What to do in college right now

It used to be controversial to say that college is a rip off. At this point, I think the arguments have reached the mainstream. The problem is that, while some kids win the intellectual lottery, it’s too risky for most kids to skip out on the credentials.

So the question is: how can you make the most of the fact that you are going to college at a time when most people think college does not prepare you for the next step in your life?

Here are seven things you can do right now:

1. If you’re taking out loans, transfer to a cheap school.
Believe it or not, there is no undergraduate degree that is worth taking out student loans to complete. This is true even for the Ivy League: Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton, found that the indicator of whether someone will be a super achiever is not whether they attended Harvard or Princeton, but whether they applied. So the act of seeing yourself as a high achiever is more valuable than taking out loans to attend a high achiever school.

Here are many other arguments as to why you should not take out student loans for college. And Zach Bissonnette wrote my favorite book on the topic. But the bottom line is to figure out how to transfer to a very cheap school right now. Because the biggest thing you can do to preserve your ability to land a job in the future is to keep yourself debt-free now, so you can afford a job that does not pay well.

2. If you’re rich, get your parents involved.
For those of you who have rich parents, expensive schools are a possibility. I, for one, am a big fan of using the money you would have spent on college and instead, start a business. Even if you fail, the failure will do more to prepare you for your adult life than college will.

But if you’re not going to take that advice, what’s the best way to make sure you grow while you’re at college? The answer, according to the educators themselves, is that you need to rely on your parents. The value of college is personal growth, but that value is hard to get to, according to Richard Arum, professor at NYU and author of the book, Academically Adrift, He writes that “No actor in the system has the student’s growth as their primary goal.” So Arum argues that parents need to take a bigger role. Which, finally, is a seal of approval for helicopter parenting. (Which I have said all along is great for kids to have.)

3. Start looking for an internship.
Look, you can tell me you are at college for the love of learning. But if you really love to learn you can do it your whole life, every free hour you have. But not if you starve to death. Which is why recent grads say one of their biggest regrets about the time they were in college is that they didn’t get good internships.

According to Vault, 90% of students graduating from college have had an internship. So it’s not like a leg up on the competition if you get one. Getting one is just surviving.

If you want a leg up, you need to get a good internship, and most of those get locked up in the fall. That’s right. Before winter break, most of the people who are going to get great internships have already spent tons of time making the perfect application and sending it in.

So get moving now to line up a good summer job for next year.

4. Invent jobs for yourself.
Actually, you don’t need an internship to build a resume. Start and sell a company. That’s a great way to look like a college prodigy without even having rip-roaring success. Also, start adding bullets to your resume by making up projects for yourself.

You do not, for example, need permission from Nike to do a social media campaign. You can write a great tweet and link to a page on Nike’s site. Then you can count the retweets. And here’s what it looks like on your resume: Designed and executed a social media campaign for Nike.

In the interview, when you have to talk about what you did, talk about how you decided to drive traffic to that page, and how to quantify success by counting retweets. You’ll sound smart. No one cares if you got paid to be smart once they notice how you sound smart.

5. Understand yourself.
Take a personality test. Your score isn’t going to change anymore. So change your major to match your score. Because you are likely to discover that whatever your parents raised you to be — doctor, lawyer, artist — is not right for you. That’s okay. Better you should find out now, when you can get a grip on who you are and what you can expect from yourself in the workforce.

Also, while you’re being honest with yourself, now is the time to face the fact that you have been a depressive, or neurotic, or drunkard for too many years of your life. Because many mental illnesses are largely latent until one’s early 20s. So if you’ve got it, it’s probably going to get bad in college. Investigate mental illnesses, and get help for it in college, where there’s a built-in support system.

6. Read Lolita.
Reading fiction is a great way to understand yourself and other people.

It is not cool to say there is a western canon, but I think there is a canon, it’s just different. It’s not Harold Bloom’s list, because, let’s just all admit that we did not read Thomas Kyd and Charles Lamb. The list is not fun. It is tiresome. So don’t bother with it in college.

However the idea that we have a shared frame of reference is fun. And there is a group of books that so many idea-oriented people have read that the books become part of the fabric of contemporary thinking.

And, to begin the discussion about what is the new canon, I’d like to propose we measure literature by how many people have made entries on a book’s Wikipedia page. Lolita has 2,300 changes.

Note: While researching links to support my claim that Harold Bloom is a bore, I did come across Thomas Kyd, who is on the list for writing a grisly report of a wife who poisons her husband.

Now that I grow all my own food and cook three meals a day, I wonder why more women do not poison their mate. Surely this topic should be part of the new canon. So maybe we can each read Thomas Kyd, and make an edit to the Wikipedia page.

 

 

Posted in College & grad school
155 comments on “What to do in college right now
  1. karbonator says:

    So with #4 you are basically asking people to lie on their resume. Great way to start a career! I would for sure end the interview right there if “Designed and executed a social media campaign for Nike” turned out to be a tweet. It’s at best immoral and probably the worst advice I’ve ever heard…

    • Barabas_jones says:

      I am in awe at what is passed offf as “career advise” sometimes. Nobody in the real corporate world would do have of what is proposed in the above article. By all means, continue to comitt career suicide by listening to such “entitled” illusions of grandjeur and I’ll continue to hire from mainland China.

    • Barabas_jones says:

      I am in awe at what is passed offf as “career advise” sometimes. Nobody in the real corporate world would do have of what is proposed in the above article. By all means, continue to comitt career suicide by listening to such “entitled” illusions of grandjeur and I’ll continue to hire from mainland China.

