How to get more out of college – and make more after leaving

There’s nothing like a college education to help you on the road to success, but are you ready to get all you can out of it? College isn’t just about studying and getting good academic results. It’s an opportunity to start building up a career-focused social network which could make all the difference to you in later life. If you’re truly ambitious, this is the time to get serious about your future.

Start with a plan

What is it that you really want to get out of college? What do you want to do after you graduate, and what do you need to have in place to make that possible? It’s all too easy to find yourself setting off for college full of ambition and then just frittering away your time for the first couple of years, only to find yourself too busy to focus on anything beyond your academic work later. What you need to do is sit down at the very start, work out your objectives and identify clear ways that you can work toward them.

Get to know your professors

The American Dream is built on the notion that if you really apply yourself, you can work your way up to the top from any starting point. The reality is that that simply doesn’t work out for most of those who try, and that it’s far more effective to start out by building connections at the top. In college, this means getting to know the faculty – the more senior, the better. Take a bit of time for research, read the work they’ve published and ask them questions about it. They’ll be delighted that you’re taking an interest. It’s a great way to make yourself stand out, start networking and increase your chances of getting strong academic references.

Join clubs and societies

As well as getting to know staff, it’s important to network with your peers, because you never know how useful the contacts could be to you later in life. One way to do this is by joining clubs and societies. They could relate to subjects you’re passionate about – which makes it easy to form strong friendships – or they could be explicitly focused on career success. If you follow Jon Neuhaus’ Twitter account, then you’ll have heard of the Red Jacket Society, which specializes in building connections between promising college students and people in the world of business. It’s a great choice for entrepreneurs as it can help to provide you with first stage funding to help your start-up get into gear.

Look beyond your major

Most college students get through the courses they can’t avoid and then focus all their academic attention on the one or two subjects which are the focus of their degrees. What they may not realize is that most colleges are actually happy to have their students sit in on any class, in any department, to enhance their wider knowledge base. This provides a great opportunity to explore your interests, and it can also be a great way to build connections. If, for instance, you’re a biology major with a great idea for a start-up but you’ll need computer expertise to make it happen, attending a few computing classes could help you to reach out and find just the people you need.

Attend guest lectures

Alongside regular classes, most colleges also host guest lecturers and other special events which enable business leaders to connect with students. It’s a really good idea to attend these, not only because you might get to meet the speakers themselves and get useful advice (or, if you’re lucky, find a mentor), but also because you’ll meet other students as keen to get ahead as you are. Don’t think of them as competition – reach out and make friends, because after you graduate, they could be some of the most useful people you know, even if they end up working in very different fields.

Seek out summer internships

College isn’t all about what happens during each semester. It also offers you a long summer vacation which you can use to your advantage. The best summer internships are highly sought after, so it’s never too early to express an interest. Even before you go to college, you can be thinking about what makes you stand out and how you can pitch yourself as a candidate for such a role. Whatever you choose, make sure that your internship does what it says on the tin – that is, it shouldn’t just be a chance to attach your name to that of a leading company or to make valuable contacts, though both of those things help. It should also be a situation which sees you receive real, practical training and mentoring, preparing you for the future.

If you approach your college years in the right way, you can get much more than an academic education. You can get on the fast track to a topflight career.