Life After College: Getting a Head Start

study aboard girlPost-graduation depression is all too common. Students spend four years poring over textbooks and slogging through all-nighters to graduate with a degree, only to realize after graduation that they really have no idea what to do with it. The shift from a few classes a day to a 40-hour workweek, along with a social shift away from large groups of people your own age, often makes graduation a difficult transition period.

I graduated six months ago and ran into this crisis myself. I was lucky: I had done a few internships, read up on jobs I’d like to pursue, and connected with mentors who have been invaluable in guiding me through the process of starting a career, but I still spent plenty of long nights trying to figure out how to navigate the working world, and wondering if I was prepared enough to pull it off.

Here are three things I’m grateful I did, and three things I wish I had done, to better prepare myself for life after graduation:

I did internships in my field.
I knew from the start of my undergraduate career that I was interested in politics and international relations, but I didn’t know where in that vast field I might fit best. By completing a wide range of internships, I became acquainted with the work culture in my field, and I learned about the types of work environments I function best in, the types of work I’m best suited to, and the types of organizations I prefer to work for. Internships helped me find exactly which jobs I wanted to apply for after graduation, and boosted my resume to make me a better candidate for those positions.

I graduated with a degree in a field I love.
It’s hard to study a subject for four years if you’re not really interested in it. It’s even harder to jump headfirst in a career rooted in that subject – 40 hours (or more) per week is a lot of time to pour into something you don’t really care about. It’s never too late to choose a different field, but it’s much easier to make the switch earlier on than later.

I kept learning outside of class.
I went to office hours, built relationships with professors, and did the optional readings on the syllabus. Life is structured around learning in college, but after graduation, learning takes initiative; when nobody assigns you readings or schedules your exams, it’s easy to let your understanding of your field slip. I developed my sense of educational initiative while I still had a strong external learning system supporting me, and was able to lean on that initiative after I left that system.

I should have only taken the classes I was really interested in.
Contrary to my freshman year beliefs, taking more classes didn’t automatically mean I would become a better student or a smarter person; I only really gained from, and engaged with, classes I sincerely found interesting.

I should have spent more time on extracurricular activities and internships.
Classes gave me the academic foundation I needed to pursue a career in the international relations field, but the social skills, leadership skills, and professional skills I gleaned from extracurricular activities and internships were just as important in preparing me for the real world.

I should have taken more classes outside of my specialization.
By zeroing in on political science my freshman year, and devoting any open space in my schedule to even more political science classes, I closed myself off to other interesting and important fields. A better understanding of computer science, biology, economics, literature, art, and other subjects would not only have made me a more educated and well-rounded person, but would also have enhanced my understanding of political science. The world isn’t clearly divided into academic fields – all fields intersect, and I would have become surer of my own interests and opinions earlier on if I had been exposed to more opinions and potential interests.

Life after graduation doesn’t need to be so intimidating – learn from the tips above to ensure your transition from college to the real world is as smooth as possible.

Do you still need to help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE Profile Evaluation for personalized feedback on your unique background! And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

Steps to a Stronger MBA Profile in 6 Months

RecommenderOnce you have finally decided to pursue an MBA, you will naturally start assessing your chances of actually being admitted. Undergraduate academics and GMAT score aside, most business school applicants will fret as to whether their extracurricular activities and overall profile are impressive enough for their dream schools, especially as these aspects of an applicant’s profile are not as straightforward to quantify and compare.

How then can you improve your profile in the last six months?
Should you rush to get registered in additional community organizations? Should you learn a new language or a musical instrument? Should you go on a trip to the wilderness or join a religious mission?

As a rule, the Admissions Committee will consider the length of time and level of involvement with the activities you participate in when they weigh these as part of your profile (just as any potential employer would during a job interview). On your end, you should consider the limited time remaining towards the deadline, and the demands of polishing up your whole application package while focusing on fulfilling your current work and personal responsibilities.

