What’s good timing for grad school? For some degrees, the best timing is probably never. The benefits of the degree will never outweigh the problems it creates. For some degrees, going fast is key, for others, taking your time can ward off common missteps. Here’s a primer on how to approach a looming graduate application:

Timing for an MBA: Fast
The value of an MBA goes down the longer you wait to get it. At the beginning of your career you can get a jump-start out of the gate with an MBA from a top school. Midcareer, you won’t get that jump-start, because you’ve already started. So at that point, the MBA is just a ticket to play; most large companies like to see an MBA before moving you to the top levels of management.

It used to be that business schools encouraged candidates to wait a few years before applying. But that timeline doesn’t make sense for women who want kids. Today, most young women who want kids want to have them before they’re 35. So if you wait three years to go to business school, and then get a job afterward, you will have very little time to work before you start having kids. And then many benefits of the graduate degree are lost.

In an effort to encourage women to apply to business school, admissions departments are becoming more willing to take candidates straight out of college. For young women, this is a very good option.

But only if you’re sure you need that degree. If you don’t know what you want to do with the MBA, then you probably don’t need it. For people with no clear plan after business school, the burden of school loans to pay for the degree is often more limiting than the number of doors the degree opens.

Timing for other professional degrees: Slow
The cost of going to graduate school when you have no clear plan for afterward is even higher outside of business school. If you get a job in, say, public policy, and then decide you don’t want to go into that field, that degree makes you look unfocused, at best. You might think that more degrees are just more qualifications, but in fact, when you spend years getting a degree in a field where there are no jobs that interest you, you put a red flag up to employers that either you don’t know what you want or you don’t want them.

If possible, you would do best to leave frivolous graduate degrees off your resume so you can look a bit more focused.

Take time to work in the field you’re considering, to make sure that’s what you want to do. Have patience with yourself to learn a bit about who you are. It’s nearly impossible to make a decision as a student about what you’d want to do when you’re not a student. That’s the value of taking time to work in between college and grad school.

Timing for an advanced degree in humanities: Never
Baby boomers have a lock on tenure-track teaching jobs, and those boomers aren’t going anywhere any time soon. My favorite statistic in the world is that you would have a better chance surviving the Titanic than getting a tenure track job in the humanities. Members of the Modern Language Association routinely discuss this problem at the annual meeting, and in trade publications.

So look, if you love French, take a long vacation in Tunisia. And if you love Dante, read him at night, after work. You don’t need a degree in the humanities to enjoy learning.

Timing for law school: Try marketing first
Did you get a great LSAT score? You know what that means? You’ll do a great job in law school. Unfortunately, that is no indicator of how well you’ll do in the real world.

In a law firm, there is no clear partner track anymore. You can be de-equitized at any time. And the determining factor for your worth is not how well you analyze a case, but how well you drum up business. Lawyers are part of the service industry, and service professionals differentiate themselves through marketing. So you’d better be great at marketing if you’re going to law school.

Thinking that you’ll do nonprofit law instead? Then you need rich parents or a rich spouse because someone’s gotta pay off those school loans and it’s not going to be the ACLU.

The bottom line for grad school? Try new things, meet lots of different people and use these experiences to help figure out what to do. Take time to get to know yourself, in the post-school world, in the work world.

You need to know who you are and what you want before you start signing those school loan papers. A degree only helps you if it’s getting you to a place you really want to go to.

This is a guest post from Jon Morrow, who is 25 years old. His blog is On Moneymaking.

By Jon Morrow – I nearly killed myself in college to get straight A’s. Well, almost straight A’s. I graduated with 37 A’s and 3 B’s for a GPA of 3.921. At the time, I thought I was hot stuff. Now I wonder if it wasn’t a waste of time. Let me explain:

1. No one has ever asked about my GPA.
I was told that having a high GPA would open all kinds of doors for me. But you know what? I interviewed with lots of companies, received a total of 14 job offers after graduation, and none of the companies asked about it. They were much more impressed with stuff like serving as Chief of Staff for the student government and starting a radio station run by 200 volunteers.

I suppose a college recruiter from a Fortune 500 company might ask, but honestly, I can’t see any employer hiring a straight-A student over someone with five years of relevant work experience. It might tip the scale in a competitive situation, but in most cases, I haven’t seen that grades are really that important to employers.