  2. Brian S Hall says:

    Excellent advice, really.
    And I love the knobs on that sink. Maybe you’ve unlocked some latent fetish of mine?

  3. MBL says:

    Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert reading Lolita is beyond amazing. Anything by Nabokov is jaw-dropping in its mastery of the English language. Given that his first 9 novels were written in Russian, he is all the more astonishing.

    The Catcher in the Rye certainly guarantees a shared frame of reference, but, for me, it was the first book that I reread and was astonished by how much I had changed–given that Holden clearly hadn’t.

    At first I was taken aback by Penelope’s Nike campaign scheme, but I have to admit that framing it as goal setting with measurable results is intriguing.

  4. MBL says:

    Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert reading Lolita is beyond amazing. Anything by Nabokov is jaw-dropping in its mastery of the English language. Given that his first 9 novels were written in Russian, he is all the more astonishing.

    The Catcher in the Rye certainly guarantees a shared frame of reference, but, for me, it was the first book that I reread and was astonished by how much I had changed–given that Holden clearly hadn’t.

    At first I was taken aback by Penelope’s Nike campaign scheme, but I have to admit that framing it as goal setting with measurable results is intriguing.

  5. Simon Mayeski says:

    Thanks for posting the link to the Myers-Briggs (although it says Jung Typology Test at the top of the results page?). Always wondered…I’m an INTJ. (33/88/25/11) Pretty damn close, methinks :)

  6. Simon Mayeski says:

    Thanks for posting the link to the Myers-Briggs (although it says Jung Typology Test at the top of the results page?). Always wondered…I’m an INTJ. (33/88/25/11) Pretty damn close, methinks :)

  7. L (another lisa) says:

    “I wonder why more women do not poison their mate”  I found this statement completely fascinating and was about to google “how do women kill their husbands” and thought my husband would wonder what the hell was going on if he saw that in the browsers history so I decided against googling it for now.  But  I think most crimes of passion aren’t really planned out.  Food poisoning would take a while, thus lots of planning.  

    • Maus says:

      Just a bit of advice from a former prosecutor.  If you Google using the query above, and at some later date your husband happens to die (God forbid), you are going to have a very pointed and painful discussion with a police detective that didn’t need to happen.  Try not to take P too seriously when she gets all sly and ironic.

    • Scot says:

      most browsers have a “private browsing” function which doesn’t record where you go…

  8. L (another lisa) says:

    “I wonder why more women do not poison their mate”  I found this statement completely fascinating and was about to google “how do women kill their husbands” and thought my husband would wonder what the hell was going on if he saw that in the browsers history so I decided against googling it for now.  But  I think most crimes of passion aren’t really planned out.  Food poisoning would take a while, thus lots of planning.  

  9. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  10. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  11. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

    • Netwriterm says:

      Absolutely. I told my brothers to keep good friends in school as they would be a valuable network later.

      M

  12. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  13. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  14. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  15. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  16. Sadya Sid says:

    You missed two other action items: 1) start building a network now (2) get into extracurricular activities as much as you can.

    Personal growth, skills & talent nurturing come from putting
    yourself into different extracurricular stuff, a college student should
    try getting into a debate or dramatic groups simply to improve one’s
    communications and presentation skills.

    Hang out and hang on to the smart, well-read and talented kids, make
    them part of their network now as opposed to when they are in leadership
    positions later in life

  17. Anonymous says:

    it’s a slowww news day so i just did the Myers-Briggs test. I am (no surprises here) an idealist – an INFJ. Now I understand why I have this strange desire to go into career coaching.

  18. Sohini says:

    I’m with you on a lot of this, especially the inventing a job for yourself. But I stop short – hard – at the “Designed and executed a social media campaign for Nike.” I’ve never done anything traditionally or according to plan – much to the dismay of many loved ones – and have talked myself into or invented many of the jobs I’ve held. And I can tell you that in every instance, that would’ve landed me in unnecessary hot water. 

    I do get what you’re saying, but in that particular example and similar situations, maybe it would be better to say “Designed and executed a Nike-connected social media campaign” or some such. Otherwise it would look like the person worked for and with Nike’s approval. There’s chutzpah – if you can pull it off. And then there’s getting busted for embellishing a resume and lying if you don’t. In a small town, and it’s amazing how even the biggest cities are small towns once you start working, that can have huge lasting consequences. 

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s why  you won’t land in hot water: Because your job title on the resume will not say Nike. And your job workplace will not say Nike headquarters. And the interview question will be an opportunity for you to show that you learned everything someone should learn from doing that job, even though you were not paid for it.

      A resume is a way to get in the door. An interview is a way to get the job. The way you talk about that line on your resume matters much more than whether or not you were paid to do the work. I think you’re focusing too much on the resume and not enough on the interview.

      Penelope

      • Brad says:

        Nonsense.  Practically all companies these days require a completed job application form, which requires dates of employment, salary, and a contact name.  None of which exist in the Nike example, so you either leave it off the form or you outright lie.  Either of which raises the whiff of resume BS and immediately disqualifies the applicant.

        • Nessa says:

          A job application is not the same thing as a resume. Your resume has room for non-job-related accomplishments and experience, which is what she’s referring to. I’ll tell you now that if you were applying to anything PR or marketing-related, it would be a show of resourcefulness–that you used the resources available to you (i.e. the free and unlimited-possibilities resource of the internet) to teach yourself a skill (i.e. internet marketing).

