As educators, assisting prospective college students is an increasingly complex landscape of personal and academic preparedness. The role of the instructor has evolved from the confines of the classroom to the holistic responsibility of preparing and guiding students in their journey into higher education.
Part academic, part life coach, part researcher, and part pedagogical specialist it’s a daunting task for even the most seasoned faculty member. But the reality of college life – both for students and instructors – is that it’s about more than just academics. These days, for those embarking on college, life experience and contribution to one’s personal and community well being are just as important as collegiate credentials. So, how can instructors best prepare the future workforce to enter college, navigate that academic experience and successfully transition into the workforce and society?
An important first step towards preparing students for college is breaking out the important and distinct life-milestones into three stages – each with their own coaching and support needs.
How to Prepare for College
The work of preparing for college starts early. Solid preparation starts with having a flexible roadmap comprised of academic background, life experience, goal setting. Students can benefit from:
- Looking Inward
Encourage students to reflect on what they want from their college experience - both during and after graduation. Going to college is an important decision and conceptualizing how their future will be impacted by a college degree establishes the “big picture” for this decision.
- Build the portfolio of “you”
Encourage students to be well-rounded and build their portfolio of life experience. Colleges expect students to have a broad range of interests and exposure, adding to the experience for the individual and others in the classroom. Consider volunteering or performing community service, join the high school debate team, continue with sports and activities. And, most importantly, encourage students to share those experiences in the classroom so others can benefit.
- Know your abilities
Coach students to be aware of how they perform best as a student, as well as areas for improvement. Ask them to make a list describing attributes of a learning environment that best fits their style. What learning environment do they thrive best in? Do they learn best from examples and visual cues, or seminar style discourse versus a lecture format? And, ask them to be honest with areas for opportunity, like do they need to have a system to take better notes or study for exams.
How to Be Successful in College
Once in college, students must sustain their academic livelihood amidst potential distractions and life experiences, while concurrently preparing for the workforce. To be prepared, students can look to:
- Have a strategic plan
Just like in the workforce, those entering college can benefit from having an action plan anchored in objectives and actions that support the achievement of a college degree. Students can make a plan with a clear focus and intent. How does a new college student do this? Ask them to answer questions such as “What is the reason to attend college?” “What will I do with this degree?” “How does my college education fit into my life plans?” The answers to these questions are the source material college students can use to map objectives with actionable items. Students can set 3-5 objectives (e.g., to graduate in four years; maintain a 3.5 GPA each year, manage a job as a full-time student), followed by listing 3-5 action items.
- Do a few things very well
Successful students are those who can accomplish a few key items very well. This means staying laser-focused on class work and ruthlessly prioritizing how time is spent. At the start of each week, students can make a list of action items, prioritizing the list and staying focused on completing the list. Know when assignments are due, work backward with a timeline and learn to manage multiple workstreams.
- Build Relationships with faculty and staff
College is subculture complete with a cast of characters like faculty, administrators, guidance counselors, etc. These are the supporting actors of a college career. Encourage students to build relationships with professors, get to know the Dean and be respectful of these people as their job is to set students up for success. Coach students to meet with their professors and ask provocative questions about the course, inquire about how the course material fits with their college plan. Students can maximize their experience by building meaningful relationships with faculty and staff, creating a network for eventually landing a job.
Making the Transition to the Workforce:
The time for students to prepare to enter the workplace happens during college. Some key steps include:
- Flesh out your resume
No matter the level of work experiences it’s important for students to build out their resumes early. Encourage students to seek out professional help with your school’s career services department.
- Utilize campus career resources
Most colleges and universities have a lot of excellent free career resources for students. Do you know how many students take advantage of them? Unfortunately, very few. According to a 2018 McGraw-Hill Education Future Workforce Survey, only 37% of students seek out resume support, 36% utilize them to get internship placements, 28% get interview preparation help, and only 25% visit alumni networking events. Point out the availability and usefulness of these resources before job hunting “crunch” time.
- Explore potential employers early
Those looking for internships or a full-time job can list target places for employment and map those to their network. Students can get to know their target employers by following their news, announcements, and industry. For example, set up alerts on Google to be current on company news.
- Network like a pro
A student’s network of who they know outside of college is the support system that will help them make the transition from college into the workforce. Build that network of people in the workforce, setting a goal of at least 1-3 meetings a week. Coach them to set up coffee meetings, attend local networking events, create a set of business cards so people know how to find them and track those contacts for follow-up actions. Leverage LinkedIn to connect with people and network. The goal is to be well-known and well regarded!
Attending and graduating from college is an amazing achievement. And, like all achievements, it comes with hard work, planning, discipline, and solid execution. Educators can help students with this by making a meaningful impact and encouraging them to think beyond the coursework, creating a plan for before, during and after college life.