5 Professional Development Tips For College Students

College student carries books to her classes

As a college student, your number one priority is to learn. What you need to realize early on in your college career is that your learning is not, and should not, only be located in the classroom. Learn from every experience! Better yet, learn from the successes and failures of others. To do that, you have to be intentional with your experience....and actually have learning experiences.

As an undergraduate student, I went to class every day, but I did little to get involved other than classroom time. I didn't network with professors, I didn't have a student job, I wasn't involved in student organizations, and I didn't volunteer. While other students were out making the college experience happen, I sat back and watched it. A year after graduation, I found myself selling coupon books door-to-door in the Chicago suburbs in a shirt and tie. Not exactly the dream job I had as a little kid growing up in small town Iowa. The reason I tell my UI STEP (University of Iowa Student To Employed Professional) class this story right when they walk in the first day is because they need to know what can happen if they just sit back and don't take action as a college student.

Here are some professional development tips for college students:

1. Understand And Admit Your Weaknesses

College student meets with a professor


The only way to develop both personally and professionally as a college student is to first understand what needs to be developed in the first place. Self-reflection is so crucial in all of our lives, but especially during your college years. Taking ownership of what you don't do well and trying to improve is just as important, if not more important, than understanding what you are good at.

College is the time to improve and grow and that will only happen if you have goals set on what skills you want to enhance. If you have never completed a transferable skills survey before, I encourage you to give it a shot, as this can really show you where you need more development.

2. Research, Read, Be Aware

College students study together in the library


All of us have had people we've looked up to in our lives. For those of us who have been in the workforce for a good while, we've probably had mentors and leaders that we have looked up to along the way. One way you can take ownership of your own development is to emulate the people you look up to. By being aware of your surroundings and understanding what exactly has drawn you to certain people, you can understand what skills you need to showcase to someday be in that position of leadership. This only happens through reading, researching, and being intentional with your learning.

Having outstanding job specific skills are important, but you need to have the intangible qualities that employers are looking for to ultimately reach your career goals. To grow in your development, you must first identify the skills you actually want to develop.

3. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

College students listen to a presentation about professional development


As a college student, I knew that I was a terrible public speaker and not very good in large social situations, as I would get extremely nervous. One year, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and attended a career fair at the University of Iowa. At this fair, there were over 100 employers and it was an extremely packed room. While I accomplished something just by going, I didn't actually do anything. That's right; I simply walked around and didn't talk to anybody.

Many of us are afraid to stray from what is comfortable to us, but you only get better with practice and experience. I challenge my students to try something new that gets you out of your comfort zone at least once a month. Obviously, the key to that is to actually take action and not just walk around!

By getting out of your comfort zone, you can learn a lot about yourself and develop interests that you never thought were possible. Who would have thought that 10 years after I walked around doing nothing, I would be teaching students in a classroom setting? Not me. Own your insecurities.

4. Diversify Your Experiences

College students embracing the college experience


There is no better way to take advantage of your own development than by diversifying your experiences while in school. Think about it. The more involved you are and the more experiences you have, the better your chances of finding out what your true passion is.

For example, I work with a ton of student employees and many of them end up changing their major because they love what they do within their student job. My current boss was a biology major, but she loved her student job in financial aid so much that she has now been doing it for 32 years.

I implore all students to diversify your experiences by getting involved in student organizations, volunteering, and being employed while a student. At the very least, a diversified resume with a lot of experiences looks pretty good to an employer!

5. Stop Waiting For Things To Happen...Make Them Happen!

Ambitious college students on their way to class


We have students all the time who come to our student employment office and want help finding a student job. The first question I ask them is where they want to work. I ask this specifically because if they want to work in the library, why are they coming and talking to us? Go talk to somebody at the library!

There is a reason most jobs in this country are filled without advertising, and that is because they don't need to advertise. If you want to develop yourself, get the career you want, and meet the people that you want to meet, then go do it! Take charge and make things happen for yourself by being proactive. If you are an employer, what skills does it show you when someone proactively comes to you looking to learn more? Plus, as a student, you are in a learning phase and can play the student card, which will probably get you in the door easier than someone my age. Take control of your own fate and make things happen.

So many things that happen in your career and life are going to be out of your control. Take that control back and take ownership of your own development. Learn from every experience—good or bad. You never know, one day all the failures that you learned from when you were a college student could lead you to the career you never knew you always wanted. Be a lifelong learner and you never know what you could be doing next.

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This post was originally published at an earlier date.