Image of a graduation cap.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

As an entering graduate student, I took time to look back at my undergraduate career and phase out some things that ended up helping me get to this next phase in my life and some of the things that did not. 

First and foremost, you need to be there. You have to show up.  You must go to every single class. Attendance policies that don’t punish you for not attending are not that way because you don’t need to be there. They are that way because your professor expects you to be an adult. They also know that your punishment will be a bad grade. You will not succeed if you don’t attend class. 

Once you get physically inside the classroom, be sure to interact with the professor and the rest of the class. You want your professor to remember who you are and that you were always engaged. Be good to your professors. Don’t get caught up in the behind the back talk and nasty reviews. These are the people who are going to vouch for you when you get done. If you do it right, they will write your letters of recommendation for graduate school, law school and jobs that require references (almost all of them). You don’t want to get to the end of your journey having burned all of the bridges you had to build to get there. 

Start making a list of places that you want to work when you graduate and then research the requirements for each. At the very least, this will get you a good idea of where you should be applying for summer internships and jobs. For example, if you want to be a lawyer you should make a list of law firms that practice the kind of law that you are interested in (it’s okay if you haven’t decided) and consider getting a summer internship as a file clerk or receptionist at a law firm. If you think you are going to work for the government (especially law enforcement or intelligence) you need to make smart lifestyle choices now. For example, if you want to work for the FBI or the NSA in the next two years you need to quit smoking now. Many positions that require a security clearance won’t even let you apply without declaring that you have been drug free for at least a year or two.

Study abroad for a semester. Start saving your financial aid now and make a plan to get there. I still kick myself for not having jumped at any of the study abroad opportunities. Don’t make the same mistake I did, find a way and go.

Last but not least: keep your grades up. It is easy to tell yourself that “people don’t care as long as you graduated” or “C’s get degrees,” but the reality of it is that people do care and C’s will not get you into graduate school nor will they get you into law school and some employers (especially the government) ask for your transcripts. 

ties. I welcome your good counsel.

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