“What time is it?” I asked myself with my face slumped over an open keyboard, the letters imprinting over and over before I lifted my head.

As I did, I caught a glimpse of the time: 3:00 a.m. Then I saw the paper, one of the numerous drafts of my dissertation’s second chapter. Beyond the gibberish at the bottom of the page, it made sense. Though it had taken me weeks and too many early mornings to count, I had arrived. Or, at least, was on my way.

Like for many college or graduate students, this is a constant process. In between making friends, building relationships, and experiencing life beyond the classroom, thoughts inevitably run to graduation and life after. Then, if you’re anything like me, panic sets in: What will I do next? What will I do to pay off these loans? Who will hire me with my degree?

As a 29-year-old doctoral student who’s been through college and half of graduate school, I’ve learned some practical tips that may help you find your way through college and beyond.


Get out!

As I reflect back on my journey, I wish I did this more. If you’re anything like me, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in your schoolwork and not go out to experience the fresh air. But do it, even if it’s just for a short walk. The physical and mental benefits are vast, and you’ll think more clearly once you get back to work.


Explore campus activities.

In my junior year of college, I transferred from community college to a four-year school and moved on campus. When I did, it was easy to stay in my room and focus on schoolwork; I missed my family and was used to being home. So, leave your room and discover what’s going on around campus. You’ll probably find some clubs you enjoy, like I did when I finally emerged. Also, you’ll begin to build friendships that will last you a lifetime.


Buy a planner.

As you know, our lives are saturated with electronics. They help us keep in touch with our friends and family and also help us keep track of our schedules. However, nothing beats writing things down. Get yourself a big calendar and write down your upcoming events, tests, etc. This way, you can actually see what you have due instead of waiting for it to “pop up.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed an event or scheduled task simply because my phone was in the “off” position. Having a planner right in front of me ensures that I don’t forget; it’s a tool that helps me even now in my doctoral days.


Don’t assume with the future.

When I finished college and earned my bachelor’s degree, I thought I knew what I was supposed to do: get a job. So I pushed and pushed and pushed, but nothing was happening. They wanted experience, but I needed a job to get the experience. So, with some advice from my family, I decided to create my own job and build my own experience as a freelancer. By this time, I had begun my coursework as an MBA and, armed with a plan, I started my own business aiding small businesses with their marketing and design needs. Currently, I work on this business full-time. So, whether you are in the middle of college or about to graduate, don’t assume that a job with another company is where you should go. Build experience for yourself. See what you like to do and what you’re good at and charge for it. You may be setting the building blocks for your own empire.

Headshot - Jessica SmithJessica Smith received her B.A in Communications from Stockton University, her MBA in International Business from American Intercontinental University, and is currently working toward her Ed.D at Concordia University. She runs a book review blog and does graphic and video design and writing for her business, Create Forward.

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