          • Brad says:

            Sure, if that’s how you present it.  But if tracking a tweet is on your resume under “job experience” (as in “Invent jobs for yourself”) it’s intentionally misleading. 

        • Nessa says:

          A job application is not the same thing as a resume. Your resume has room for non-job-related accomplishments and experience, which is what she’s referring to. I’ll tell you now that if you were applying to anything PR or marketing-related, it would be a show of resourcefulness–that you used the resources available to you (i.e. the free and unlimited-possibilities resource of the internet) to teach yourself a skill (i.e. internet marketing).

        • Nessa says:

          A job application is not the same thing as a resume. Your resume has room for non-job-related accomplishments and experience, which is what she’s referring to. I’ll tell you now that if you were applying to anything PR or marketing-related, it would be a show of resourcefulness–that you used the resources available to you (i.e. the free and unlimited-possibilities resource of the internet) to teach yourself a skill (i.e. internet marketing).

      • fd says:

        there’s so much truth in this. i interviewed some potential interns today and some of them did so little with what was on their resume when they were in the interview, and some with relatively little made what they did have work so hard for them. i didn’t really care that they had or hadn’t been the boss of organising their college events, but that they could demonstrate a clear understanding of what it might involve since they had put it on their resume was interesting to me. two on being asked ‘so what did organising those events involve’ said ‘oh, i wasn’t in charge’! one with no paid work experience managed to explain in detail the steps in event organisation from her experience organising her extended family into attending her father’s surprise 60th birthday party.

      • fd says:

        there’s so much truth in this. i interviewed some potential interns today and some of them did so little with what was on their resume when they were in the interview, and some with relatively little made what they did have work so hard for them. i didn’t really care that they had or hadn’t been the boss of organising their college events, but that they could demonstrate a clear understanding of what it might involve since they had put it on their resume was interesting to me. two on being asked ‘so what did organising those events involve’ said ‘oh, i wasn’t in charge’! one with no paid work experience managed to explain in detail the steps in event organisation from her experience organising her extended family into attending her father’s surprise 60th birthday party.

  19. Chandlee Bryan says:

     Interesting perspective. I spent 10 years working in college career offices (8 at Ivy League schools) before starting my own business as a career coach/resume writer and here’s my take.

    1. Many jobs require a college degree — and don’t consider the “otherwise qualified” piece unless they can’t find a candidate with one.Case in point: I have a friend who worked in IT on Wall Street for 12 years. He got downsized as part of a global layoff. He doesn’t have a college degree. He’s been turned down twice recently because of the lack of a 4-year-degree. One of the companies that turned him down was founded by a guy who doesn’t have a degree. They wouldn’t make an exception.

    2. College opens job doors for you that you wouldn’t have otherwise — especially if you go to schools with strong internship and recruiting relationships.

    3. If you have to take out loans and you haven’t gone to college yet, an alternative route is to try going to Community College for the first two years and then transfer into a four year school. You get all of the benefits.Many colleges even have linkage agreements with community colleges; in Virginia you can transfer from Piedmont Valley Community College to UVA (ranked in top 25 nationally).

    4. You should start your internship search early, but most employers don’t hire until at least January. One of the schools I worked at does an internship survey every year, less than 12% of students get offers in the fall — and many of those students are returning to a previous employer.

    (I recently wrote an free ebook on how to convert your internship into a full-time job; you can find it on the front page of Job-Hunt.org) 

    Bottom Line: College still matters, and there are other alternatives not mentioned here you can also consider.

    Chandlee Bryan

    • Sohini says:

      As a friend – who is extremely successful and went to college well after she’d started working – once put it about her degree: “It means nothing once you have it. It means everything if you don’t have it.”

    • A.G. says:

      Very good and well structured walk-through of counter arguments, Chandlee – thanks for the reality check.

  20. Joe... says:

    While you have a point about college, it is a little miss-given in that for the most part college lags too far behind the real world to provide operational skills.  However what college does provide (to an employer) is provide proof of discipline in being able to achieve a goal and in fact “how” to achieve a major goal as this is typically this is the first “major” goal out of high school people are asked to complete.  Second take a loan for an Ivy League School as you can be as dumb as a box of rocks and get a senior level job especially, as school affinities run as deep as blood.  

  21. Ivy says:

    I might add something to the list: study abroad. I was able to put my financial aid toward study abroad costs during my junior year, and ended up spending little more than I would have at my home institution for a semester in London (most of the extra cost was the flight over, and that wasn’t bad). I had an internship in a London office while I was there, and it was one of the most valuable things I did in college. No question.

  22. Harriet May says:

    Ok, so I wish I had this advice when I was 15 or 16.  Because my dad always wanted me to be a math whiz which I wasn’t.  And I nearly messed up my chances of getting in to a decent college because of it– and now that I work for him he can see the value in studying English literature.  Of course, my parents were never helicopter parents, which sometimes was good and sometimes bad.  In fact, the only time I can ever remember either one of them helping me with my homework is when I was 5 and my mom had to call my dad at work to ask him what dimes and nickels were (we had just moved to America so I think first grade had benefits for both of us at that point).  I was really depressive all the way through college, and almost got help, but my boyfriend at the time couldn’t deal with it so I thought I couldn’t deal with it either. This is another thing: do not rely too much on college boyfriends (and girlfriends).  It’s way too easy to do and you miss out if you fall too far into that trap (unless maybe you are following the blueprint and husband-hunting already which is fine but wasn’t what I was doing).  And read Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.  That was the best thing I read in college, although I’m not sure how many edits it has on Wikipedia.

