By Emma Hackett, Staff Writer

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

This perennial question has puzzled many a grade schooler through the years; with so many options, how’s a kid to choose? It’s a question which leaves even some college seniors scratching their heads. Too often, college students are swept up in the bustle that is college life. Whether it's building friendships, keeping up a decent GPA, and partying; these are all major distractions from one of the primary goals of college life. That is, building a foundation for life after college.

It’s easy to see how it could happen. A senior could reach graduation without a clue as to what they really want to do with the rest of their adult life. However, it turns out that the time spent in college is absolutely indispensable when it comes to career preparation. It takes a certain measure of prudence to be able to determine how to use your time wisely as an undergrad so that life after graduation will be smooth sailing.

                           Greg Monroe

                           Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe is no stranger to helping students achieve success in their careers. A 2008 graduate of Christendom College, Greg is currently the Director of the Career Services and Leadership Development department at his alma mater.

Greg identifies that one of the main problems with most student’s approach to the college years is their lack of foresight when it comes to career planning: Greg says, "some people - very few students - come in freshman year and know exactly what they want to do... even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you graduate, you need to start laying that foundation."

Greg has developed what he calls a Four Year Action Plan, which lays out steps which should be taken each year of one’s undergraduate studies in order to solidify career success after graduation. He explains. “At my school in particular, we make sure that there is a very deliberate, four-year plan that’s tailored to each individual student, so that no time is wasted." Basically, the action plan is designed around the four years of college, allowing students to create and build upon foundations for their post-graduate career:

“Freshman year is all about discovering who you are. Sophomore year is about exploring those possibilities - trying to find internships, jobs, or volunteer experience on or off campus, to build up work experience and figure out what you want to do. Junior year is for putting these things in to practice, and senior year is where you actually launch.”

I sat down with Greg and discussed his principles for laying a solid career foundation in the college years:

1. Prepare From Day One

It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of starting early when it comes to effective career planning. “When students arrive on campus, they meet with me, and on most campuses, they should meet with their college counselor. And they say - ‘Here’s what I’d like to do.’” I remember meeting with Greg during orientation week during my freshman year. It seemed a bit out of place to start planning for careers before I had even attended my first class, but I’ve seen in the long run how crucial that early start is.

College moves fast, and taking the time to think about post-graduation early on will prove to be a great consolation and security in the fast-flying days of junior and senior year. So make the start. Meet with a college counselor and create a lovely mentorship with them to help guide you in the direction you wish to take.

2. Network

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Greg says that students should, “network with professors and alumni and friends and possible future employers.” Never pass up an opportunity to attend an event at which you might meet people who could help you in your future career. It’s also essential to cultivate professional relationships with professors, and with those who’ve graduated from your school already. Greg also emphasizes the importance of staying informed on current events; doing so will help you “relate and speak to people of all backgrounds." Thus, providing you with the key element of successful networking.

3. Gain Practical Experience

College is a great time to start building an impressive resume, so it’s important to take advantage of all of the opportunities you have in your desired field. “Clubs, volunteering, internships, and jobs” are all great examples of resume-building opportunities, which will give you invaluable knowledge in your chosen field. They may even help you to make connections which will prove beneficial post-graduation.

4. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Stepping out of your comfort zone is what teaches you more about yourself than anything. It especially helps shape and mold your leadership skills. “Being a leader at work or in your friend group isn’t always comfortable”, says Greg, “but it will gain you respect and prove to future connections, friends, and employers that you have what it takes to succeed and that you are dependable and can get things done.”

5. Organize Your Life

Time management is a consistent struggle for college students. However, what many don’t realize is that the habits which they are forming during their college career will have massive ramifications in their life after graduation. Therefore, making a conscious and deliberate effort to organize your life is essential in achieving success in any field. “You’ll be able to do more if you see the cost and value of every hour”, Greg says. “Moderation would be your mantra. Have fun, and make time for social events and friends, but you should be able to squeeze work and the other points into your schedule if you make the time for it.”

The essence of building a successful career foundation while in college boils down to this: “Take networking, and experience building, and put those two together, in order to achieve your goals.” What is the key to success in this? Personal leadership. “Most of the time, success means you taking the initiative and be the leader.” Greg emphasizes the importance of making the most of each situation, and doing one’s own personal best in whatever endeavor is at hand. “Maybe not everyone’s an A student”, he says, “and maybe not everyone’s going to go on and be a stock broker making millions of dollars. But being able to achieve in whatever field or occupation you’re interested in will set you apart. And every person has that potential.”