Dear College Student
You’re supposed to be on spring break, or planning a summer internship, or preparing for your final months at college. Maybe your family has booked their travel for graduation and you were right in the middle of interviews for your first job. Now, all of that is up in the air.
This is rough. Within a matter of 2 weeks, your life went from normal and exciting to extraordinarily abnormal and wildly uncertain.
Most of what I’ve read lately has been aimed at helping parents or professionals adapt to these tumultuous times. But let me take a moment to address some of my favorite people on the planet: students.
Over the past 7 years, I’ve led experiential learning programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley and a whole host of organizations with an incredible team at Experience Institute. The passion and potential in each student is one of the greatest things to witness. But as colleges do their best to make quick and drastic adjustments to their operations, I’ve heard students say, “It feels like we’re getting lost in the shuffle.” In just a few short days, those feelings have led to a dimming of the drive to solve problems, and explore new ways forward.
So, here are a few things to keep in mind as you move ahead:
Accept what you’re feeling.
There is a lot of sadness, fear, and anger in the air. There will be a temptation to rush past it to figure out what’s next. You have a thousand things to navigate between classes, summer, social life, living situation, internships, and so on. The only way to make it through this is to acknowledge where you are today. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re angry, be angry. Just be sure to release those emotions in a healthy way with the people around you. Go for a run, call friends, write, play games, get some rest, etc. Feel it, clear your head, and then let’s keep going.
Communicate well with your instructors.
You are going to be flooded with an unusually large number of emails. Everyone is adapting, especially the people who are leading your school. Faculty and administrations who loosely relied on technology for teaching are now shifting everything onto new platforms within a matter of days. To keep this moving, do your best to reply to anything you’ve been sent within 24-48 hrs. If it’s going to take longer, just send a short note letting them know that you may need a little more time.
Find joy in the change of pace.
For many of you, this is the first time you won’t be rushing from class to class and packing in social and work activities along the way. Honestly, some of you needed to shake out of the college grind for the sake of your mental well-being. Use these days to get outside, lean into your hobbies, focus on your family, give back to your community, find remote work projects to make ends meet (see below), and begin creating productive rhythms that are totally your own. You’re being forced to learn how to manage your own time faster than most, but if you’re thoughtful now, it will pay off ten-fold in the future.
Work on your story (ie: portfolio, resume, LinkedIn).
For many of you, the job search is only important when the need is apparent (ie: going into summer internships, or end of senior year). Because of that, your personal story rarely gets the attention it needs throughout college. Now’s your chance to focus on that.
When’s the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile? Have you created a resume that you’re proud of? Have you received feedback from someone in the field?
Could you build a personal website/portfolio? Even if you’re not a ‘creative’ this will come in handy when sharing your story.
Set up calls with professionals in your community.
If you’re reading this, you probably know at least one person who’s working in an interesting job. Have you ever asked them about how they got into their role? Or what they did after college?
Learning about other people’s career trajectories can begin to help you consider what steps you might take next. And, if you reach out and host the call in an organized fashion, you’ll begin building helpful relationships outside of your college community.
Note: This may be tricky as people settle into their new work routines, so be patient if you don’t hear back right away.
Start directing your own path.
It can feel deflating if your internship gets cancelled, or people stop taking your calls about job positions. But the best teammates are the ones who don’t wait for permission, they just begin. You have an incredible chance to show that kind of grit and gumption now. Start making something. If you’re a writer, pick a topic and start writing posts on Linkedin or Medium. If you’re a creative, take a company you’re interested in and create a new ad campaign, draft a new website, or mock up a new product they could launch. You don’t need someone else’s permission to do these things. Just document what you do along the way — capture screenshots, photos, video, audio — anything that will give a glimpse into your process. Then when you’re done, send it to the folks at the organization or just add it straight to your portfolio.
These projects can be just for yourself too. There’s probably something you’ve wanted to see different in your home, neighborhood, or community. Start chipping away at it today.
Whatever you do, the idea is to be intentional about sharing (a) what you did. (b) how you did it. (c) what’s different now that you did it — what did you learn/accomplish?
So, find something worth doing, and do it.
Resources: A program to connect you to remote, domestic, or global internships: explab.berkeley.edu (yes, even in the face of COVID-19). And a tool to consider your next steps with friends and family: whatsworthdoing.org
Lastly, remember you are the designer.
Here’s the biggest secret about higher education — it’s not about the classroom. Or the grade. Or the perfect internship. It’s about how you designed it.
If you came over to my home and I told you that I purchased my coffee table from a local store, you might shrug it off. But if I told you the story of how I designed and built it myself, it would lead to a compelling conversation about the tools and materials I used. You might even call me when you're thinking about your next furniture purchase.
Approaching college or life after college with that mindset helps you stand out and stay flexible in times of change. While others may be frozen, you’ll have the tools to adapt and create your next path. It’s your life, not your university’s or even the company that you want to work for.