Ask Wahoowa started last summer and remains up and running by popular demand. We present U.Va. students’ questions to HackCville’s alumni network and ask for their feedback. In this post, we’re taking things on with another burning question – what do you wish you knew in college that you want to pass along to current U.Va. students? (Answers were selected for print out of a larger pool, and were slightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
Talk and Ask
Being a student gives you license to talk to anyone. Take full advantage of that privilege because you lose it after you graduate, and I guarantee you’ve under-appreciated it to date. Also, do cool things that give you an excuse to talk to interesting people.
I figured this out in my third year – you can beg professors to be in their class. And they like that. I was a College student, majoring in Foreign Affairs / Economics, and I took all of the Entrepreneurship capstone courses that the Comm school had to offer. Simply because I ASKED.
-Kaitlyn Houk Witman
Participate in things outside of normal classes as much as possible, ask more questions, meet as many professors as possible, join local organizations, make use of facilities, spaces, tools and machines.
Meeting people and developing skills outside of your career is so important in college because there’s much less time to devote to these things when you have a full-time job. Having connections gives you things to do outside of work and having hobbies allows you to easily make more connections outside of work.
Your network is one of the most important things in the job hunt. Learning to tell a story is also essential.
Connect with alumni and offer ways you can help them and, in return, learn from them. Don’t worry much about classes and grades. No one cares after you graduate. They DO care about how you show your creativity, self-directed learning, resourcefulness, and resilience.
When I was in school, nobody I knew was thinking about graduating and starting their own business. Everyone was looking for a career. Now, you guys are starting companies in high school and college. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but don’t forget that there is so much that you don’t know yet. Learn from those who have been there before you.
There are three main pillars to work in my opinion:
1) The people you work with – how much do you enjoy working with / learning from your colleagues?
2) The work itself – how rewarding is it?
3) The compensation – are you happy with the compensation?
It is very challenging to find a job that provides an A+ in all three and from my 10+ years of experience, #1 from above is the most important.
I had more “free” time in college to explore interesting topics than I’d ever have again. Take advantage of it! I also underestimated how willing people are to share advice so, when in doubt, ask!
Go hike around Appalachia, make music and build stuff while you have time in college! Join clubs!
You don’t have to know what you are going to do when you “grow-up.” College career/placement offices put a ton of pressure on you to know what you are going to do for your career. I suggest finding great companies with great people where you can learn and grow. Focus less on money and title and more on where you can learn the most. Use your 20s to try 2-3 different types of jobs and, for sure, take yourself out of your comfort zone and try something you may not think you are qualified for – you will learn a ton.
The best investment you can make is in personal development. Focus on bettering yourself as a person and the rest will follow.
College, like many educational environments, seems to reward individuals for their great insights and accomplishments. In my experience, the workplace rewards team-players; helping others be their best selves, collaborating effectively toward a common goal, overlooking both small and large slights, exhibiting grace and grittiness simultaneously. These are the attributes of the coveted colleague. So much of an individual’s ability to accomplish his or her goals beyond school depends on the ability to share those goals with others and allow others to be part of them.
I wish I knew that college was more a tool used to build something of my own and less a product that came with instructions for me to follow. I did college like I had done K-12: relatively mindlessly, checking boxes and going through motions. I wish I knew that I’d have more fun, a more fulfilling experience and reap more benefits from getting off the conveyor belt and making my way my own.
My biggest advice would probably be to hold on tightly to something that makes you different. For me, it was my Arabic. Invest your passion in something constructive and run with it. People in the workplace (and especially, yes, executives) are more apt to notice and remember you if you have something that interests you that propels the way that you work.
–Shelby Rose Folmsbee
Study what you want… you’ll figure the rest out as you go.
Whatever point you are at in your college career, try not to stress too much about your major or your “plan” — things are bound to change and going with one major does NOT mean that certain doors are forever closed to you. Career paths and options only keep diversifying and evolving. By the time you graduate, there will most likely be jobs that don’t even exist right now. (That’s what happened with me!) Nothing is (or has to be) permanent!
As you think about your career, ignore prestige and — dare I say it — ignore money. Think about your values, what skills you want to have, what skills you enjoy using and the lifestyle you want to lead. If you want to go to a professional grad school (medicine, law, etc.), you should unquestionably 1) work, and 2) work in a related job to one you want post-grad before going to said school. I find that answering these questions for yourself, will save you a lot of time and energy later. If you have no idea what you want to do and just want to grow up a bit more and experience (note: in a very, very challenging setting!), join the Peace Corps or Teach for America and work for the greater good.
There is no right career path. I spent many years thinking about the correct career path and that was wasted time. Continue to grow and learn and remember many skills are transferable between varied jobs.
The best advice I ever received in college was to pick my classes based on the professor rather than the class title. I try to bring this advice to my career and pick organizations with really great employees/managers.
Your job after college will be the first of many. Choose one that sounds exciting and teaches you something new. And fully expect to change your mind and quit in about two years. So, don’t stress when making the decision of which job to choose. Don’t box yourself in roles/careers because someone else followed that path. There is very little correlation between classes you took in college and the job you’ll actually do. So as clichéd as it sounds, the world really IS your oyster! Your affinity for risk will only reduce as you get older, so this is the time to take some risks (just make sure you’re still able to make rent).