    • Chris M. says:

      Harriet, forgive me if I sound blunt but in every comment I read from you you talk about your dad. I think it was time you tried doing something outside the business family. You will learn a lot in a short time if you diversify a bit your experience.

  23. Joe says:

    You are just getting flippin’ weird.  Poisoning your spouse?  As part of a blog about what you should do in college right now?  I think I’ve had enough of this shit.

    • Bill says:

      I agree.
      And you should share more photos of your smile!

    • Kar says:

      There actually is something to spouse poisonings..ever watch those mystery crime cases on truTV…a lot of them end up being spouse poisonings.

      • Douglas Fletcher says:

        Um…those “tru” tv stories are about the people who got caught.  Not a good situation unless you think Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a motivational program.

        If you’re not in a hurry you can go the old traditional route of killing your husband by feeding him steaks and addicting him to cigarettes & martinis.  The drawback with this method though is that you just end of being a little old lady with a bunch of money.

        Ain’t life a bitch.

    • Erik Zolan says:

      The actual item was “Read Lolita”. The preparing food and killing people was a seperate item. Identifiable by the “Note:”.

      You’re in college right now Joe? I think this material might be a bit advanced for you if your reading comprehension skills are that poor.

      • company man says:

        Regardless, her advice on skipping college and investing in your own stsrt up is poor. Few small businesses survive without adequate financing, unless you consider freelance writing a business. In that case, most freelance writers i know of are supported by their spouses.
        My guess is this prevents the occasional poisoning.
        My wife is a wonderful cook; in return, I finance our lifestyle.
        Im able to do this because of degrees in finance, math, computers, and business, and because of years as a brainy slave.
        Degrees are vital, and generally speaking, the harder the degree, the better the post-grad job.

        • Nessa says:

          I’m a freelance writer, and I know that if I wasn’t already working a full-time job, I could probably secure enough clients to live comfortably. The key is being a *good* freelance writer, which a lot of people who go into freelance writing just aren’t. They spend years in a completely different professional setting, then decide they are qualified to be professional writers because they learned while carefully composing emails and memos.

          I agree with the idea that the advice may not be for everyone–but I don’t think it’s poor. For the people who have to pay for it (those who couldn’t get scholarships or grants) it is an astronomical commitment with an increasingly lower payoff. If you can get it paid for, I say by all means–if not, use a sense of ingenuity and resourcefulness to prove you’ve got applicable skills and knowledge in a job setting. Of course this doesn’t transfer well to things in the sciences because those tracks come with a lot of technical knowledge. For fields that require largely theoretical knowledge, you can probably find your way without the expensive “guidance” offered by a degree program. 

          She does say that college is usually a necessity: “While some kids win the intellectual lottery, it’s too risky for most kids to skip out on the credentials.” The comment about your wife cooking, so you “finance [your] lifestyle”, is a bit off, though. Is your marriage really about reciprocity and obligation? Why is taking care of her while she stays home somehow paying her back for her cooking skills? Is she okay with that?

          • company man says:

            Yes. In fact, this sort of reciprocity is actually how most marriages thrived for thousands of years.
            It is true that professional writers, freelance or otherwise, can do quite well writing ad copy, press releases, magazine articles, etc.
            But it’s also far easier, I think, to make a good living if you have some quantitative skills. HR, marketing, sales, and law only have so many openings, generally far fewer than the number of applicants.
            And all of the above occupations assume you have strong writing skills as well.

          • WiseGuy says:

            I would think (high paying) jobs in the hard maths and sciences are more difficult to come by. Your business/finance/computer background is likely what’s allowing you to make a comfortable living, but it’s not as though these jobs aren’t just as limited as positions employing more “social” careers.

  24. AmberLewter says:

    This is great information, and something I really wish I had read back when I was in college.  I like the combination of risk-taking and flexibility that you endorse, it’s real and it’s so important for the competitive job market for recent college grads of today. 

    I would add one more thing to this list: make it a point to meet and befriend people that are already involved in the industry you want to pursue. Going to conferences and trade shows is great, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Beyond just networking, truly getting to know people that you want to form long-term  business relationships with is vital.

    The carefree experience of college did little tol prepare me for life in the ‘real world’. Until I was actually looking for a job I had never realized just how important it is to cultivate valuable relationships and create useful (mutually beneficial) connections. So, I would say; get out there and meet professional people and figure out how you can be useful to them before ever asking for anything in return, do it with a helpful,willing attitude, and when you need to ask for something it will be much easier. 

    • OvereducatedUnderemployed says:

      What if one’s efforts at making valuable relationships/networking tend to result in alienating and offending  would-be employers and potential “connections”?

      Given the abundant AS content on this blog, I hope that Penelope and others can address this issue. 

    • OvereducatedUnderemployed says:

      What if one’s efforts at making valuable relationships/networking tend to result in alienating and offending  would-be employers and potential “connections”?

      Given the abundant AS content on this blog, I hope that Penelope and others can address this issue. 

      • IUB WTS says:

        I imagine that Penelope has problems with this too, but she has really mild Asperger’s. She can be charismatic and charming when she wants to be and she’s naturally extroverted. Perhaps she could ask for a guest post on the subject of networking for Aspies?

