dedication to the field that can set you apart from your peers, but an internship enhances anyone’s résumé. While you can find internships as early as high school, many students complete internships during the summer before their sophomore or junior year of college (when you’ll have a better idea of your future plans). Some students even complete multiple internships across one or more fields. Use these opportunities to determine what you like and dislike about particular careers.
Research opportunities: For those in the sciences (including social sciences), internships are not common. Instead, students can participate in research projects related to their desired field. Although opportunities may not be as plentiful at liberal arts schools as they are at research universities, if you look you can find them! Talk with your professors and your advisor, and ask around on campus. Participating in any type of research project (whether it’s monitoring plant species under different conditions or interpreting the results of a survey) gives you experience in various steps of the research process, including designing a study, collecting data, analyzing data, and summarizing results. These skills are critical in the science and social science fields, will enhance your résumé, and may even get your name on a scientific paper.
Travel: Even if you decide not to study abroad, you can travel during breaks. You don’t have to go international, either. Even just a trip to a new city or state in the U.S. is a great experience. Have you always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon? Do you want to visit all of the National Parks? With spring, summer, and winter breaks built into the college calendar, you have significant flexibility in your schedule. Take advantage of this time, because when you graduate, begin your job search, and start your career, your vacation time will be much more limited.
Events and excursions: Most colleges have regular events on campus that are free for students or available at significantly reduced rates. These events may include talks, theater shows, or movie screenings on campus. Sometimes schools will plan excursions out to local landmarks or events (bussing students to the nearest large city for a concert or to a recreational area for boating or camping). One of the most ubiquitous activities to do on campus is to attend a sporting event—whether it’s football, basketball, ultimate frisbee, or some other sport. Sporting events tend to draw large groups of students, creating an energetic atmosphere that is unique. Even if you don’t follow sports, and generally don’t go to sporting events, you should absolutely go to at least one game of whatever sport your school plays best!
Language classes: Any second language (but especially Spanish or Chinese) will be a valuable and marketable skill. If you took a language in high school, consider continuing the same language in college; your goal is to speak another language fluently. It’s harder to pick up a new language the older you get, so the sooner you start, the better. Knowing a second language isn’t only useful for those who want to be translators or who want to travel to foreign countries; any company that has an international market or works with a broad range of customers will seek multilingual employees. Lump in your language studies with study abroad to get the most bang for your buck!
Events within your major: Put in a little bit of work now to set yourself up for success later. Take advantage of everything that your department offers. You may be able to attend guest lectures, participate in weekend field trips, or take classes that aren’t open to other students. Get to know your professors and go above and beyond with extracurricular activities like research projects and internships. All of these things show that you are a dedicated and hardworking student, and will make you stand out among your classmates. When it comes time to get a letter of recommendation or ask about job opportunities, you’ll be set.
Explore your interests: Consider unusual subjects that you may never get the chance to take again, like scuba diving, sailing, or cross country skiing, especially if your school requires a certain number of physical education credits. (I took a karate class my senior year just because I could, and it was actually a lot of fun.) You may also be able to take a CPR or Wilderness First Responder class for a serious discount if you sign up through your school. These are good skills to know, and you’ll be in classes with all of your friends, which is a bonus. Furthermore, factor your interests into your elective decisions. For example, even if you’re an economics major, if you’ve always liked photography and have room in your schedule, take a class in it just because. You may not end up with a career in photography, but your skills are sure to expand and you’ll develop a hobby to keep exploring!
What opportunities are you planning to take advantage of?