Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

How to Get IRL Experience for Your Post-Grad Career, Before You’re Even a College Senior

I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like my professors, mentors and parents are constantly asking me about my post-graduation plans and whether or not I’m ready to join the professional world. It’s a loaded question though, because there’s no way to know how ready you are until you actually get out there and start doing your thing. 

But what I’ve learned throughout my time as a student is that there are some steps you can take — yes, while you’re still enrolled in classes and biding your time till graduation — to help you stand out in the job search, even if that’s not something you have to think about for a few more semesters. 

1. Internships are actually important

Everyone has a different opinion on internships and how valuable they can be, but I’ve found that completing an internship was one of my most fruitful undergrad experiences. Internships provide you with the opportunity to see what working in your chosen industry might actually look like post grad, and it can help to expand your professional network as well. 

If you’re interested in pursuing an internship while you’re in college, there are tons of resources available to help you prep and guide you through the process. As an added benefit, many universities will give you college credit for your internships, providing you submit all of the correct paperwork. Some majors even require an internship for graduation, especially in the liberal arts fields. 

Your campus career center will have tons of resources for you, and they may even be able to hook you up with some local employers. Another good reference point are your professors, so don’t be afraid to talk to them because they truly want to see you succeed and are willing to help in whatever ways they can. Pick their brains during office hours or ask if they can connect you to people in their networks. Finally, make sure that you are utilizing your social media accounts and connecting with people in your industry — I’m talking LinkedIn, folks.

Related: 5 Steps to the Perfect LinkedIn Profile Picture

2. Test out jobs on and off campus

There are tons of benefits to working while you’re in college, and a major one is bulking up your resume and getting real work experience. Up until I started working at my on-campus job, I had only ever worked in retail. While having that retail experience helped me get my current job, it wasn’t related to my future career goals at all. Plus, I had never worked in a real office environment before. Working during college has been an invaluable experience that has really helped me to feel more comfortable about joining the professional world

While not everyone has the ability or resources to work while enrolled in classes, it’s a benefit if you are able to take advantage of it. Talk to your campus’s career center as well as your academic advisors to find more information about job opportunities on campus. For those with FAFSA or university-granted work study, there are often specific places you’ll need to look for jobs, which your financial aid office should have information on. If you don’t have work study and are interested in getting it, talk to your financial aid office about merit-based work study and if there are any applications you can fill out.

3. Clubs are more impactful than you know

This one might sound a bit obvious, but involvement in clubs and student organizations can provide you with excellent transferable skills you’ll use in the real world. Whether you’re working in teams, trying to communicate effectively, or decided to take on a leadership role, student orgs can provide you the opportunity to test out how you might handle real-life problems.

In addition to giving you crucial experience and being a great resume booster, student orgs can also provide you with professional connections and information about your future, especially if you join an org that is related to your post-grad field. Whether you’re interested in an academic or professional frat, a recreational sports club or want to get involved with student media, there are options for every interest. Take advantage of these built-in opportunities, because you never know what might come in handy down the road. 

4. Boost your resume with certifications

Certifications are another awesome way to bulk up your resume and prepare for your professional life. No matter your future industry, chances are that there is some sort of certification you can earn that helps provide you with a bit more targeted training than you’re getting in college courses. 

If you’re unfamiliar with certifications, think of them as proof that you have done ~extra training~ outside of the classroom. You can get certified in anything from Microsoft Office to ethical hacking. Certifications typically take at least a few hours of your time, but can often be spread out over longer stretches of time. Some cost money, but there are tons of free certifications available online as well! In addition to being available online, many universities also provide certifications through different departments and programs, so be sure to talk to your academic advisor and career center about your university’s specific opportunities.

Certifications come in all shapes and sizes, so be sure to do your research. As someone who wants to go into social media, I’ve found that the most useful certifications for my career path have been the Google Analytics certification, the HubSpot Social Media certification, and the Hootsuite Platform certification.

Related: Didn’t Get That Internship? Here Are 5 Career-Boosting Alternatives

5. Take personal finance classes

It can be hard to know where to start when thinking about creating a payment plan for your student loans or even how to create a grocery budget every week. If you’ve never had to deal with or think about any of those things before, it can be a little bit intimidating and overwhelming to deal with when you graduate. Prepare ahead of time for dealing with your finances instead of waiting to figure out how to deal with real money on the fly.

Rather than being caught off-guard by an influx of bills, start adulting while you’re still in school and get credit for it! A lot of business, finance and economics programs offer courses in money management and personal finance, and they’re typically open to most majors. Consider signing up for a money management class as one of your electives (I mean, you gotta do them anyway, right?), and learn the basics of how to put your future paycheck to good use from the pros. 

The idea of graduating from college and transitioning to the real world can intimidate even the bravest folks, but there are ways to prepare yourself before you ever walk across the stage with your diploma, no matter how busy your schedule or how niche your future industry. You have so much more control over your future than you even know, so just take a deep breath and start prepping. You got this!

Journalism & Media Communications major at CSU. Writer, book nerd, movie enthusiast, music lover.