Career Exploration Calendar for College Students


You don't have to do it this way, but college sure works better if you do!

This article is one in a series excerpted by permission from How to Get Any Job with Any Major, Ten Speed Press, (c) 2004 Donald Asher. To reproduce, write to Donald Asher. Donald Asher, also known as "America's Job Search Guru," is the author of nine books on career-development issues.


Freshman Year
   • Take wide variety of courses to try to find your major.
   • Take a foreign language (whether it's required or not).
   • Find a sport you can enjoy every week for the rest of your life.
   • Learn to see your faculty outside of the classroom by stopping by during their open office hours to discuss the class, curriculum, paper ideas, what's  going to be on the test, how best to study, who's who in the department, etc.
   • Realize that you can't graduate in four years by taking a minimum load; familiarize yourself now with graduation requirements (distribution requirements, minimum credits, major and minor selection, departmental rules). You don't want to become a senior who has to take required freshman-level courses!
   • Get by without a car; your grades will be higher.
   • Live on campus; your grades will be higher.
   • Avoid the credit card trap! Use a debit card.
   • Join at least one academic club.
   • Join at least one activity to make the world a better place.
   • Maybe join at least one activity solely to pursue an interest.
   • Learn that college is not just classes, but also guest speakers, clubs, movies, outdoor recreation, political exploration, social opportunity, etc.
   • Go to the Career Center in the first semester and learn how to (1) register for announcements and notices, (2) write a resume, and (3) get an internship. Competitive internships are selected over the winter/early spring!
   • Try to find friends who are going to be successful in life, and conversely, try to avoid those distracting, loud, irresponsible, and sometimes fun people who are ultimately going to fail at college.
   • Find the help desk in the library, the writing center or academic support center, the counseling office, the medical clinic, and other sources of help and support.
   • Try not to work long hours at a wage job, so you can adjust to college.
   • Watch your grades!
   • If, and only if, you are an engineering major, declare your major and meet with an academic advisor to plan the sequence of courses that will allow you to graduate on time.
   • If, and only if, you are potentially interested in a career in medicine, find the pre-medical advisor and learn how best to prepare yourself. 

First Summer
This is a “free” summer.
   • Pursue a service opportunity or some kind of big adventure.
   • Travel abroad.
   • Take any kind of wage job.
   • Work at an internship or summer job in an industry or field that you would potentially like to pursue after graduation.

Sophomore Year
   • Prepare in the first semester to get a summer internship (see “Second Summer” below).
   • Test your interest in one or more majors by deepening your class load in those subjects.
   • Continue to see faculty outside of the classroom.
   • Become involved in departmental activities, such as guest speakers, receptions, symposia, committee work open to students, and especially the informal events such as barbeques, softball Saturdays, whatever they're doing together.
   • Continue with an academic activity.
   • Begin to think seriously about what you're going to do after college.
   • Start going to all career fairs and asking lots of questions.
   • If you're comfortable with your major and settled into college, consider taking the second semester abroad. Also, if you're going to take a semester abroad in the junior year, you may need to plan on it now. (See “Junior Year” below.)
   • Get by without a car; your grades will be higher.
   • Live on campus; your grades will be higher.

Second Summer
This summer “counts,” and is not free; try to do one of these:
   • Work at an internship or summer job in an industry or field that you would potentially like to pursue after graduation; if you discover you don't like it, you can still change direction successfully.
   • Work at an academically related internship that supports your graduate school plans.
   • If, and only if, you can't find one of the above, go to summer school to beef up your chances of graduating on time and/or to prepare for graduate school.