2. I didn’t sleep.
Unless you’re a super genius, getting 37 A’s is hard work. For me, it was an obsession. Anything less than an A+ on any assignment was unacceptable. I’d study for 60-80 hours a week, and if I didn’t get the highest grade in class, I’d put in 100 hours the next week.

Translation: I didn’t sleep much. From my freshman to junior year, I averaged about six hours a night. By my senior year though, I was only getting 3-5 per night, even on weekends. I was drinking a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew and 2-3 energy drinks per day just to stay awake. Not only is that unhealthy, but it’s not particularly fun either.

3. I’ve forgotten 95% of it.
I majored in English Literature and minored in Communication Theory. The main reason I chose those subjects was I thought they would teach me how to write and speak, two skills that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

Boy, was I stupid. Instead, I spent all my time reading classic literature and memorizing vague, pseudoscientific communication theories. Neither are useful at all, and I’ve forgotten at least 95% of it.

I’d guess the same is true for most college graduates. Tell me, what’s the point of spending 60-80 hours a week learning things that you immediately forget?

4. I didn’t have time for people.
Being in the student government and running a radio station, I had lots of opportunities to build a huge network. But I didn’t have time. Between studying and doing my job, I had to prioritize the people I wanted to develop relationships with and narrow it down to the handful who could help me the most.

That’s no way to go through school. College isn’t so much a training ground for entering the work place as a sandbox for figuring out who you are and how you relate to other people. You develop your social skills and forge relationships with people that might be colleagues for the rest of your life.

If I could do it all over again, I would spend less time in the library and more time at parties. I would have 50 friends, not 3. I would be known for “the guy that knows everyone,” not “the smartest guy in class.” Not only because it would’ve been more fun, but because I would still be friends with most of those people now and would have access to the networks they’ve developed over the last four years.

5. Work experience is more valuable.
In retrospect, I could’ve probably spent 20-30 hours a week on my studies and gotten B’s. That would’ve freed up 30-70 hours a week, depending on the course load. When I think of all of the things that I could’ve done with those hours, I just shake my head.

If there’s one thing graduates lack, it’s relevant work experience. If you want to be a freelance writer, you’re much better off writing articles for magazines and interning with a publishing company than working your tail off to get straight A’s. The experience makes you more valuable to future employers and usually results in a paycheck with a few more digits on it.

What about Graduate School?
If you’re getting your masters, going to law school, or becoming a doctor, then you’ll need all 37 of those A’s to get into the best school possible, and you can safely disregard this entire post. Just be sure that you follow through. I thought I would go to law school, and then I found out what a miserable career it is and how little it actually pays. All of those good grades are now going to waste.

It also comes down to the question, “What’s the most effective use of your time?” If you can’t imagine living without an advanced degree from an Ivy League school, then reading until your eyes fall out and sleeping on a table in the library is a perfectly defensible lifestyle.

On the other hand, if you want to get a job and make as much money as possible, then good grades aren’t going to help you as your teachers and parents might have you believe. You’re better making powerful friends, building a killer resume and generally having the time of your life on your parent’s dime.

Jon Morrow’s blog is On Moneymaking.

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Once you’re done with college, what should you focus on next? It’s clear your grades don’t matter, but what does matter? The most important thing after you graduate college is to treat your 20s like they matter. This is not practice. This is your life. And here: How to Make Your 20s Count

During the middle of the 20th century, the social fabric of community unraveled. Families fled to the suburbs, where they lived isolated lives. Baby boomers became hyper competitive – almost a necessity of being part of such a huge generation – and then baby boomers raised latchkey kids, and Generation X felt so isolated from community that it actually defined the generation.

So it’s no surprise the pendulum is swinging the other way right now. Generation X is consumed with their families and integrating them into the community. Fund-raisers know that if you want to get money from Gen Xers, talk with them about local, grassroots action they can be a part of. (via Giving Back)

Generation Y is the teamwork generation. The majority of these young people did community service as a high school graduation requirement, or, for the overachievers, which is most of them, a way to spruce up their college application. But they discovered that community service is rewarding in itself. This is a group that is so team oriented that they are not comfortable doing things on their own. The teamwork in school means soccer, but in adult life it often means community.

