The following is a guest post by Robert from The College Investor, a personal finance blog tailored to college students and young adults.
Congratulations on starting your first year of college. That is a huge milestone. As you start selecting classes and choosing a major, I want to throw out some advice from the graduate world: remember why you are going to college – to get the skills you need to be successful in your chosen line of work. For many this includes education, but for EVERYONE it includes common sense job skills. To accomplish this, I recommend that every college student should have a job.
Many people may be surprised by this, but I can tell you how frustrating it is as an employer to have some highly educated people that lack common sense basic job skills. By working an even quarter-time job in college, students can gain basic skills, and can have something on their resume when they graduate.
Getting a Job as a Freshman
I can tell you from personal experience that working and going to college is not easy. It requires time management and planning. You need to find a job that will work with you, and you need to be able to select a school schedule that will work with your job. There are so many options out there though: retail, food, internships, etc. Don’t think that any job is below your means. You are there to make some money and get some skills.
There are also usually many jobs available on campus. You can work at the library, as an aide, or in the administration offices.
The bottom line is that getting a job will give you valuable time management skills, and it will highlight to your future employer that you can plan and schedule. It will also teach you how to behave in a workplace, how to work effectively on a team, and, if you get something like an internship in your field, it can really open your eyes to what you will be doing on a day to day basis.
When I entered my freshman year at a top tier university, I was already working as a cashier supervisor at a major retail store. This job required a minimum of 32 hours per week, but they were flexible on how I worked it. I essentially worked every weekend, and three nights a week. While working almost full time, I started my undergraduate education in computer science. I also got an internship over the winter at a software firm, and it didn’t work out. I hated it! I hated programming, was stressed for time, and I was on academic probation after my first quarter of school. Yikes!
First lesson learned: I liked leading a team and moving around, and I hated sitting in a computer lab programming for hours.
So, I changed my major to economics (there was no business school), and continued to focus on my career and school. The major change was life changing. I really enjoyed the subjects I was learning, and I was getting A’s in my classes. I was also working 32+ hours per week at the retail store, leading the cashiers (sometimes over 20 at a time). During the summer, I got an internship at an Investment Brokerage. I had a passion for investing, and I thought it would be a great experience. Well, it wasn’t. It turned out to be all about selling and not about doing what was right for the client (and this was at a big 5 brokerage).
Second lesson learned: I loved leading people, I liked business and finance, but I was not cut out to be a salesman.
I ended up graduating with a major in Political Science and Economics, and I was promoted to a store manager at the retail company I worked at. I was one of the youngest store managers ever, and it was due in credit to both my experience and education.
Moral of the Story
The main takeaway I want to share with college freshmen is that you can learn even more about yourself outside of the classroom, and working is a great way to do that. It allowed me to really discover what went on in various jobs day-to-day, and it also allowed me to find my true passion of leading people.
I also took many of the skills I learned in college and still apply them – I do run a website about personal finance (see the techy and investment side coming through?).
Also, as an employer that hires lots of people each year – please do us a favor and get some real world experience. People need practical applications of what they learn in school, not just the theoretical. I have an acquaintance who went to undergraduate, then went for and MBA, and is now getting a JD. She has never worked a day in her life, and will graduate at 28 with all these degrees and no real world experience. She will still get base pay somewhere, but not anywhere near what she was expecting, simply because there is no experience to back the education up.