Below are some practical tips to strengthen your profile:

1) Do More with Current Involvements
You may feel that your current activities are not as impressive as they really are and, thus, do not make you stand out as an applicant. One way to address this is to look for the chance to introduce something new to your profile that would make your potential future contributions to the school unique.

For instance, you may be the leader of your undergraduate alumni branch – from this, you can find an innovative way to link up across other chapters, and strengthen alumni engagement and knowledge transfers across your entire network.  Or, you may be involved with donation drives for the less fortunate; try to find new ways to boost your funds or at least organize activities that can better showcase your leadership and teamwork skills.

Initiatives such as these give more credence and value to your current activities, without having to start from scratch.

2) Do the Same Thing for a Different Audience
This should be relatively easy to do – look for some opportunities to leverage your long-running interest or hobby to demonstrate more involvement and impact on the community. As an example, you may be singer who performs regularly at a club. You may use this talent and volunteer to sing for several worthwhile causes. In this way, you can enrich your stories about your singing talent (or at the very least, the audacity to perform in front of an audience!) and make them more interesting for the Admissions Committee. 

Taking this point further, let’s say your lack of international exposure is perceived to be a weakness – look for ways to at least show how open-minded and internationally aware you are by getting involved with the expatriate community, nearby refugee camps, or by performing with multi-cultural groups.

Use these tips to help strengthen your business school applications and set your current activities apart from those of other MBA candidates, and to further your own personal development, as well.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

How to Choose the Right Hobbies for Your Business School Application

Extracurricular-ActivitiesHow relevant are your hobbies and interests to your MBA applications? You may wonder how outside activities in sports, arts, or other areas can impact your application, and think these are nothing more than trivial bits of additional information that are totally separate from your professional experiences. However, choosing the right ones to highlight and using them appropriately can help present you in a multi-dimensional way that strengthens your overall profile.

First, choose activities that would complement your current work profile. For example, someone working in Finance, whose roles and accomplishments are in an individual capacity, would be better off choosing to highlight their contributions to a club soccer team, rather than their exploits playing the piano.  This is to display the applicant’s ability to get along with peers and show teamwork and leadership skills.

Contrary to some misconceptions, you don’t have to be the star player of every activity you are involved in – showing humility and the ability to work well with others in different roles is just as important as being a leader, especially if you are targeting schools that are known to encourage a collaborative environment.

You may also want to consider choosing to participate in an activity that would be unexpected from the stereotype of people in your field. For instance, a compliance officer could share that he or she is also a part-time stand-up comedian. Aside from making such an applicant’s profile more interesting, this hobby also shows them in a different dimension, and expands the qualities that would be typically associated with a compliance officer – in this case, portraying this applicant as not only an executive who is methodical, diligent, and responsible, but also as an entertainer who is funny, dynamic and engaging.

Share stories of the activities you were involved with growing up to demonstrate values that are consistent with the values you highlight for your work experiences, or that you use to define your character strengths. To illustrate, you may tell a story of how hours and hours of practice for gymnastics enabled you to develop and appreciate the value of hard work, or how the same resilience you displayed to fully recover from a serious knee injury that cut short your career as a tennis champion allowed you to succeed with your start-up, even after encountering major obstacles.

A surprising hobby or interest can help your profile pop and paint a vivid picture of you in the minds of the Admissions Committee, helping you become a memorable and relatable candidate they would want attending their school.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.

What Counts as Significant International Work Experience?

For international experience to be significant it has to be something that you can write about at length and appropriately in a b-school essay.

  1. Can you articulate how you lead a team in a multi-national or cross border environment? This is what the adcom would want to see if you were writing an essay. A lot of applicants have worked occasionally overseas. More important is what you learned, how it changed your perspective, how you overcame an obstacle and how you produced a positive team outcome.
  2. That is, what you got out of it and what you can put down on paper is what will set your experience apart from other applicants. That is where I consider the line drawn with respect to whether or not an experience is significant.
  3. With respect to any extracurricular international experience (start-up, professional volunteerism, etc.), if you can write about it effectively as part of your positioning then it