It’s a great time for new ways of thinking about community and how to make life better for yourself and those around you. Here are five new ways to think about community:

1. Schedule community time because frequency matters.
This comes naturally to people in college. Daniell Ouellette, a junior at Northeastern University, and her friends live together, eat together, and even watch the World Series together. When college is over, people tend to separate from their friends and making new, close friends is very difficult.

But it’s worth it. When you belong to a group that meets each week, you are likely to live longer than people who don’t. And a Gallup poll, published in the book Vital Friends, found that if you have a few good friends at work it’s nearly impossible to not like your job, because a group of friends can absorb so many bad feelings about the office.

It’s a tall order to find these people, but remember the key is not picking the perfect friends, the key is getting together with them regularly.

2. Find your community first, then find a job.
Today, people place so much importance on community that Rebecca Ryan, a frequent consultant for city governments, finds that the best way to stem brain drain from midsize and smaller towns is to focus on the fabric of community. In her new book, Live First, Work Second, Ryan finds that people today want diversity, culture, and gathering places – the core community aspects we lost during the flight to the suburbs.

3. Become an influencer by growing a community.
Paul Gillin, author of the book, The New Influencers, describes how blogging has allowed leaders to emerge in communities that used to be closed to new leaders. Gillin marvels at the amount of influence a blogger can have by growing a large community of readers. What is remarkable, though, is that the premise is community. The influence brokers today trade on grassroots community building rather than power coming down from the top.

4. Get flexible work by leveraging your community.
Michelle Goodman, in her book The Anti 9 to 5 Guide, describes the steps people take to get out of cubicle life. She has handy chapters about negotiating and temping, but the biggest value of her book might be the underlying theme of community. The best way to get control of your life is to figure out how to integrate yourself into a community and get work and ideas from the people around you. The book is full of ways to learn from other people, help other people, and weave your own community fabric to meet your career goals.

5. Use community roots as a way to make a smooth transition.
One of the most stifling parts of college is that everyone you hang around is at the same place in life you are. And one of the hardest parts of making a life transition is trading one community for another. Northeastern addresses both these problems with the cooperative education program. Students take longer to finish school but they work intermittently during their stint at college. Ouellette is part of this program and she sees it as a way to get a foothold in the local marketing community before she goes out into the work world.

And this, perhaps, is the newest aspect of community: Community used to be a way to hold you back and enforce rules. But today it’s a way to create new roots, find freedom, and follow a dream. No wonder community is such a popular buzzword with young people.

The most prestigious place for college grads to get a job today is Deloitte, according to a Business Week story titled, The Best Places to Launch a Career, by Lindsey Gerdes. In fact, the top three choices for Generation Y are all Big 4 accounting firms.

My first thought was, are you kidding me?!?!?!

Because if you ask Gen Y what is most important about work, this is what they’ll say: Flexibility, personal growth, liking the people they work with, and money.

But here’s what a consulting job offers: Long hours in cities where you don’t live. On-demand work for demanding clients. Days and days of working on a client site where you do not even benefit from the supposedly forward-thinking corporate culture that a company like Deloitte has created. And, finally, isolation from all but a few co-workers who are at the same client as you.

So what’s going on here? Why is generation Y going to these firms when the firms clearly do not meet Gen Y”?s top three goals as well as, say, a smaller company would?

Well, for one thing, the Big 4 are acutely aware of what young people want. Deloitte has been studying generational issues for years and Cathy Benko, vice chairman of Deloitte, just published a great book, Mass Career Customization, that replaces the corporate ladder motif with a lattice; and workers can move laterally or up or down on the lattice depending on their personal goals and career aspirations. The Big 4 get the best candidates because these companies have been the fastest to react to the new workforce conditions that place young people in the driver’s seat .

But here’s what else is going on: Gen Y does not admit it, but their top priority is stability. This is a fundamentally conservative generation. And in the middle of this very long article in Business Week is an important quote from Andrea Hershatter, director of the undergraduate business program at Emory University and veteran of college recruiting:

“There is a strong, strong millennial dislike of ambiguity and risk, leading them to seek a lot more direction and clarity from their employers, in terms of what the task is, what the expectations are, and job progression.”

Hershatter gives a great interview because she explains in detail why young people today are fundamentally conservative in their goals and decision making. Not conservative politically. (In fact, we know they are not conservative politically.) But conservative in their lifestyle. They are not risk takers, not boat rockers, not revolutionaries. Young people today want a safe, nice life, and clear path to that goal.

