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Your Year-by-Year Plan to Make the Most of College

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College-bound, or already halfway through? No matter where you are in your undergrad education, a chance to improve your future job prospects beckons.

Here’s a list of what you should do every year to help give yourself an edge:

Freshman Year

This is a year of firsts. It may seem too early in the game to be thinking about a job, but by the time you’re a senior, you’ll be grateful for the head start. Your two must-dos:

1. Make the most of every group you join, like jumping at opportunities for more responsibility or an open leadership role. Not only will you feel like a part of the group socially, but you will gain more experience and build your resume.

2. Learn how to save money. Budgeting is a problem that plagues many college students. Forming good habits now will make you better at managing money during a future internship or job. Learn to cook, research bargains, rent or buy textbooks online, avoid debt and make putting even a sliver of your measly paycheck into savings a habit.

Sophomore Year

Courtesy of that year under your belt, you’re now comfortable in your environment. Your two must-dos this year:

1. Get your resume checked over by Career Services and learn how to write a cover letter. These are the building blocks of all job applications, and writing them successfully will help you understand how to present yourself.

2. Apply for an internship. Work experience is one of the top things employers look for when interviewing job candidates. Interning is a way to explore an industry that interests you, network and broaden your skill set. (Be aware that the most competitive summer internships will have applications due in the fall and winter.)

Junior Year

Now you can really start thinking about your goals for after school, especially since you’re pretty committed to your major at this point. Your two must-dos:

1. Start building relationships with your professors. Not only are they helpful if you need letters of recommendation, but professors are great career resources. They can help you learn about a field, offer guidance and put you in touch with their industry contacts.

2. Imagine post-grad life. Does the career you want require more education? Is graduate school on the table? You may need to take a few years off before applying. There are many options to start considering, whether it’s entering the workforce, going to grad school or even applying for fellowships abroad.

Senior Year

Time to pat yourself on the back; you definitely deserve it. But there’s still a ton of work to do. Your two must-dos for your last college year:

1. Attend career fairs offered by your school. Talking with employers is not only good experience, but a way to learn about different industries and the types of positions available to you. Research employers before attending, and make sure you have formulated an elevator speech.

2. Become a networking pro. Networking is really just meeting new people to gain information and find new opportunities. Reach out to alumni in your desired field via LinkedIn, ask to do informational interviews and attend any networking events in your area. As you quickly start to build your connections, keep track of who you’ve met, what they have done and how you can contact them in the future. Follow up with your contacts regularly to keep communication open.

Don’t be discouraged if your dream job doesn’t fall into your lap—life rarely works that way. It takes hard work and dedication to achieve most things worth having. But by taking action each year to become more career-savvy, you will learn what it takes to make it in the post-college world.

Lindsay Traiman is a writer for Skyo, an online site with cheap textbooks for college students with flexible rental options. Visit www.skyo.com for more information on how to buy or rent textbooks.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.