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There have been plenty of books written about how to get through graduate school, business programs, and MBAs in particular. But what is the real, non-academic approach to getting a diploma in the undergrad or grad school? You can read the formal proposals put forth in best-selling books and still come away with a feeling that something is just no right, that there’s a certain lack in all the detailed plans, goal charts, and study strategies that fill thousands of pages of libraries and bookstores. What’s the actual method that biz students use to make it from point A to point B, to steal a phrase from a typical management course where all things are labeled with letters? Here is a more realistic set of rules for surviving a four-year degree program and/or a master’s degree curriculum, and come out with your head held high, your sanity intact after being sleep deprived, and your diploma firmly in hand.

Take Care of the Financial Aspect

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Don’t give up the ship if you aren’t sitting on a pile of cash that you can use to pay for your degree. The smartest thing to do is get a private student loan with Earnest.com and rest assured that you can borrow enough to pay for the room, board, fees, tuition, and books. Private student loans are great because they come with higher borrowing limits than other loans, they offer very reasonable interest rates, and have terms that make sense for new grads in new jobs. Take care of the money situation first, and you’ll have enough time to deal with all the other tasks that are ahead of you.

Make Friends ASAP

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It pays big dividends to make a few friends as soon as you arrive at your new institution. If you’re doing online study, this won’t pertain to you, so you’ll just have to make do with the friends you already have. But once you begin classes, try to find a few study partners who can also be social friends. Personal connections are unusually useful during a long-term educational effort, and you’ll soon find that it helps your study habits as well as your ability to relax when you have a few pals you can rely on and identify with.

Find a Faculty Mentor

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People often ignore the power of mentors, but it’s a fact that your mentor can get you through some of the roughest of times, when your enthusiasm for completing a degree has waned, and when all the classes, projects, internships, and presentations seem overwhelming. The primary function of a mentor is to guide you by answering questions that come up from time to time. But you can leverage the relationship to find appropriate internships, figure out which electives to take, compose a killer resume, and pick a subject for major papers and theses. Interview a few faculty members and ask whether they can do the mentor thing. Some are too busy, but you’ll never know unless you ask.

Locate Worthwhile Internships

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An internship can open the door to the very best opportunities in the job market. Start from day one, even if you’re an undergrad student. Ask faculty members, call local companies, inquire at the local bank, and the chamber of commerce. This is an excellent way to not only find out about internships but to start on the creation of a networking list. Perhaps the single biggest way internships can help you get through school is by giving you targeted, pertinent experience. Sometimes a simple, one day per week unpaid job can help you understand key business principles that will aid in your coursework.

Network Like You Mean It

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Networking is usually something associated with seniors, third-semester grad students, and job seekers. By then, however, it’s usually too late to come up with a solid contact list. The time to start building your network is now, the first day of classes. Collect names, contact phone numbers, and email addresses of fellow students, teachers, mentors, advisors, internship supervisors, and just about anyone you meet who has a remote chance of doing some good for your career now or later. The bigger the list, the better. You can always pare it down if need be, so the idea is to amass as much data as possible. If you want to rev up the power of your list, consider putting comments next to each person’s name. Years from now, you’ll need these memory jogs to help you recall facts like people’s hobbies, jokes they like, how they assisted you at a crucial point in your academic career, etc.

Make a Realistic Study Schedule and Stick to It

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With everything else going on, it’s possible to forget that grades are what it’s all about in the pursuit of academic excellence. That’s why your core responsibility is to study hard and do well on tests. High grades are the icing on the cake when it comes time to hunt for jobs, write resumes, and ask instructors to give you letters of recommendation. While an average GPA won’t shut you out of many job prospects, why risk the chance that you’ll lose out on a chance to snag your dream job? You’re a student, after all, and should set coursework as your first priority. Do your job by constructing a study schedule and adhering to it. Stay up to date on homework, projects, presentations, and other class-related chores.

Start Working on Your Resume Now

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Don’t fall for the trap of waiting until the last semester of your education to create a resume. The time to begin is now. You won’t have much of an experience section other than what you did in high school, but it’s great practice and will allow you to learn the components of a powerful resume. Ask for help from older students and instructors. There’s a bonus for going through this ritual, whereas when you apply for internships, you’ll have a resume ready to go. That’s just one more way to get noticed and hired by influential internship employers. As time passes, add to and tweak the document as your skills expand, and your work experience changes. A fresh resume will always come in handy and you’ll never regret making the effort to create and nurture this vital document.

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