Things start to look murky because young people are so difficult for older people to deal with at work. Young people seem to be demanding that everyone change to accommodate them. In fact though, young people are merely demanding that the workplace live out the values that the people who run the work place – parents of Gen Y – taught at home: Personal growth (“turn that TV off!”), good time management (ballet Monday, soccer Tuesday, swimming Wednesday…), and family first.

Here are four reasons why members of Generation Y are fundamentally conservative in what they envision for their lives:

1. They love their parents.
Not only do they love their parents, but they want their parents to help them figure out adult life. There is no rebellion. Instead there is helicopter parenting. And there is a near-perfect implementation by Gen Y of the values their parents told them were important. Gen Y are hard workers, achievers, and rule followers.

According to Rebecca Ryan, author of the new book Live First, Work Second, violence, abortion and drug use are down; education, global vision, and career focus are up. A parents’ dream, right? This is not the generation that whose icon will be a guy who protested government policy or who shot himself.

2. They operate in teams.
This is not a generation of mavericks. This is not about self-reliance, it’s about teamwork. But teamwork is inherently conservative because there’s consensus. For example, prom is a group event. And there is not infighting – gen Y hates conflict- which is no surprise because, as Rebecca Ryan points out, that they’ve been learning negotiation skills since they were kids.

3. They are not complainers.
Baby boomers got their start as people who bucked the system to protect their own interests by protesting Vietnam. Who was fighting the war? Baby boomers. But they hated the war. So they argued against it. Who is fighting today’s war? Gen Y. And they hate it. But they almost never complain in a large, public way.

Similarly, young people hold all the power in the workplace today but they choose to be consensus builders. They say, “Talk with us, work with us, let’s understand each other.” Or, as Gen Y blogger Rebecca Thorman, wrote to older people, “How can we work together to fulfill our dreams?” This is a far cry from the “don’t trust anyone over thirty” slogans of the baby boomers.

4. They are not asking for anything crazy.
Gen Y are really hard workers. They have been working harder in school than any preceding generation. And the pace that they sift and synthesize information puts the skills of their elders to shame. So why complain about the demands of this generation? They are great at work and they want to have work that is meaningful and challenging.

And this is exactly what everyone else wants from their work as well. These demands are not new. It’s just new to hear them from an entry-level worker. But in fact, it’s reasonable and fundamentally conservative since these are the values this generation has been taught to live by.

Certainly we can’t fault gen Y for wanting stability. Who doesn’t want stability? Baby boomers wanted it, which is why they worked insanely long hours and surrounded themselves with tons of possessions. Gen X wanted stability, too. We just never got it because we graduated into the worst job market since the Great Depression. So we worked hard to create it for our kids, instead.

Generation Y is the most conservative generation since the Great Generation that fought World War II. Thomas Friedman just wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which, predictably, he used his Baby Boomer platform to complain that Gen Y is not more like the baby boomers. Friedman wants hands-on activism.

Obviously, that is not the be-all and end-all for making the world a better place, because the baby boomers are leaving us with global warming, social security, and an image crisis abroad that the US hasn’t seen since the Boston Tea Party.

So how about reframing things a bit? Let’s take another look at Generation Y — as the kids who are going to ensure that the values they were raised by will extend to the workplace. Finally.

Most entry-level jobs do not pay enough to support someone living in a large city. This is a problem for recent grads. They imagine life in a big city as lots of entertainment, crowds of young people for fun, and a great dating scene. But it’s a hard life to fund: The cost of college, healthcare, and housing have gone up, all while real wages have gone down. This generation is facing a gap between wages and the cost of living that their parents never did.

Erica Skov moved to Boston for the opportunities a big city offers, but in the process, she gave up the low cost of living in upstate New York for the steep cost of Boston. Today, she has a job as an analyst, and she has to be careful to stretch her salary to cover both life in Boston and grad school payments.

This typical situation for young people is, on the one hand, full of the promise of an exciting, fulfilling career. But on the other hand there is an absurdly high risk of going deep into debt just to fund oneself in an entry-level job.

Here are some things to consider so that working your first full-time job does not put you further into debt.

1. Go into investment banking.
If you are equally passionate about two careers, and one pays really well and one doesn’t, choose the money. The problem is that most people are not wildly drawn to the high-paying careers. After all, if everyone wanted to do the highest paying work then it wouldn’t be so high paying after a while. But remember that you don’t have to get paid to do what you love. You love sex. Do you get paid for it? No. Impractical. So try to be practical and pick something you love that also pays well.

