The one thing I wish I’d known before I started college was how important it was for me to have a plan. Going to school is often the first really difficult, large-scale, adult project that students undergo. They’re moving away from home, handling their own finances and managing their full schedule without supervision for the first time ever.
Non-traditional students may have a leg up when it comes to time management and life skills due to their increased experience and maturity, but I’ve found that those I talk to need a plan even more because they’re often juggling school, work and family at once. To succeed in your college career (and the professional career that follows), you need to take charge of your degree program and the rest of your life. Here’s how to get started:
Develop a Plan and Write it Down
Trust me. You can’t get by on just a general mental outline of how you’re progressing to graduation one semester at a time. Writing down the full list of things that need to happen between now and when that degree is in your hot little hands will help reveal tasks you didn’t know you needed to accomplish, and it will give you a path to follow, which can keep you motivated even when things get rough.
Start with your end goal and work backwards. Know exactly what kind of job you want, what your career path to that job looks like, and where you’ll go after you move past it. In fact, you should have multiple career paths you can follow with your degree. For instance, a bachelor’s degree in IT is going to open a lot of doors for you. Do you know where at least two or three of them lead? What’s the difference in salary from one career track to another? This is stuff you need to find out sooner rather than later.
Map out Your Entire Program
Semester by semester, you should have a path from now until graduation and beyond. You need to prep for core classes, electives and internships well ahead of time so you don’t get stuck tacking an extra semester on at the end of your program. Plan it out, and you’ll graduate on time, ready to hit the ground running with your new career.
Don’t just map out your college credits, though; map out the skills you know you’ll need to succeed in the workforce. Research job descriptions, listings and industry blogs to get a real idea of the skills you’ll need to land a job and get ahead. Better yet, start networking with alumni and professionals who work in your future industry. Pick their brains about what skills you really need so you can add them to your learning plan, even if there isn’t a class for it.
Get Meticulous about Time Management
If you’re getting that bachelor’s in IT, your assignments are going to eat up a lot of time, so you have to plan well. From the time you stagger out of bed to the time your head hits the pillow, you should know what’s next on the agenda. Never a minute wasted!
Sketching out your daily or weekly schedule and carving out specific times for study, work, errands and even entertainment or sleep can help you achieve a balance and know for certain that you have enough time to get it all done.
If you don’t plan out your time, you’re going to feel stressed and overwhelmed much of the time, as much from the perception that you don’t have enough time as the reality that your schedule is packed.
Start Planning Your Career before You Graduate
A lot of people graduate and then say, “Now what?” Don’t be that person. If you’re not looking at a promotion at work once you advance your education, you should be networking, attending career fairs, frequently visiting the career center and sending out resumes well before your last semester. The ideal situation is to snag an internship at a company that can funnel you into a desired position, or at least give you experience in a field that will help you land a job elsewhere.
When Jennifer Cook isn’t researching the latest jobs reports or looking for ways to help students rock their college careers at Strayer.edu, you can find her with a hot cup of coffee and a dog in her lap, soaking up the morning sun.