Let's be real: If you are one of the many Canadian students who headed off to college and university campuses this month, you are not just looking to get an education. Eventually, you are hoping to get a job, preferably a good paying one in your chosen field.
The marketing departments of post-secondary institutions across the country support this goal, citing the high employment rates of their recent graduates in advertisements and on their websites. The value of higher education, to you and to those promoting enrollment, is job-prep.
Not everyone agrees. In this 2014 article, for example, David Helfand, then president of the liberal arts institution Quest University Canada in British Columbia, said that a university education should be about learning to think, rather than about building up a set of employable skills.
But the real value of post-secondary education is not job-prep or learning to think – it's both.
Business and engineering schools at universities, as well as thousands of programs offered by colleges, teach theory alongside hard skills that are in demand once you reach the workforce. Humanities and social sciences programs teach you to be a critical, independent thinker, honing your ability to problem solve, and proving your aptitude to learn. In other words, you're developing soft skills, which are increasingly in demand by employers.
Outside the classroom, post-secondary campuses offer an ideal setting for making new connections, getting relevant work experience, and exploring your interests.
Here are some tips on making the most of post-secondary experience this year:
Start looking now
It's an inconvenient and, unfortunately, obscure fact that a lot of on-campus recruitment happens at the beginning of the school year for jobs that start next summer. While you may be more focused on settling into class, finding groups, clubs and activities to join – and securing a part-time job – you should also make time to be aware of and involved in the various activities happening on your campus in September in relation to your post-graduation career. The best place to find this information about employers visiting your campus is your campus career centre.
Like politics? Get involved in student council. Enjoy writing? Find the student newspaper. Have a cause you're interested in supporting? There's likely a group on campus that you can join for that. At many schools you will also find opportunities to take on work-like experiences, such as helping to plan and execute conferences. Being involved in and of itself won't make you stand out in the job market, but that's not the point. On-campus involvement, just like any life experience, provides the opportunity to meet new people, build skills and confidence, and to get to know yourself – what you like, what you don't like, what you're good at and what you're not-so-good at.
Attend on-campus events
Your campus tuition includes free or nearly-free access to services and events above and beyond in-classroom learning that you will have to pay for out-of-pocket after graduation. The career coaching offered by your on-campus career centre is one example. Another, lesser known example, are the variety of speeches, presentations, and theatrical events that are sponsored by campuses across the country throughout the year, and which are either produced with students in mind or open for students to attend. Going to these events can expose you to different ideas not covered in your day-to-day education, or help you learn a new skill. Look for information on upcoming events on your university or student council website.
Take part in real networking
Many people have asked me if I had a formal board of advisers when I started my company. I didn't. Instead, what I had was an excellent network of family and friends, many of whom I met while I studied at Queen's University, who were able and willing to give me insight into the industry I was entering, as well as guidance on what I needed to know and do when starting a business (public relations, accounting, etc.). "Networking" has become a cliché term over the years, but real networking – the kind that happens as a result of being involved and present through your post-secondary experience – is incredibly useful and rewarding.
If you follow the advice in this article, you will gain a variety of experiences throughout your post-secondary education. Be forward thinking and keep a list of those experiences along with anecdotes or key learnings from each. This will come in handy when you prepare your resumé, and will also allow you to draw on more than just your school's reputation, your program, and your part-time job when talking with recruiters.
Lauren Friese is the founder and former CEO of TalentEgg, a campus recruitment website. She is a keynote speaker and consultant on digital media, millennials, and work.