2. Move in with parents.
Loving what pays well is easier said than done. Which is why more than half of college grads today move back home with their parents. If you move back with your parents you have the chance not only to save money but also to search for the right career.

You don’t need to be an investment banker if you can afford to intern at an art museum. It might not feel so great when you don’t earn as much as your banking friends. But in the long run, the people who take time to figure out a custom career for themselves are the people who avoid the quarterlife crisis. Finding what you love requires lots of experimenting, and the less money you need, the more freedom you have to figure out your life.

3. Get roommates.
In each major city there are areas and/or buildings that function more like a dorm than an apartment building. This is because all the people who live in the building have never lived outside of school before, except in this place. So they recreate school in a big city. It is a cheap, few-frills life, with lots of random hookups. In fact, where you live is not nearly as important as who you are living with. So if you find people you like, it probably doesn’t matter that you are recreating college. It won’t last forever.

4. Skip haircuts and lattes.
The most popular finance advisers online today aren’t always talking about 401(k)s. JD Roth, Trent Hamm, Presh Talwalkar – they give practical advice for people who haven’t had the ability to stockpile for decades. They give advice about tracking expenses and cutting small stuff all over the place, like lattes, and haircuts. This sort of advice resonates with Skov, who says, “We have daily conversations in the office about where to get cheap manicures and haircuts.”

Skov is in no position to take financial advice about six-month CD rates. But she only gets a haircut every six months, which may be the Generation Y equivalent of money management. It adds up, and with a frugal lifestyle you can live in the city of your dreams. It’s just you probably won’t have the lifestyle of your dreams.

5. Move to a smaller city.
The dorm in a not-dorm life is okay, without haircuts, for a while, but you’ll get tired of it. You’ll see that there is a class of people in large cities that can afford to live alone, in their twenties, and you’ll notice a theme: Consulting or trust funds. This is an exaggeration, yes, but not a huge exaggeration. So what can you do? Move to a smaller city.

Minneapolis is very popular right now, and it has that magical combination of low cost of living, good schools, and varied industries. Other cities to consider: Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Chapel Hill, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wis.

6. Work while you’re in school.
Skov is studying communication management at Emerson College, and working full time. It’s not a bad idea. In fact, there are many circumstances when grad school is not worth going into debt for. A degree in creative writing, for example. You probably won’t support yourself with that degree, so start finding a career while you’re in school, and do your writing at night, after work.

Or, according to recruiting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., if you are not at a top 10 business school, your increased earning power is so little that it is not cost-effective for you to stop working to go to school. Besides, the best way to keep your options open after graduate school is to have as little debt as possible that you have to pay back.

7. Accept that it’s normal.
It’s OK if you can’t support yourself after college. Most people can’t. Not today. The people who can do it are often high and mighty, but ignore them. Because there is no evidence that supporting yourself right after college leads to a happier, productive life. And there is good evidence that people who experiment with a lot of career choices in their twenties are more likely to find something that suits them very well.

And for those who are dealing with debt and looking around, Skov has the type of outlook that lays the groundwork for success: “I’m a well-rounded person and I could do a lot of things. You have to look at what’s out there. It’s not so much what exactly you’re doing but who you’re doing it with.”

I loved listeing to this interview with Sallie Krawcheck so much. I have been following Sallie’s career for years, and I had no idea I was going to see her in person until I showed up for the Forbes Executive Women’s Forum for a speaking engagement, and there she was, speaking right before I did. She was mesmerizing: Funny, authentic, quick on her toes and gorgeous.

But I most love her for her honesty. Everyone does. Even the Citigroup board of directors. It’s how she got her job. The short history of Sallie is that she was an analyst on Wall Street and when the analysts started compromising ethics during the dotcom boom she was one of the most high-profile analysts who didn’t, so her career went into super-high gear during the dotcom fallout. Now she is CEO of Citigroup’s Global Wealth Management. She’s the highest ranking woman in finance.

[Editorial note: I didn’t conduct this interview – questions came from Forbes editor Elizabeth MacDonald and an audience of about sixty people. I edited the interview below, and changed questions. I was the audience member who asked the question about stay-at-home dads.]

