For many of us, university and college act as a buffer zone between the safe, close-knit quarters of our high school and the wide, unknown corners of the working world.
But post-secondary education carries with it worries too: What program should you study? What career path should you take? Should you focus on your grades or jumpstart your job search?
The friends you make, the people you meet and the advisers you work with on campus can all help you find a job.
Erin Millar and Ben Coli, recent graduates, answer just these sorts of questions and more in their book The Canadian Campus Companion, which walks students through every possible aspect of their post-secondary journey, with chapters on choosing a degree and school to helping students cope with grades, finances, job prospects and social experiences like campus parties, sexual experiences and health issues.
We combed through the book to provide you with the Top 7 things you didn’t know about university or college that can help improve your job prospects—even if you don’t know what your job goals are just yet.
1. You don’t have to choose between university and college.
Some programs combine the hands-on, practical aspect and experience of college with the theory-based, analytical side of university. Those aspiring to be nurses can opt for a college diploma focusing on skills and experience or a more academic degree from a university.
What you might not know is that, for example, Seneca College offers both: for two years, students study nursing at Seneca College and for the next two years, they study at York University. These programs increase a graduate’s appeal among employers as their education demonstrates they can thrive in both the practical college landscape and in a competitive university setting.
Try to get past the stigma that university is “better” than college; in Ontario, there is a higher unemployment rate among 25 to 29 year old university graduates than among college graduates of the same age group. And that’s not to say college is better than university. One or the other may be the better choice for you depending on your interests, goals and program of study.
Getting involved on campus demonstrates many traits that are desirable in employers’ eyes: time management skills and the ability to multi-task and meet deadlines. It indicates that you possess an interest in the world around you and that you have a way with people, not to mention that the network you form in your post-secondary years can turn out to be invaluable in your future job search. Your classmates can become your colleagues, especially when you graduate from intimate programs like those offered at Centennial College or Humber College.
3. Your school’s academic advisers can help you plan your career path before you graduate.
There’s no denying you shouldn’t be expected to know where you want to work when you’ve only just started university or college; even halfway through your degree or diploma you may find yourself changing your mind. But it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your adviser, even if it is to double check that you’re fulfilling your program’s requirements.
The last thing you want is to discover you have to reschedule your classes or stay back a semester to complete a course. In your final year, your academic adviser can help point you in the direction of “next steps.”
4. Fun electives can boost your resumé’s star potential.
How can a hiring manager forget the promising candidate who, in addition to earning strong marks and joining several clubs, completed a course in video game addiction and the history of gaming at the University of Western Ontario or learned about swing and golf etiquette at Medicine Hat College?
5. Get to know your profs.
You may not love your class. Staying awake during the lecture may be as painful as pulling your hair out. But getting to know your professor could save your career. For one thing, if you face the common struggle of finding a job after you graduate, your professor could become the strongest reference on your resumé. Who knows you better than the person who saw you every week in class, read your papers and evaluated your work ethic firsthand?
In a more subtle way, knowing your professor can improve your grades too; if you develop a more personal (but still professional) connection with your teacher, you’ll be more interested in what wisdom he or she has to share in class.
6. Stay healthy—it’s important.
When it comes down to it, your health matters most. Don’t pull an all-nighter, stock up on coffee, or force yourself to attend your weekly gym class if you’re sick. Stress can take a toll on your health and can create an impact that goes well into your graduate years.
Most post-secondary institutions offer a plethora of ways for you to go above preventing illness and into maintaining a healthy state of life. Learning to eat well, cook and get in the habit of regular exercise can improve your health as well as bolster your job appeal with the acquisition of skills like self-discipline, dedication and the ability to work hard.
7. Don’t underestimate the power of your network.
You’ve heard it and you’ll hear it again: it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know. It’s essential that you possess a strong work ethic and a passion for what you do, but you’ll likely find after graduation that this doesn’t seem to be enough to find a job. The friends you make, the people you meet and the advisers you work with on campus can all help you find a job or put you in touch with that one person who knows a person who works with a person who’s looking to hire someone like you.
For the answer to all your post-secondary education questions, read Thomas Allen Publishers’ The Canadian Campus Companion.