  25. Erik says:

    I
    understood basically none of #6 except that it's about literature (I think).

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      What? Blah. Melissa hated number six as well. But number six is my favorite part of this post. I think the idea that we choose the literary canon based on Wikipedia entries is genius. 

      Penelope

      • Nessa says:

        I got it. It is genius.

        • Penelope Trunk says:

          Great. I like that I installed software where we can vote for comments we like. I am voting for your comment!

          Penelope

        • Penelope Trunk says:

          Great. I like that I installed software where we can vote for comments we like. I am voting for your comment!

          Penelope

          • Nessa says:

            I agree. I like the new setup, too. And I will add to my original comment that the relative importance of a particular subject to the zeitgeist is indicated by how much attention goes to it in completely public forums like Wikipedia. I signed up for Wikipedia thinking, “this is a great skill, I can help build pages and slap it on my resume at some point when I get really good” and was really, really intimidated. People take it very seriously. I was so pleased to go to the discussion page for Gothic literature (a subject I’ve studied and am very interested in) and see people extrapolating in long-winded arguments about the difference between a novel and a romance, calling each other idiots. Majority rules. It’s completely user-driven and almost completely non-heirarchical, which is the most democratic way I can think of to label things as literature vs. not.

      • Jamie Nacht Farrell says:

        How about Atlas Shrugged – 

      • Jamie Nacht Farrell says:

        How about Atlas Shrugged – 

  26. Furniture Liverpool says:

    Studying, would eb on the top of my list

  27. Élan Karpinski says:

    I like this list, especially #1.  My husband is always harassing me about my choice of schools:  I went to the school I could finish without debt, not the best school.  My education was still great, though, because I made sure ask fellow students “Who is the best professor you have had here and why?” and then I took classes with those people.

    Okay off to Google “careers for INTP” so I can figure out what to do with my life after college. 

  28. Will Marlow says:

    If I were giving advice to college students, I would suggest that instead of doing an internship, they make a plan to do freelance work if that’s at all possible in their field.  For example, a student who wants a marketing career should use Craigslist or LinkedIn to find a business that needs a freelancer for some area of marketing, and they should teach themselves the following: how to pitch freelance services, how to pitch an hourly or project rate, how to manage their time on a project, how to manage an employer’s expectations, and how to actually deliver results that a business cares about. 

    In my opinion, internships are starting to carry a huge stigma these days, because no one respects the work of interns, so people assume that internships have basically no value.  Freelance work is measurable and much more defined.  Obviously, the whole thing hinges on the ability of a college student to deliver valuable services to a business, which is NOT at all a given…Hence, this is what super high achievers should do. 

    (PS – I think that this would be more impressive than your idea of creating a business for the sole purpose of selling it for a dollar.  Even though in theory that should work as a resume builder, in practice I think that people have a better BS-detector than that…)

    • thatgirl says:

      It would be very difficult for those without much work experience to learn how to pitch oneself for freelance work. Most freelance work requires some degree of a defined/precise skill set. So identifying marketable skills by comparing yours to jobs out there might be a start.

      In New York, we have a terrific resource for freelancers, which provides a lot of advocacy for this growing part of the workforce, as well as advice about negotiating payment, and even health insurance. See here for details: http://www.freelancersunion.org/

  29. Spike says:

    more don’t poison their mate because they read the classics of Western literature and learn that instead of alleviating their own problems it causes more, leaves debilitating guilt, is unjust and ultimately will not go unpunished.

    (and the farmers not that bad of a guy)

  30. Brigid says:

    1. Everyone in their twenties should see a therapist, but as that’s also the time when folks are often without health insurance, it’s near impossible (even $100/hour is nuts). So: working it out at college = spot on.

    2. I love the Wikipedia idea. It could just be a popularity contest in practice (lotsa Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter, I’d imagine) but I would still want to give it a shot and see the results. If a coder out there whips up a site can you post it?

    3. Two rumored Harold Bloom stories:
       a. In a Shakespeare class, Bloom was waxing about how Romeo and Juliet are the most perfect romantic couple blah blah blah. A student asked: Um, shouldn’t we consider the fact that they were 14 and really just a ball of ranging hormones? To which Bloom replied: if I had a gun, I’d shoot you.
       b. Bloom was standing on Church St. in his dirty overcoat, looking his usual shlubby self, clutching his mostly empty paper Starbucks cup. A passer-by thought he was homeless and threw a couple quarters in the cup

    4. Sure, they’re rumors, but what type of person are you in reality to have such stories told about you?

  31. Brigid says:

    1. Everyone in their twenties should see a therapist, but as that’s also the time when folks are often without health insurance, it’s near impossible (even $100/hour is nuts). So: working it out at college = spot on.

    2. I love the Wikipedia idea. It could just be a popularity contest in practice (lotsa Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter, I’d imagine) but I would still want to give it a shot and see the results. If a coder out there whips up a site can you post it?

    3. Two rumored Harold Bloom stories:
       a. In a Shakespeare class, Bloom was waxing about how Romeo and Juliet are the most perfect romantic couple blah blah blah. A student asked: Um, shouldn’t we consider the fact that they were 14 and really just a ball of ranging hormones? To which Bloom replied: if I had a gun, I’d shoot you.
       b. Bloom was standing on Church St. in his dirty overcoat, looking his usual shlubby self, clutching his mostly empty paper Starbucks cup. A passer-by thought he was homeless and threw a couple quarters in the cup

    4. Sure, they’re rumors, but what type of person are you in reality to have such stories told about you?

  32. Nessa says:

    I am so surprised at how many people come on here, read the blogs, and then start having fits about how it “would never fly in the corporate world” (where is that, anyway? A higher plane of reality? Christ). Come on, people. Get on the same wavelength. Or just don’t come back. But the whining is just sad.