What is a good first job for someone who wants to run their own company?
I tell all young people to become an analyst after school. You pull out bits of information and put together a picture. Sometimes it looks like a dog or sometimes a cake. Then you make decisions with imperfect information. And when you get another piece, you say oh it’s not a cake. So its practice making decision with imperfect information. This is what you do as a CEO every day.

Why aren’t women at the top of companies?
There is something about women getting tired. They get to be thirty and they get tired. Add up all the time that you are not with the kids and not working but you are doing hair and makeup while your husband sleeps. It’s two-and-a-half hours a week. It drags you down. Also, women are not able to express anger at work because it reflects negatively on women. This makes women tired, too.

I have a stay-at-home husband and it’s a train wreck. How do you work that out in your house?
I had a stay-at-home husband and he went back to work. My first husband could not get over it and I had to choose another husband. I would come home from a meeting and I’d say sorry I’m late and he’d roll his eyes. As soon as you get the eye roll you have a problem And in fact, he was having an affair. That was a waste of four good years, and I was cute then, too; I should have dated a lot more men than I did. I got a much better husband the second time around because I had had practice making decisions with imperfect information.

How do you handle leaving the kids when you travel?
The thing with the kids is to show no fear. If you show fear, they can smell it. Say, “I love you and I can’t wait to see you, but I love my work.” I cry when I close the door. I went to China for two weeks. The kids were okay; I bribed them. I waited to tell my daughter until I took her to the American Idol concert.

What’s your approach to work/life balance?
When women get up there and talk to you about work life balance, they are lying to you. I work all the time. I sent 220 emails last weekend. The last time I went out for drinks on a weekday like Sex in the City was when I was twenty-two. This is not a bitter comment. It’s a choice.

By Ryan Healy According to Monster.com, 60 percent of college graduates move home with mom and dad after graduation and the trend is on the rise. The statistic holds true with my friends from the class of 2006. More than half moved back to the suburbs to start adult life, much the same way they ended high school life — with their parents. A lot of people say generation Y needs to grow up and take some personal responsibility and that we have been coddled by our helicopter parents (see the comments section).

But when you look closely, it is glaringly apparent that moving back in with parents is one of the the most responsible things a new college grad can do. By sucking it up at home for a year or two, young people give themselves the opportunity to take control of their career, take control of their finances and transition from the care-free college fantasy world to the real-world of work, marriage, kids, mortgages and car payments.

Take control of your career
To live comfortably in a big city like New York, students are forced to take a high paying, but less than satisfying job. Often, top graduates end up working for the best paying investment bank or law firm. I’m sure you could find a small minority of conservative students who had dreams of becoming an I-banker since middle school, but for the most part these jobs are going to the top tier students who are trying to make a quick buck before they retire at 30 (or so they say).

By moving home after graduation, you have little or no rent which allows for more freedom when searching for a job. There is no need to sell out to an investment bank if your real goal is to work with underprivileged children. Depending on where your parents are located, you are probably missing out on the big city night life and social scene, but you have lots of opportunities to find the perfect job, regardless of pay. If ditching the social scene for career sake doesn’t demonstrate responsibility and independence, I don’t know what does.

Take control of your finances
Real wages today are lower than they were for the past two generations of workers. Couple that fact with today’s insane housing costs and an increase in contract workers not receiving benefits, just getting by on forty or fifty thousand a year in a major city is nearly impossible. Attempting to save any reasonable amount of money the first few years is a joke.

However, moving home with mom and dad will immediately save you about $700 a month in housing costs. At least there is some extra cash flow. In two years, you can save up enough to move out on your own without worrying about going into credit card debt for basic necessities like fixing your car or buying groceries.

Take an appropriate adjustment period between college and the real world
People really do struggle adjusting from college to the real world. A good friend of mine just fulfilled her life long dream of moving to New York. She still loves the city, but she is overwhelmed and doesn’t exactly like her day job. Sure, many people go through this tough transition period, and chances are she will eventually enjoy it, but the transition from child to adult is different, and oftentimes, more difficult for today’s youth.

“This period is not a transition, but an actual life stage, according to Jeffrey Arnett, associate professor at University of Missouri and author of Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of Development from the Late Teens through Early Twenties . Arnett describes the period between college and adulthood as, “a self- focused stage where people have the freedom to focus on their own development.” Notice he calls this period of stage in development and not just a transition between two stages.

