Get involved. Build relationships with your professors. Take advantage of every opportunity. You’ve probably heard all these suggestions for experiencing college to the fullest — and they’re completely on point.
Research and internships, leadership activities, studying abroad, community service, and networking with employers are all important ways to prepare for your first job or graduate school. But what, specifically, should you do your freshman year to set yourself up for success? Professors, staff and students at St. Edward’s offer 11 tips to get you started:
1. Introduce yourself to your professors.
You probably chose St. Edward’s because you wanted your professors to know you personally. And from a practical standpoint, it’s important to get to know professors because you’ll eventually need three strong faculty recommendations for graduate school or job references. Building those relationships can start with a simple hello.
“As an introvert myself, I understand how contacting a professor might be intimidating to students,” says Professor of Psychology Jeannetta Williams. You can start small. “I love when students come up at the end of class to chat,” she says. “It might be a follow-up question from class, to ask a question about the major, or just to say hello. For the extra shy students, it is not unusual for them to email me instead of an in-person visit.” If your professor sends out frequent emails, as Williams does, starting the conversation is as easy as hitting reply.
2. Go see your professors during office hours.
All professors at St. Edward’s have designated times each week when they’re in their office and available to meet with students. Office hours are the perfect time to introduce yourself or ask for help with a challenging concept from class. “It can be a five-minute encounter, but then when you’re in the classroom, your professor will remember your face and name and know you better,” says Lauren Perry ’21, an English Literature major. “They know you’ve put in the extra effort to go and get to know them.”
How to start? You can drop by, but faculty and students say it can help to send an email in advance, introducing yourself and setting a time when you want to come by. “It can just be, ‘I’m going to drop by. Can’t wait to see you then,’ says Political Science major Valerie Kauffman ’21. “They, they’re expecting you, and if they have another student in their office but they know you’re coming in at 2:30, they can wrap up that conversation so you can go in and talk to them.”
It’s good to have a conversation topic in mind, even if you don’t need help with a specific assignment. Kauffman suggests asking a question related to the class you’re taking or an issue in that field. You could ask about research opportunities or careers connected to your major. Another option: get to know your professor and why he or she teaches this subject.
“Professors obviously like to talk about their field of study,” Perry says, “but they also like to talk about why they do what they do and why they’ve decided to be at this university.”
Biology major Priyanka Ranchod ’21 visited Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Matthew Steffenson during office hours the first week of her freshman year. Ranchod started with the basics: “I’m Priyanka, and I’m in your General Biology class at 11 o’clock.” She explained that she’d never really had to study in high school, but she knew that college would be different, and she wanted to learn how to study for his class. Steffenson spent close to an hour with Ranchod, walking her through study strategies that had worked for him during college and graduate school. “He even ended the conversation with, ‘Try this out. If it doesn't work for you, come see me again and we can figure out different methods you can try.’” Ranchod did well the Biology class, and Steffenson became her research advisor. The two are currently working on a study of honeybees.
3. Schedule a “Start Your Future” meeting with a career counselor.
Get to know the resources of the Career and Professional Development office by scheduling a Start Your Future meeting, a half-hour appointment with a career counselor. You don’t need to do anything to prepare, and it’s ok if you’re not sure what careers interest you. The counselor will walk you through the meeting and ask questions about your interests and experience and suggest next steps.
“Many students feel pressure to begin planning their careers, but they are not in a place where they even know what to ask,” says Director of Career and Professional Development Raymond Rogers. “In these meetings, they often discover questions they have that they didn’t know they had, and we of course answer them.”
4. Get to know a research librarian.
College courses are heavy on research, and the type of sources you’re expected to cite in your papers is probably different than in high school. Invest some time your freshman year in learning good research techniques. “We have experts on campus who help you get better at it, but only if you ask them to,” says Caroline Morris, associate vice president, Center for Applied Learning, Social Impact and Global Initiatives. “Ditch Google and talk to a librarian about how to find the sources you'll need.”
5. Attend a career panel to learn more about jobs that interest you.
The Career and Professional Development office hosts events throughout the year featuring employers and alumni who talk about their work and how to enter their field. Previous events include Careers in Gaming and Creative Technology, Meet the Federal Government Agencies, and Careers in Psychology. You can stay up to date on upcoming workshops, career panels and job fairs by subscribing to The Career Insider, Career and Professional Development’s weekly, online newsletter.
6. Go to a study abroad information session.
You may have always dreamed of studying in Spain or Thailand, but turning that dream into reality takes advance planning. Start by attending a study abroad information session at summer orientation. There, you’ll learn how studying abroad can be affordable and can fit into a four-year graduation plan. Ask your success coach about the best semester to study abroad, based on your major. And keep reminding yourself this adventure is possible. “Don’t self-select out,” says Director of Study Abroad Emily Spandikow Wescott. “Tell yourself you deserve this opportunity until you believe it.”
7. Write your résumé, and bring it to the internship fairs.
Counselors in the Career and Professional Development office can review your résumé during walk-in hours (this video will help you write a first draft). Bring your polished résumé to the internship fairs held each fall and spring, where you’ll meet companies and organizations that are looking for interns from St. Edward’s.
8. Ask your professors about research opportunities, including SOURCE.
The Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression, held on campus each spring, is a great introduction to undergraduate research. You can develop a project based on a paper you write for a class your freshman year; just ask your professor how to expand your research and present it. “It’s good to have that experience under your belt your first year,” Lauren Perry says. “Then you’re like, ‘Wow, I'm capable of doing research and presenting it. How can I build on that for the next three years?’”
9. Join at least one student organization.
Attend the Involvement Fair at the beginning of each semester to learn about student organizations, intramural sports and service opportunities. That’s how Kinesiology major Jasmine Adgerson ’21 found out about The BIG Event, a day of service at sites across Austin. Her freshman year, she was one of nearly 200 volunteers the day of The BIG Event. Her sophomore year, she took on a leadership position as a member of the registration subcommittee. “Serving on The BIG Event committee has taught me a lot about what it takes to be a leader,” she says. “I’ve gained so many new friendships and am grateful I had this amazing experience so early in my college career.” If you get involved freshman year, you’ll be able to take on more responsibility later — which is attractive to employers and graduate schools. “Law schools like to see community involvement and increased responsibility over time, such as leadership positions within organizations,” says Alex Smith, J.D., the pre-law career counselor.
10. Make a plan for summer ... starting in November.
“Summer is for building your résumé with things like internships, community service, research and study abroad,” says Caroline Morris. “There are lots of funded opportunities in all these categories, but the application season for them starts early. Don’t leave summer planning until spring.”
11. Reach out to successful upperclassmen.
Find some of the older students in your major who are involved in internships or research and invite them to coffee. (Pro tip: this is good practice for informational interviews with adults in your chosen profession.) It worked for Priyanka Ranchod: “My freshman year I was nervous, but I just swallowed my pride and approached a couple of people and said, ‘Hi, we don't know each other, but I know that you’re in my major, and you were involved in leadership — do you have any advice for me?’ They were so willing to sit down with me and talk about their experiences. Everyone here is genuinely focused on how we can help each other grow.”