Junior Year
This is the year that sets up success after graduation!
   • Prepare in the first semester to get a summer internship (see “Third Summer” below).
   • If you have not by now, settle on a major and meet with an academic advisor to plan the sequence of courses that will allow you to graduate on time.
   • Consider a semester abroad (first semester is preferred over the second, but this is not a critical choice).
   • Continue to see faculty outside of the classroom.
   • Continue to be involved in departmental activities.
   • Continue with an academic activity.
   • Consider adding to your list of activities (academic, service, sports, interest); consider seeking a leadership role in one or more especially if you're grad school bound.
   • Begin to talk about your future career with fellow students, faculty, alumni, visiting speakers and VIPs, friends of the family, parents of your friends, etc.
   • Visit alumni and professionals in your chosen field for a “shadowing” day, or at least an information interview.
   • If you are applying for an elite graduate fellowship (Rhodes, Watson, Marshall, etc.), most successful applicants start first semester of the junior year to prepare their applications; find the scholarship advisor and plan your application strategy.
   • Research graduate schools: look up prominent graduate faculty in your field of interest, read articles in the academic journals for your field, look at Peterson's and other grad school guides.
   • Begin to correspond with faculty in graduate schools of interest.
   • If grad schools on your list require the GRE, plan to take it late in the second semester, or in June of the coming summer.
   • If grad schools on your list require a GRE subject test, register in February for an April sitting.
   • If headed for medical school, register in March to take the April MCAT; you can take it again in August if you don't like your score.
   • If headed for law school, register in November to take the December LSAT, or in January for the February sitting; you can take it again in June or October of the following year if you don't like your score.
   • Visit all the graduate schools you can during the school year.
   • Try to go to an academic conference in your field.
   • Watch your grades! These are the last grades that will show if you plan to apply to graduate school next year.
   • Get by without a car; your grades will be higher.
   • Live on campus; your grades will be higher.

Final Summer
This is the most important summer of your life; don't fool around!
   • Now it's critical to find an internship or summer job in an industry or field that you would potentially like to pursue after graduation. Ask for a letter of recommendation before leaving at the end of the summer.
   • Work at an academically related internship that supports your graduate school plans.
   • Continue to talk about your career goals with everyone you meet; continue to visit professionals in their workplaces whenever you can.
   • Try to go to an academic conference in your field. Visit some grad schools if you can. Meet professors who might be mentors in grad school. Correspond with graduate faculty in your area of interest.
   • Prepare for and take the GRE or LSAT in June if you still need to (you don't want to have to do this in the fall with classes and applications to graduate school).
   • Prepare for and take the MCAT if you didn't like your first score.
   • If, and only if, you're headed for graduate school, consider going to summer school at one of your targeted institutions. Take classes related to your grad school plans, and watch your grades!
   • If you're applying to medical school, get all your applications in at the first opportunity on the first round (usually over this summer, with some details possibly running into September and following).

Senior Year
   • First week of class, visit your Career Center and explore all support available to you that will make this transitional year a success; at the very least, get that final resume polish and pursue interview training from the Career Center.
   • Prepare in the first semester to get a career-launching job or post-graduation summer internship; plot out a year's search activities with your career counselor.
   • First week of class, meet with professors about your graduate school plans, seek their advice, and identify potential authors of letters of recommendation.
   • In September and October, get all your non-med graduate school applications in (deadlines will vary, but apply at least 30 to 90 days early).
   • Schedule any GRE subject tests if you still need to. If grad schools on your list require a subject GRE test, register in September or October for the November sitting.
   • Continue to talk about your career goals with everyone you meet; continue to visit professionals in their workplaces.
   • Begin to systematically identify alumni who can give you career advice; learn how to conduct an effective information interview.
   • Build a networking list of professionals in your targeted field who can help you find a job.
   • No matter what your major, participate in the on-campus interview cycle if you're interested in the industries that send recruiters to your campus.
   • Get by without a car; your grades will be higher.
   • Live on campus; your grades will be higher.

Summer after College
If you land a job before graduation:
   • If headed for business school, consider taking the GMAT during this summer and applying this fall to enter business school with one year of experience, the following fall to enter with two years' experience, and so on.
   • Remember, every August for the rest of your life, ask yourself: “In one year, do I want to be in grad school?” Watch out for the extensive lead time to get into a graduate program.

If you're admitted to graduate school, this is a “free” summer:
   • Pursue a service opportunity or some kind of big adventure.
   • Travel abroad.
   • Take any kind of wage job and rest your mind.
   • Work at an internship related to your academic interest.

If launching a career but without a job yet:
   • Use the Career Center to run a systematic search.
   • Find a post-baccalaureate internship or summer job in an industry or field that you would potentially like to pursue as a career.
   • Stay in touch with professors who may refer you to positions.
   • Try hard to find work you're interested in, even passionate about, that requires your college degree and your accumulated skills, and try hard not to freak out and settle for any income you can find.
   • Remember: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” --Confucius