So why do we still try to go from adolescent to adult in a matter of weeks or months?

Moving home for a while enables an appropriate and productive transition. Rather than focus on rent, bills and kids, emerging adults living at home with their parents have the ability to focus on the most important aspects of emerging adult life: figuring out who they are and what career is right for them.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

Back-to-school time isn’t just about your coursework. It’s also about your future.

With that in mind, here are eight steps you can take at the beginning of the college year to lay the groundwork for your career. Follow them and you may just do justice to the amount of time you spend sitting in a classroom.

1. Don’t stress about your major.
College teaches you how to think. If you’re good at thinking and learning in any given subject, you’ll be prepared to do the same in the workforce. You won’t be an expert at anything after college — that’s what grad school is for. So just pick a major and get decent grades.

Also realize that you’re going to change careers at least three times in your life anyway, so having a major that’s relevant to all your future careers is virtually impossible.

2. Recognize that law school can be a crutch.
It’s scary to be a good writer and good thinker and have no idea what you’re going to do with your life. But that isn’t necessarily a sign that you need to go to law school.

A huge number of people go to law school for misguided reasons, so be sure you know precisely what you want to do with your career before pursuing that JD. Otherwise, the loans you’ll have taken to get it will make your second thoughts about being a lawyer a first-class financial disaster.

3. Help your parents organize their network.
Sure, everyone tells you to network in order to get a great job, but who are you going to network with? Your fraternity brothers? Of course not.

Their parents, however, are a different story. Everyone’s parents have friends, and the charm of the baby boomers is that they want to be involved in every little aspect of their kids’ lives. So get your parents to put all their contacts into a tool like LinkedIn. That way, you can go through the list and systematically network for your own benefit.

4. Join the cheerleading squad. Really.
Cheerleaders are great salespeople. It’s probably self-selecting — after all, introverts don’t run onto the football field at halftime and jump around.

But when companies recruit at colleges, they often cater to cheerleaders in the same way that they cater to athletes. Both types are high-performers in the workplace, so join a team to do well in your career — and, yes, the cheerleading squad counts as a team.

5. Make time to read “Getting Things Done.”

True, you won’t get graded on this assignment in school. But you will in life.

The way to reach your goals is to keep yourself working productively toward them. Productivity is a skill, and in the adult world you’ll be competing with the samurais of productivity, so get started on building your skills by reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”

6. Learn your strengths.

One of the best ways to find meaningful, fulfilling work is to understand what your strengths are. There’s no single job that’s right for you, but there is a single type of job — the type that allows you to be your best self by leveraging your best traits.

So use college to discover your strengths and practice applying them consciously. That way, when it’s time, matching them to a job will be second nature to you.

7. Take a class in positive psychology.

The best way to make a happy career for yourself is to know what really makes you happy. And here’s a newsflash — it probably isn’t your career itself, but the general level of optimism you have.

This is what you’ll learn in a positive psychology class. If one is available at your college, it’ll provide you with the basis for defending your decisions to your parents about things like taking time off to travel, getting bad grades so you can start a business in your dorm room, and following your girlfriend to Idaho instead of going to grad school.

8. Learn to be vulnerable.

When your career demands that you lead, or inspire, or even just connect with the people around you, the best way to do so is to show your vulnerabilities. Not all of them, and certainly not the most pathetic ones. But some.

Because the only way to connect with people for real is to open yourself up a bit. Don’t be the big man or woman on campus — be someone who’s approachable and authentic.

It’s not easy. First you have to know something about who you truly are, and then you have to project that true self to others. This is the hardest thing to learn in life, so start in college and you won’t be lost later in life.

One of the most popular goals among young people is to have their own company. This doesn’t mean people want to necessarily build the next Google or Facebook.

For many students this means smaller companies where you can have fun with friends while you think of cool ideas and then enjoy the steep learning curve of implementing those ideas. The most important aspects of a job for young people are flexibility and personal growth. And no job gets you that as effectively as starting your own company.

Part of starting a company is learning how to think and problem solve, and a classic college education teaches you that. But typically, colleges have prepared students to climb a corporate ladder upon graduation. And today we don’t even pretend that 40-year ladder climbs are an option.

Corporate jobs are more short-term, and sporadic— maybe something to do in between starting one’s own companies. But what can one do in college to pave the way for a career that includes entrepreneurship?

