Unlocking Your Education

The current thinking is that going back to school is the thing to do during a recession. However, just graduated and in large amounts of debt is not the place to be in this slow economy. Students and parents alike are taking a long, hard look at return on investment in college and are not liking what they see. Some people think perhaps trade school or even no school may be the way to go. While this is an interesting idea, employers are still looking for educated candidates, and no degree on your resume may mean no access to the jobs that are out there.

So what may make you stand out as a future job candidate? Unlock your education to get the most out of it. Go beyond what is required and innovate. Consider some of these strategies to unlock your education before you really need it in the work world:

*Go big or go home. Candidates with an MBA are pretty commonplace, so your MBA alone is not going to get you that job. If you can get in and afford it, enroll in one of the top MBA programs. These programs still have great name brand value, and this plus stellar experience may get you noticed in the work world. If you cannot land a slot at a top-tier MBA school, make sure that your work experience and internships really stand out, are innovative and are related to your career goals.

*Be an overachiever. Do more than just fulfill your degree requirements. Get out there, and use your time in college to innovate. Currently at an art and design school? Then find an engineering school near you and collaborate on projects with the students there.

*Network. Find other students, faculty and alums at your school who are interested in what you are doing. Is there not a venue for this at your school? Then organize a fun event and invite people from all of these groups to participate.

*Get a mentor/Be a mentor. Mentors give you access to information that you would not ordinarily get through your coursework. A mentor can be a faculty member, an alum or even a person in the community who shares the same career interests with you. Consider mentoring a younger student as your knowledge base grows. It increases your network while giving someone else a leg up.

*Find a problem/Solve a problem. While learning in education is often based on passive intake of information through readings and lectures, the work world values people who can problem-solve. Look for a problem in your classes, on campus or in your career field, and come up with a way to solve it. For example: when I was doing a career counseling internship at a college that had a large music school, I had several music students come to me who were afraid their music careers were over due to performance injuries. I set up a separate independent study to work with these students to help resolve their problems and get their studies back on track.

Unlocking your education means taking control. It involves going beyond the basic degree requirements, figuring out what you want to learn and do, and then finding a way to make that happen. The more proactive you are, the better prepared you will be for the world of work.

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