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Making the Most of Your College Education

Making the Most of Your College Education

by Marianne Ragins

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In this invaluable guide, rich with anecdotes from students across the nation, Marianne Ragins, a member of the 1995 All-USA Today Academic Team, presents the many underlooked and underutilized resources that college campuses offer. This indispensable guide demonstrates that learning begins in the classroom, but extends far beyond it.


In this invaluable guide, rich with anecdotes from students across the nation, Marianne Ragins, a member of the 1995 All-USA Today Academic Team, presents the many underlooked and underutilized resources that college campuses offer. This indispensable guide demonstrates that learning begins in the classroom, but extends far beyond it.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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Making the Most of Your College Education

By Marianne Ragins

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1996 Marianne Ragins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8186-0



On a college or university campus there are a multitude of offices and services that can assist with many of your needs and concerns. Indeed, if you know which office to consult, you may never have to go beyond your own campus. There are offices such as the career/development center to help you make career choices; launch a job search; or find a job, co-op, or internship. There are resource centers in which you can expand your leadership abilities, your writing skills, or your knowledge of mental health, for instance. If you need mental or physical treatment, you can find that too on your campus. Consult your college or university catalog for information on specific offices and the services they offer.


The career/development center is an office or building with information and individuals dedicated to providing resources to assist you in finding both summer and postgraduate jobs, internships, cooperative education programs, study abroad courses, and much more. The career center or its equivalent should be one of the most important resources you consult when determining your career path and how you will find the job of your dreams. You should become familiar with both the reference materials in the office and the individuals who make things run smoothly. Most offices will have computers, brochures, and binders from corporate recruiters, applications, job data banks, interview sign-up sheets, lists of corporate receptions, interview dates, and a wealth of helpful information available to you as either a current student, an alumnus, or a student from a neighboring campus. At the career center you should find trained individuals skilled at helping you to determine a major, a career, and your job search criteria. They may also conduct workshops on writing résumés, successful job interviewing, taking job placement tests, completing applications, developing effective communication and networking skills, and many other topics. The career center may also offer individual counseling, career assessment tests, and videos of mock interviews. Most centers have or should have as their goals the following:

• To develop and enhance the marketability of the students who visit the office

• To provide relevant and current information to students about employment opportunities

• To expose students to corporate professionals willing and able to provide students with employment opportunities


At most career centers you will be required to register. To do so, you may need to complete a form listing your name, current address and telephone number, major, expected graduation date, times available to interview, and the types of jobs in which you are interested (internship, co-op, permanent placement). As part of the registration process you may be required to supply multiple copies of your résumé. Once you have done this, visit the office periodically for the specific purpose of updating your résumé. On the following pages you will see several variations of my résumé, including the one I created during my freshman year, primarily for internships, and the one I am currently using.

Résumé 1. Résumé used to obtain an internship and permanent job placement in the area of marketing and sales.

Résumé 2. Résumé used to apply for a job at a major public accounting firm. The recruiter was specifically interested in my coursework in accounting. By the way, this résumé attests to the advantages of hanging around the career center. I had been in the center for a while on this day after an earlier interview. The recruiter from this accounting firm saw me and started a conversation. After a couple of minutes, he asked if I would like to interview for a job in Los Angeles with his firm. I said yes. He conducted the interview and I sent him this résumé.

Résumé 3. This is my first résumé, which I used mainly for my first internship.

Although the following résumés are several pages each, your résumé should only be one page. If these were on an 8 ½ × 11 sheet they would fit on one page.

Making Your Face Known

Because the career center will be one of the most important resources on campus for finding a job you should make sure that the individuals who work there know you. Even if your campus is very large and the center sees hundreds of students a day, you would be surprised to learn how many students do not take the time to get acquainted with the center's staff. Most wait until the end of their senior year to even think about visiting the center. However, if you make it a point to stop by every week, not only to gather job information from the numerous pamphlets, magazines, and brochures in the office, but also to say hello, you will make a lasting impression, which could earn you an interview slot with a major corporation at the last minute or a personal introduction to a recruiter while you're in the office visiting. Sometimes visiting recruiters take a group of highly qualified students to dinner. One of the ways you can become one of those students is to make sure the people at the career center know who you are, since they usually recommend the students who the recruiters invite to dinner.

