How To Gain Work Experience For College StudentsSeptember 21, 2019
Updated December 23, 2021
When it comes to landing your first job after graduation and getting a strong foothold on paying back student loan debt, nothing is more important than standing out in the workforce. This doesn’t mean you should equip yourself with a gimmicky resume or a flashy outfit for going on interviews. The way to impress a prospective employer is with experience and skills suited for the position — not only will this put you on track to paying back your student loan debt, but it will also set you up for long-term financial success. When it comes to hunting for a job, college graduates can be put into three categories:
- Those who have waited until after graduation to look for a job.
- Those who have waited for a couple of months (while enjoying their last summer of freedom) before searching for a job.
- Those who have been planning their job search since well before their final exams.
The latter understand that in order to give themselves an edge in the job market, they needed to start early.
Gain Work Experience While in College
There is often a catch-22 that applies to looking for a job after college: many entry-level positions require some experience, but you can’t gain experience unless you have already worked in that field. Although there are exceptions, one of the hard facts is that most employers prefer to hire a college graduate who has some work experience to put on the table. So, your best bet is to find part-time work in your chosen field while you are still in school. It might not be easy, as trying to keep up with a full course load and working at the same time can be a challenge. But the reward may be your dream job after graduation.
- Best-case scenario: You find a part-time job related to your field and then use your experience to segue into a full-time position once you have your degree.
- Worst-case scenario: You can’t find a part-time job directly related to your field, but you have demonstrated your ability to hold a job and you have some work experience to put on your resume.
5 Ways to Find the Right Part-Time Work
When it comes to gaining work experience, you can choose from a range of options, from working for your college or university to finding charities that will help pay off student loans. Read on to discover a few of the choices that may be available to you.
1. The Federal Work-Study Program
If you attend a federally accredited university, contact the financial aid department to find out if you’re eligible for the Work-Study Program. This program matches students with job opportunities that are located both on- and off-campus. Counselors do their best to help you pick positions closest to your field of study. These jobs are generally paid at the minimum wage rate or a little higher and are assigned at a maximum of thirty hours per week.
If you have certain skills, such as writing or graphic design, you can make some extra cash using freelance sites such as upwork.com and contentrunner.com. The beauty of this kind of work is that you can choose your own hours. There are many internet platforms that are searching for part-time talent – just be sure to research them carefully to avoid scams. Even if you find work that isn’t in the field you are aiming for after college, you will be demonstrating initiative to any prospective employer.
Volunteering usually means that you won’t get paid, which while admirable, won’t make a big dent in your student loan debt. But getting involved with community organizations, charities, animal shelters, etc. shows initiative, a sense of responsibility, and your ability to work with others. It is often easier to find an unpaid position in the field that you want to work in after college through volunteering or an internship. Simply, if you can afford to volunteer, you’ll likely refine personal and professional skills that will last a lifetime.
Finding internships in your chosen field is one of the best ways to land your dream job after college. Companies love internships because it’s an easy way for them to find talent with hardly any risk or expense on their part. Internships represent the lifeblood of college work experience because nothing beats a hands-on education. The best internship is one that will help you launch your entry-level career.
5. Career Services Department
Most colleges and universities have a Career Services Department whose main goal is to help students fine-tune their professional skills in hopes of landing a great job. From resume tips to mock interviews, they’re a wealth of knowledge. Every day they’re working with students just like you who have varying amounts of student loan debt and actively want to help you get rid of it!
- Why the Big Companies Aren’t Always the Best Choice: Many academic advisors recommend choosing internships in smaller businesses where they really need hands-on help so you won’t be stuck just making printer copies and coffee runs. Research a few local small to medium-sized companies in your field, and then contact their HR departments to ask whether they have programs for interns. Don’t forget to talk to your professors – they are probably aware of a few good companies that you can contact. As an added perk to employees, many companies are also adding competitive benefits, like tuition reimbursement, helping pay off student loan debt, or providing generous time off.
- When to Start Looking for an Internship: After your freshman year, begin to contact companies that interest you. A good resource is your college’s career-planning office. You may be fortunate enough to be enrolled in a college that offers grants to enable students to accept unpaid (or poorly paid) internships. Or you can consider combining a part-time unpaid internship in the field you want with other work that pays. Fortunately, some high-paying fields also pay their interns quite well, especially if those students are close to graduating.
The Bottom Line
Carefully planning your part-time jobs or internships while you are working toward your degree will give you the best chance of achieving your career goals. And the sooner you begin to earn money out of college, the sooner you can start to pay off your student loan debt. Talk to ELFI about our private student loan offerings by giving us a call today!*