  33. Nessa says:

    I am so surprised at how many people come on here, read the blogs, and then start having fits about how it “would never fly in the corporate world” (where is that, anyway? A higher plane of reality? Christ). Come on, people. Get on the same wavelength. Or just don’t come back. But the whining is just sad.

    • redrock says:

      you mean anybody who disagrees or has a different experience in their work-life should not comment? 

      • Nessa says:

        No–I mean the people who get nasty and mean, not just the people who disagree. There’s nothing wrong with a different perspective, but when the people with a different perspective start saying she has no idea what she’s talking about, or is off-base, or is “weird”, or whatever–why? What is the goal of treating people like that? That’s all I was saying. 

        • redrock says:

          the blog is written very often with a set of provocative assumptions. Presented in a manner as if they are the one and only truth. They are not, many of the ideas presented here only work in a small subset of work and employment settings. Indeed, I think almost everybody would agree that Penelope has no idea about a science/engineering/ medical and such workplace and its requirements. Sometimes it is not simply a different opinion, but it is the experience of many people that the advice is misplaced. It is perfectly permissible to say so, and the way the posts are written they do invite comments of disagreement. 

          • Nessa says:

            Yes, but my point is that those comments of disagreement do not have to be so vitriolic. Some people disagree so disrespectfully. 

          • redrock says:

            the tone of the blog is sometimes provocative and as such also leads to heated arguments. Compared to many other online comment sections this one is truly on the benign side. Not saying here that I endorse nasty comments, if they took over I would simply stop reading.
            I am curious why Aspergers is connected here with people in science and engineering. This is misconception, as much as it is a misconception that science, math, engineering people are less adept at social interactions then the average population. And Aspergers is not equal to being introverted or “geeky”.

          • Vanessa says:

            Sorry -worded it poorly. In my experience, people with Asperbers are often- not always – bright and quirky and see things in ways others don’t – as this blog does. Many engineers share those traits. 

            Speaking of misconceptions, many people with Aspbergers are quite social, btw, although they can have trouble reading social cues.

            I’m an engineer and I don’t have Aspbergers. My foster son (now grown) does have it, and he’s an artist. Full stop.

            And I’m getting waaaayyy off topic.  Someone lead me back to the main stream!

          • Vanessa says:

            Sorry -worded it poorly. In my experience, people with Asperbers are often- not always – bright and quirky and see things in ways others don’t – as this blog does. Many engineers share those traits. 

            Speaking of misconceptions, many people with Aspbergers are quite social, btw, although they can have trouble reading social cues.

            I’m an engineer and I don’t have Aspbergers. My foster son (now grown) does have it, and he’s an artist. Full stop.

            And I’m getting waaaayyy off topic.  Someone lead me back to the main stream!

          • Vanessa says:

            Sorry -worded it poorly. In my experience, people with Asperbers are often- not always – bright and quirky and see things in ways others don’t – as this blog does. Many engineers share those traits. 

            Speaking of misconceptions, many people with Aspbergers are quite social, btw, although they can have trouble reading social cues.

            I’m an engineer and I don’t have Aspbergers. My foster son (now grown) does have it, and he’s an artist. Full stop.

            And I’m getting waaaayyy off topic.  Someone lead me back to the main stream!

          • Nessa says:

            And I read this blog regularly–I do not find it nearly so provocative and sensational as people seem to contend who disagree with its basic premises. I think most of us would agree that for a great deal of the content here, certain science and engineering (which I would argue are the small subset, not this niche) workers would not find applicable information. She is not catering to these people and shouldn’t have to. I don’t think she ever claimed to have knowledge about these fields so the fact that people are holding her to that standard is annoying and petty.

          • Vanessa says:

            I think I was the one who brought up that the advice was “dead wrong” for engineering and science. Is that disrespectful?  I did say I enjoy the blog. Comments about her weirdness are a tad off (and not very interesting to read). I skip over those.

            But has Penelope has ever said that she only writes for a specific niche market of people in certain fields -not- eng/sci? Don’t remember that. Been reading for years myself.

            At any rate, many science and engineering types are bright, quirky folks with some version of Aspbergers’. Except for the “science/eng” part, that’s a pretty apt description of Penelope herself.
             
            Many engineering and science students, and young profs in those fields, read this blog, because Penelope’s personality resonates with them. That’s how I found out about it.
            But it doesn’t always contain the best career advice for those fields – which is why I commented.

            I think much of the standard career advice offered to  young people is not very relevant to the work world they’ll be in by 15 years  – and this is especially true for eng/sci/math majors. 

            Agreed that it’s obvious that the divine Ms. P. isn’t writing this particular post for careers that require a medical license (clinician, nurse, dentist, etc.).

  34. brooklynchick says:

    Overall, great advice (especially #1).  As someone in HR who hires lots of entry level talent, I will echo others who suggested extra-curriculars (if you actually are passionate about them), study abroad (if you can afford it) and of course, therapy.

