When I went back college as a non-traditional student, my end-goal was clear: I was going to be a college professor.
Not just any college professor, but a community college professor. I believed in the philosophy and mission of community colleges and knew that this was the population I wanted to serve. It may seem like a no-brainer to go to college, get a bunch degrees, and then go teach college.
The path is not so simple.
Like many careers, the types of degrees I would attain mattered, the majors mattered, and what I did while I was in my undergraduate and graduate programs mattered. I wanted to take matters into my own hands and find out early what mattered the most so I could reach my professional goals. I made three pivotal phone calls at three specific times to plot the course for my career. You can make these same moves, er, calls, to maximize your education and propel your marketability. I covered the first two calls here, so without further ado, here's the third and final call:
When: Sophomore year of my undergraduate program.
Who: The advisor of my intended graduate program.
If you plan to go to graduate school, it is never, ever too early to contact the advisor of a program that you’re interested in and meet with that person. Just like you searched on the university website for the undergraduate advisor, you will take the same steps for the graduate advisor. You can also meet with a professor or two if you already know that you want to study or work under that person. Again, it’s never too soon to make these connections!
If the grad program is highly competitive, you’ll want to ask, “What could I be doing as an undergraduate to increase my chances of getting in?”
You should also ask, “Does this program offer any graduate assistantships? How many? When should I apply and is there anything I should be doing to increase my marketability for the assistantship? Will I be able to choose if I will teach or do research? Will I receive a stipend and/or tuition remission?”
Your last key question at this point is, “I plan to go into X job/career path. What should I focus on in this degree program to be as marketable as possible? (You can also tell what you plan to focus on and make sure you’re on the right path). Can you tell me about graduates who have successfully finished this degree program and obtained similar jobs? Are any of them able/willing to be contacted?”
When I met with the advisor for my graduate program, I actually learned very critical information: The profs in this program did not have a lot of experience advising students who sought a community college professorship (Good thing I contacted the community college professor and took her for coffee!)
I also found out that if I secured a graduate assistantship, I could choose teaching over research. However, if I couldn’t get an assistantship in the Communication Studies department, I could possibly apply for one in the Education department. Finally, I learned that not all of my classes had to be in Communication; I could take a few electives in the Education department, which would be extremely helpful for my teaching career.
I totally get that these days, picking up the phone isn’t most students’ go-to method for making contact. Making verbal connections with key people who can help you carefully plan your education—and jump start your career goals--is worth dusting off your dialing finger. Start searching for your contacts, get ready for connection… and start calling!
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