When to Become Acquainted with the Career Center

Although other centers may be set up differently, the career center at Florida A & M University helped students to find internships, summer programs, co-ops, and part-time employment, and assisted alumni in finding jobs. The career center on your campus may do more or less. If they do more, great! If they do less, they may be able to point you elsewhere for assistance. If they can't do that, this book is designed to help you find information on your own.

Become acquainted with the career center as early as your freshman year. Don't wait until you are about to graduate and need a job. As Whitney Young, civil rights activist, and former director of the National Urban League once said, "it is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared." Becoming acquainted with your own or another school's career center is part of your preparation for a permanent job placement opportunity or a slot in a graduate school. Not only can the career center assist you in finding a job, they can also assist you in choosing a major appropriate to your interests and goals. Many career centers do this by interviewing you or having you fill out a questionnaire. The questions asked are designed to target your primary interests and goals. Based on your answers, several majors are suggested for you to pursue. You and the career center professional then narrow it down to one.

One resource you might seek is the On-line Career Center, which can be accessed through a personal computer, a modem, and an Internet address. The Online Career Center database has over 17,000 job listings from companies all over the country. This database can provide you with job placement information, assist you in making career choices, tell you about career fairs in your area, help launch your job search, offer résumé-writing tips, and provide other topics related your career. The database also includes company profiles. Through the On-line Career Center, you can enter your résumé into a company-sponsored database or E-mail your résumé to potential employers. For more information, contact On-line Career Center, 3125 Dandy Trail, Indianapolis, IN 46214, (317) 293-6499, or by E-mail at

Another on-line résumé database service is the Career/NET. In exchange for the required fee of $100, your résumé is sent on CD-ROM to at least 10,000 businesses, including all of the Fortune 500 corporations. Call (800) 682-8539 for more information. There are several services similar to this. However, you can probably do an adequate job of getting your résumé out without spending any money. In fact, many such services on the Internet are sponsored by employers who use the database to find potential employees and are free to the students who use them, like the On-line Career Center. Before using any database, however, be sure to thoroughly research it: If you are paying your hard-earned money, you want to know that the services can actually deliver what they promise. Ask to see an employer listing from their database. Ask your friends, relatives, and other students on campus who have used the service what they thought of it. Most important, go to your career center and ask if they have heard of the service and whether it is legitimate. For more information on the Internet, E-mail, and on-line computer databases, refer to chapter 2.


A center for service learning promotes volunteer service among students as a learning tool. The center may also have a learning by doing (LBD) curriculum that offers academic credit to students in exchange for community service or related activities. At some institutions, students are allowed to take advantage of an alternative semester or quarter break during which they can become immersed in a community project for one or two weeks. The time is used to confront and respond to social issues the students may have focused on only in the sterile classroom environment. Issues may include AIDS awareness, Native American culture, social justice and public policy formation, environmental issues, senior services, youth education, or homelessness.


Writing skills are essential in the postgraduate world. Students who have mastered the art of writing create a distinct edge for themselves over those students who have not. In virtually all careers, communication is one of the leading factors in success, and learning to write well is one of the most effective methods of communication you can acquire at college. Most universities and colleges maintain writing centers to help students improve their skills. Skilled writing consultants are on hand to help those who visit the center with revising, mastering English as a second language, identifying consistent errors, and answering general questions. Many centers conduct regular workshops on basic grammar and punctuation, preparing thesis statements, research and documentation, and critical writing techniques. Some institutions may also offer a writing center for students on-line, as does George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


You should consult with your academic advisor about registration procedures, which courses to take, prerequisites for particular courses, your major, your career, your postgraduation plans, and any other area where you need advice and assistance. If there is one, you can also consult your school's academic advisement center. This office has professionals who aid students with issues and questions surrounding the choice of a major.

Use the following guidelines for getting the most from your advisor, the advisement center, and the advisement process.

• Be proactive. Don't wait for your advisor to contact you about registration, your major, your career, or any other decisions you must make during the course of your college career. You must make appointments with him or her.

• Use your advisor as one of your main contacts regarding such subjects as campus services, extracurricular activities, required courses, internships, and experiential learning.