    I would say paid work is more important to me and my hiring managers than internships.  I am very reluctant to hire recent grads who have never had a real paid job, I don’t want to be their first.  I want to know they know how to show up on time every day, deal with group dynamics, etc.  Also, I am impressed when students have held the same paid job (work study, retail, waitressing, whatever) for more than a year – shows they have some steadiness.

    Take advantage of free writing help available at most campuses.  Those that can’t write don’t make it.  Use the career services office, at least for basics like interview practice and how to write a cover letter (cannot believe how many BA’s can’t even do a decent resume).

    Lastly, I would say, learn a 2nd language!  Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, French, Haitian Creole and Arabic are all in demand for us.  I wish I had done it in college.

    • company man says:

      If youre male, learn accounting/finance, math, and business software.
      HR, marketing, and management jobs are no longer available to us due to our gender, in most large corporations.

  35. Natasha says:

    I am in love with you.

  36. jhwordsmith says:

    Thanks a million for this! Have just sent it to my college-attending daughter. Agree with most of it 100%. But you mention seven points. What’s the seventh?

  37. Amy Gremillion says:

    You know, I’d give anything to have known this several years ago.. but as it is, I’m graduating this year with a liberal arts degree and $40,000 in student loan debt.  Fingers crossed that I learn some interview skills very quickly.

    • Netwritem says:

       Also get that loan paid off before you have kids. Even if you have to work two jobs and eat rice and beans.

      Nothing dictates your future actions like debt. Get rid of it asap.

      M

      • Nessa says:

        Wow. “Get rid of debt.” Incisive. Do you have a blog?  

        • Netwritem says:

          Well, Nessa, as we can see with the student loan crisis unfolding in the US, many people don’t bother to prioritize the repayment of  student debt.

          I would have been immensely grateful if someone had made that incisive point to me when I was 23. They didn’t and I have paid dearly as a result.

          M

           

  38. guest says:

    Going to an inexpensive college is a good idea for all the reasons you mention, but also because learning and career advancement often require updating professional skills and/or résumé. If someone is already in debt for college they are less likely to spend more money on continuing education. Continuing education includes industry conferences and workshops which are often good networking opportunities. 

  39. guest says:

    Going to an inexpensive college is a good idea for all the reasons you mention, but also because learning and career advancement often require updating professional skills and/or résumé. If someone is already in debt for college they are less likely to spend more money on continuing education. Continuing education includes industry conferences and workshops which are often good networking opportunities. 

  40. Vanessa says:

    Add: go to industry conferences, join professional associations (if you’re not sure what career you want, pick different ones).  Students may attend and participate for reduced cost (or free if volunteer to help with the conference).  You can get timely information on trends and network with people in the field. Once you’ve gone to a few, find out when the call for papers goes out, l or apply to present poster pr panel session. If accepted, there you go, nice line on your resume, bob’s your uncle; if rejected, well, now you’ve done it, good practice for later life. 

    Add: if you can’t afford the school of your dreams, move there, start filing independent tax returns, work for a year or so, and then apply as an in-state resident. It’s how my husband got into engineering at Va Tech after being rejected initially. 
    Most of your advice is dead wrong for engineers and scientists, btw. (Like your blog, but sad to say, I’ve yet to read the Penelope Trunk, tinkerers and lab geeks edition. Where is she? ) No way to get in those fields without a 4-year degree, and where you graduate )-does- matter in those fields- at least right out of school – an A average at a second-tier school is not viewed as well as a B average at a tier 1 school. Job seekers can bemoan it, or they can work with it. I suggest the latter. Engineering and science hiring managers tend to look for the holes and they will ask for concrete data, so the Nike strategy doesn’t work as well, either. 

    And – for those aspiring engineers out there – pay more attention to your grades in your major! They will ask about GPA in your major, won’t care a jittle or a jot about your A in literature or poly sci. 

    Languages can give you an edge – many engineering firms have overseas contracts. Study Arabic, Chinese, or Indian dialects (if you can find classes in them).  

    • Tempus says:

      “Most of your advice is dead wrong for engineers and scientists, btw.”

      This.

      It’s also pretty useless if you want to be any kind of medical practitioner. Sure, a “generic” liberal arts degree will do for a “generic” business career (and there are a LOT of both out there), and in those cases P’s advice may be spot on.

  41. James says:

    Penelope I completely agree with you to go to a decent instate college with low tuition.  However, I don’t think that college is completely unnecessary.  Finishing maybe unnecessary to some people, but I think that everyone who is able to should attend an in-state college.  

    I went out of state to UW-Madison, and while I loved the people and the town and getting wasted, I hated the college itself. They made me take random classes like Astronomy and obscure history classes to fulfill the general requirements.  I had no clue what I wanted to do and for so many of the majors you needed to know what you wanted to do before you even got into college.  Realize you want to be a journalism major 2 years in?  Sorry buddy, you’re screwed.  I enjoyed writing but didn’t want to be an english major.  I liked art but didn’t want to do Art History.  

    I ended up becoming a math major with a focus in computer science because I figured it would make me stand out and seem smart in job interviews in many different fields and would set me apart from business majors.  Also, I did it because in Mathematics there are specific sets of rules and you could learn everything straight from the textbooks so you wouldn’t have to attend those 9am classes in the middle of the Wisconsin winters.  I finished, but the stress of being a math major gave me ulcerative colitis for a year and made me depressed for awhile (the winters didn’t help).  