First, try to hang out with other students who have businesses, or ideas for businesses. At any given college, there is a group of students either thinking hard about entrepreneurship, or doing it. Hang around these people because they’ll teach you how to bounce ideas.

Entrepreneurs don’t have just one good idea. They have a million, and they test the ideas out on friends all the time, learning how to hone an idea and think critically until they find one that works.

The best way to come up with an idea is to try to solve problems, says Greg Boesel.

“I constantly find myself saying; there’s gotta be a better way to do this.” Then, he advises, if you think you have a better way, do 20 hours of market research to see if someone else has already tried that way.

Boesel’s current company, Swaptree, is an example of this process in action. He got the idea from a friend who returned from a visit with his mom with 16 used books he didn’t want. They were good books, but he didn’t know what to do with them. Swaptree is a company that tells you what people are willing to trade you to get the book, CD, or DVD that you don’t want.

If you don’t have an idea and you need to do something, go to a start-up to get yourself thinking in new directions.

James Ngai is a student at MIT, and he worked at a Boston music start-up while he had a full course load. Ngai is well aware that there are no long-term secure jobs in the workforce, so flexibility and broad skills are the key to success.

“Students want an open path career,” he says, “and getting start-up experience is a great way to ensure this.”

A year after getting his feet wet in someone else’s start-up, Ngai launched his own company, Campus Research and Recruiting, which helps companies understand why their recruiting practices fail or succeed and how they can be more effective.

How do you find one of those work experiences that give you a jump start in starting a company of your own? Use the career center. “This is a totally underused resource,” according to Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career. “There’s a perception that career services only helps you for the companies that recruit, but career services have connections to tons of industries.”

And it’s not just about the networking. “It’s free career coaching,” says Pollak. And one of the keys to entrepreneurship is knowing your own strengths and how to leverage them.

Also, if you have your heart set on a start-up of your own, the best route might be the anti-start-up summer job. That is, something in staid, ladder-climbing industries like investment banking or consulting whose business models include spending tons of money on training employees. You don’t need to enter these industries after doing the summer program, and the education will serve you well when you finally think of a company you want to start.

The most important advice is probably to stay confident that things will work out for you. Just because you can’t start a company immediately doesn’t mean you won’t get a really fun job immediately. Remember that this is a very good job market for young people. In the book Recruit or Die, Chris Resto, internship director at MIT, spends nearly 300 pages describing to companies how they can attract top talent.

The recurring theme of the book is that young people have lots of choices and multiple offers, and only the companies that are smartest about what young people want will get them. What does this tell you, the candidate? That you should aim for a job that meets your needs.

What else does it tell you? That the most important thing to do in college is begin to understand what your needs are. Otherwise, you have no idea what you’re hunting for.

I wrote an article for Wired, about some of the fastest growing jobs and how to prepare for them in college. Part of this Education 2.0 package was an article by Natali Del Conte about which social networking tools students should use.

In general I think college kids should prepare for the work world by learning to make friends with a wide range of people on campus and lay off the books. But maybe that’s because I found that the time I was getting straight A’s in college was the time I was learning the least.

Ode magazine has a great little article this month about the importance of generosity. A study that has been following people since the 1920s reveals that your ability to give to others is a big indicator of how happy your life will be. (Paul Wink of Wellesley College, oversees the study today, and he wrote a book about it, In the Course of a Lifetime.)

One of the most interesting findings is that teens who scored high on generosity were healthier and happier half a century later. So the best advice about what to do in college might be to develop a strong ability to give.

Like all positive traits in this world, we think we have more of it than we do. (A great example of this phenomenon: Business Week reports that 90% of young workers think their performance is in the top 10% of all workers.)

These are five traits that people who are givers usually exhibit:

1. A sense that you can make a difference in the world

2. Empathy that enables you to truly feel the suffering of others

3. Belief that you are someone who can get things done

4. Spiritual faith in the world – -either traditional religion or an eclectic altruism

5. A focus on doing good that endures beyond your lifetime

Even if you don’t have these traits, the good news is that you can just start giving, and you might get these traits as you go. Try doing five acts of altruistic giving in one day – it’ll shift your outlook, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside,

So maybe the best thing college kids can do for themselves is go to class less and help people more. And this is probably true for those of us going to work each day, as well. After all, when it comes to crafting a life, spending time on what really matters is half the battle.