• Before visiting your advisor, organize your thoughts and ideas. Write a tentative agenda for the time you plan to spend with him or her, listing all your questions. This way, you will be making the most productive use of everyone's time.

• Assess yourself and your abilities. Have at least a tentative idea of your goals, the direction in which you want your campus life to go, your learning ability, your major interests, and your priorities.

• Become familiar with your college catalog and the schedule of classes.

• Prepare a checklist of classes that will satisfy credit requirements needed each semester or quarter. You should be able to obtain degree audits or curriculum check sheets from your advisor. Begin checking off classes that you have taken and those you still need to take and get an idea of when you would like to take the remaining courses. Your advisor will be able to help you make your selections, but remember that he or she is there to assist you — the final decisions must be yours.

• Plan — As one of my professors, George Clark, was fond of saying, "Remember the Six Ps: Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance." This is excellent advice for mastering your college experience and getting the most from it.

Before consulting the academic advisement center for help with your major, ask yourself a few questions. The major you choose could shape the rest of your life, or as many people discover, it could play a minimal role — if any. To get the most out of your college education, choose a major that in some way will positively affect your postcollegiate life. Even though learning in any form is invariably life-enhancing, it should have an impact on your eventual career. This is why you must put some serious thought into your college major. If you are already in college, you may even have to reassess the college or university you are currently attending if it does not offer a degree relevant to what you are interested in doing for the rest of your life.

In preparing for a meeting with your advisor or the advisement center, you need to consider several factors. For example:

What salary do you want to earn when you graduate from college? Majors lead to specific occupations, and those occupations command different salaries. If salary is a primary concern to you, it should also be a primary consideration when determining your major. For example, if you major in education, your postgraduate salary might not be the same as it would if you majored in computer science. Of course personal growth, satisfaction, the thirst for knowledge, personal self-worth, challenge, fulfillment, self-respect, love, and trust can't be measured by your salary, but if you believe money and the amount of it you have are determinants of your happiness, major in an area that will command a high salary for you.

In what area will you major? Do you want a highly technical or specific major such as engineering or accounting, or a general liberal arts degree such as math or political science? General majors can be applied to many different occupations. For example, Keasha Young, a student at Florida A & M, obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics. She is now working as a business analyst for American Management Systems (AMS). As a math major, Keasha could have pursued jobs in areas such as sales, marketing, systems management, accounting, and business management. Keasha explains: "What I do has absolutely nothing to do with math or anything I studied in my major. AMS, like many other major corporations, hires people who they think have the ability to do the job. They don't really care what your major was. They even have a guy here testing computer systems who majored in government! They'll train you in what you need to know."

I majored in business administration and I interviewed for and obtained job offers from a wide range of industries and occupations, including marketing, manufacturing, pharmaceutical sales, systems management, teaching, accounting, and consulting.

What do you enjoy doing? This may seem like a silly question, but it's one of the most important. If you don't like your major, you probably will not do well in it. Even if you do well enough to graduate with a degree in this area, you probably won't like a job in the same field. You will probably be miserable. For example, suppose you major in accounting but you hate it. You get a job with a major public accounting firm and you hate that too. You don't get promotions because your attitude stinks. You hate the fact that you haven't moved up in ten years. Because you haven't moved up in ten years, your salary reflects it. Are you getting the picture?

How much time do you want to devote to your job? When I was in high school, my fondest dream was to become an obstetrician. I love children and I wanted to be a part of bringing them into the world. Then one of my teachers pointed out to me that babies arrive at all hours, especially odd hours like in the middle of the night, on Christmas day, at Thanksgiving dinner, or during a dinner party. She said that unless I was willing to devote a large part of my of life to my career, I probably would not enjoy my job very much. She was right. I wouldn't have — not only because of the question of time, but also because I hate the sight of blood.

If you need additional help deciding on your major, you can consult individuals at your career development center. Speak with professors and other faculty and staff to obtain additional outlooks on the subject.


One of the most important resources that you will find on your college campus is the library. The library provides all types of information in many forms — volumes, microfilms, government documents, maps, and periodicals. They also house multimedia items such as CD-ROMs, compact discs, and interactive laser discs.


Excerpted from Making the Most of Your College Education by Marianne Ragins. Copyright © 1996 Marianne Ragins. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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