    What do I do now?  I’m a photographer and web designer.  I learned more in one summer assisting for a commercial photographer than in any other period of my life.  A $20 monthly Lynda.com account gave me all of the technical computer experience that I needed to know in a year’s time. 

    But would I have done college the same way again and made the same mistakes?  Hell yes (although in-state).  I didn’t find out what I wanted to do in college, and there are much more efficient ways of learning, but I think I learned something more important at the most important time to learn it. I learned what I didn’t want to do and how I didn’t want to live my life.  I wouldn’t have searched out a job that I enjoyed had I not went through this. It was the most important formative experience of my life because of these difficulties.

  42. Netwriterm says:

    As a hiring manager, #4 would not dazzle me. It would hit high on the weird meter and be a strike against a candidate. I’m not looking for crazy people to do random things. Maybe if I was a social media company, but even then. I want people who can produce results as part of a coordinated team effort, not cowboys/girls.

    I totally agree on the internship. I’ve had several interns and I always gave them as much work and responsibility as they could handle. Plus mentoring and a reference. All my interns went on to make good money in good jobs and I like to think I had a part in that.

    M

    • Karelys Beltran says:

      this is a real question: what if I managed a team of people and created a wonderful project then listed it on my resume? would you think of it differently then? because the only difference I can think of for #4 would be working with people, coordinating efforts to get the best results.

      • Netwritem says:

        Probably not. Unless your project was a non-profit. If you take #4 and make it all about charity, that would get HR’s attention. Bur randomly targeting companies for phantom PR projects? Is just weird for those of us who are middle-aged. If you’re interviewing at a young hip company that likes stalker PR, then have at it.

        When I said coordinated team effort I meant top-down or team consensus driven ideas as part of a known project, not creating a team all by yourself for a company that has never heard of you.

        M

  43. Natalie says:

    I graduated college, loaded down with loans, right as the recession hit the job market. My saving grace was that I had five internships and two jobs over the course of my college career. I got hired right out of school and have managed successfully switch jobs and fields three times. My employers were much more impressed with my extensive work history than my degree – although my degree was a requirement to apply to all…

  44. ama says:

    Great post! The guy over at Study Hacks has a lot of solid advice on this topic as well, especially on how to create really interesting projects for yourself that’ll look great on a resume (along similar lines to starting your own company).

  45. Biffpow says:

    In the last week’s worth of posting, I’ve seen a lot of generalizations about college and graduate school. Some of them aren’t too far off base. Some of them are true for some people and programs, not true for others. And some of them are just emotion-based opinion and nothing more.
    I don’t know if these posts are aimed at boosting your comment numbers or if you’re just feeling irritated at education lately, but get back to writing about business, Trunk. That’s something you know about and have a perspective on that’s really illuminating.
    You’ve spent your adult life in business. Now you live on a farm (where you grow all your own food, yes, we know). And you have Asperger Syndrome. Do you really think your perspective on college and grad school can be objective?
    No offense, just some perspective.

  46. Amy says:

    Totally random comment, but at the top you mentioned “seven” things to do right now, and then you only listed six, unless I missed one or read wrong.   Are you keeping one to yourself for it’s own super-duper post?

  47. Amy says:

    Totally random comment, but at the top you mentioned “seven” things to do right now, and then you only listed six, unless I missed one or read wrong.   Are you keeping one to yourself for it’s own super-duper post?

  48. Awiz8 says:

    “Transfer to a cheap school”

    Yeah, right, Makes sense to transfer from MIT, CalTech or Stanford to a cheaper school and not get the same quality of educaton.

    “Read Lolita”

    What does Nabokov’s blathering about a preteenage girl have to do with software engineering or business?

    • Karelys Beltran says:

      it’s odd that you’ve missed her previous points about degrees in the humanities but you make such a passionate post. She’s never said anything about science degrees in this respect.

      • Awiz8 says:

        Would that be because those of us with science and engineering degrees already know that most of what she espouses as advice,isn’t worth the electrons it took to publish on this so-called career advice blog?

  49. Babu says:

    I am so sick of this notion that traits like hard work, teamwork, etc are exclusive to the “real-world” and can’t be picked up in school. I can’t speak for every program, but in the MBA program we do have groupwork, you do have to work extremely hard, and you have not only tests but written projects as well as oral presentations. Can we stop pretending that the “real-world” is some magical place where you develop all these wonderful skills and school is just a place to study.

    • Karelys Beltran says:

      I think it’s true for some programs. Like the one I did. It was very “real world” based. Maybe that’s one of the traits of one’s education that can be spun off in such a way to make sure that the employer notices it. Most likely, many of today’s employers (if they have a degree) their point of reference is when they went to school decades ago. Or if they don’t have one they feel like college graduates are “on another team.” Recently I read something interesting about pitching a good sale has more to do with making the consumer see it from their point of view. You may have all wonderful things to offer but they make not make the consumer’s radar because of how you present it.

  50. Ralph says:

    Interesting post.  I believe college is not for those who would invent a social media campaign and track the results.  These are the ones that should start up their own companines.  Then there is the rest of the population.  Looking at the attached labor statistics it looks to me like a college education has great value to the mainstream (this post applies the the high end of the bell curve with personal ambition).  These numbers trend about the same over the last couple of years; unemplyoment rate for no high school diploma 14.3%, high school dipolma 9.6%, some college 8.2%, bacherlor or higher 4.3%.  In my opinion, the degree is worth the job.

    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm

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