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How To Set Your Career Goals In College

It’s that time of the year again: new classes, futons to assemble, too much money spent on textbooks, and the first late nights of studying and/or partying. But what’s also on your mind might be one of the reasons why you came to college in the first place: to have a successful career afterwards! Whether you’re just starting college or will be graduating this year, Her Campus has you covered with this quick list of year-by-year career goals, complete with tips from a college career counselor. So grab a pen and take note, your future is calling!


Freshman Year


If you’re a freshman, the real world probably seems light-years away, and in some ways it is!  But there’s nothing wrong with starting the basics of planning for it. Orient yourself with academics, activities, and work, just to begin to get you thinking about what you like.



  • Explore areas that interest you by taking different classes and electives. Valinda Lee, a career counselor at Scripps College in Claremont, California says, “take a wide variety of classes your first year in college to explore the many academic options available to you, but remember that picking a major (especially at liberal arts colleges) will rarely limit your career choices down the road.”
  • Join on-campus organizations and causes that you are passionate about—don’t be afraid to branch out from what you did in high school!
  • Begin thinking about your transferable skills, work experience and volunteer work. Compile this information into a resume with the help of a career counselor.
  • Meet with a career counselor to learn about the opportunities and events offered at your college career center—no harm in knowing what’s out there, even if you’re not ready to dive in yet!


Sophomore Year


By your sophomore year you can begin refining some of the choices you made during your freshman year. Continue to explore and learn more about yourself, but keep in mind that you will probably need to choose a major by the end of the year.



  • Start to hone in on a possible major when picking classes—which classes freshman year did you really enjoy?
  • Talk with professors and advisors about requirements for different majors.
  • Start researching your college’s approved programs if you plan to study abroad your junior year.
  • Begin researching careers. Learn about the necessary qualifications and skills you would need for each job.  Try talking with alums to learn more about different jobs and industries you might be interested in.


Junior Year


You have officially declared your major! Now you can ponder life after graduation (such a thing exists—aahh!). Start thinking about your different options and plan the necessary steps you will need to take to embark on your journey into the real world.



  • Continue to refine your resume and construct cover letters.
  • Speak with alums in related fields and attend networking events.
  • If you plan to continue your education after college, begin researching graduate schools and programs and start thinking about necessary graduate entrance exams such as the GRE, GMAT and LSAT.
  • Apply for a summer internship to gain some experience in your field and expand your network. When it comes to internships, Lee emphasizes the importance of broadening your definition of the word “internship”: “To me, an internship is any experience that gets you exposed to a field you think you might be interested in. If you want to go into education, tutoring or a camp counselor job can be an “internship”. If PR is what you’re thinking about, ask your campus PR office if you could volunteer with them. If you’re a member of a club, volunteer to do club PR. Write up major events and send them to your student newspaper, the dean’s office, and the campus PR office.”


Senior Year


By your senior year you will begin to apply to grad school, start your job search, or both (aka not sleep)! Work closely with a career counselor to ensure everything goes smoothly. Applying for jobs and to grad school can be stressful, but hang in there! Soon, all of your hard work will pay off.



  • Take the necessary entrance exams for grad school in the fall of your senior year. Send your scores and your applications to your list of graduate schools.
  • Begin applying for jobs. Consult a career counselor to ensure that your cover letters and resume are targeted towards the jobs you’re applying for.
  • Conduct a mock interview with an alum or a career counselor. Assess any weaknesses and try to improve on them before the real deal.
  • Keep looking for a job until you have accepted an offer. Remember that finding a job is a difficult and time-consuming process, so don’t feel bad if your inbox isn’t overflowing with job offers come May—something will come through eventually!


Finally, keep in mind that career planning is a personal experience that does not have one “correct” answer or plan. Only you will know what path in life is right for you, and Her Campus hopes to help you find it!


  • Valinda Lee, Scripps College Career Planning and Resources Counselor.
  • Scripps Career Planning and Resources Handbook
  • CareerBuilder.com
Mallory Smith is a senior Sociology major at Scripps College, located in sunny Claremont, CA. Born in Denver, Colorado, Mallory spent her time growing up between England, China and The United States. As a result, she loves to travel and explore new places and cultures. In Claremont Mallory is editor of the Life and Style section of The Student Life Newspaper. She also writes for Beyond the Elms, Scripps College’s Career Planning and Resources blog, where she is writing about her soon-to-be journey into the real world. In her free time Mallory enjoys going to art galleries in downtown Los Angeles, hiking, going to the beach and scuba diving whenever she gets the chance.