It’s been seven years since my first year of university. In those years, I’ve had a lot of time to look back and reflect on my post-secondary journey. While there are absolutely no regrets, there are opportunities that I wish I’d taken advantage of to graduate ahead of my peers. Here are four of them:

Network, network, network

Although I’ve previously shared my advice on how to successfully network, this is something that’s always worth a deeper discussion. While a diploma or degree (or both) are crucial to securing most jobs, having the right resources and connections are just as important.

So, where do you start? Look into joining a club or association on campus related to your area of study (in my case, I became a contributing writer to the student paper). If there’s nothing available on campus, you can likely find a local chapter of a professional organization to join (I became a student member of the Ottawa chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators).

Your professors can also be a great resource. Reach out to them and set aside some time to discuss your ambitions post-graduation. Let them know that you’re looking to make meaningful connections with industry professionals and that you’d appreciate their direction. In my experience, a good professor will always have your best interest at heart and will do everything they can to help you succeed.

Complete an internship or co-op

Internships weren’t a requirement of my undergraduate program but they were offered in my third and fourth year. Perhaps it was because they weren’t mandatory that at the time, I failed to see their value. Five years later though, I really wish I’d taken advantage of the opportunity.

Internships and co-ops are some of the most effective ways of getting your foot in the door. While many entry-level positions require at least a couple years of experience, co-ops are open to mature students or recent graduates who have little to none. In addition to providing real-world experience, a good co-op should also help you establish valuable connections with professionals in your field (it all comes back to networking!). Although many internships lead to an extended contract or full-time position with the company, in the event that it doesn’t become a permanent gig, it’s important to have other options on the table.

If your school doesn’t offer co-op placements, don’t let that deter you. Many employers will post internships on online job boards such as Indeed and Workopolis. Moreover, if you’ve managed to establish a solid connection with a professional in your field, don’t be afraid to ask them to take you on as a co-op student. Their answer just might surprise you!

Volunteer

If there’s a particular cause that you’re passionate about, now is the perfect time to get out there and volunteer your time towards it.

More and more employers are recognizing the value of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) and in turn, want to hire employees who are of the same view. In fact, while only 32 per cent of job applicants actually include community service work on their resume, 82 per cent of interviewers say they prefer job seekers who have volunteer experience. 

On top of looking great on your resume, volunteering is also a good way to develop valuable and work-related skills, such as time management, project coordination and leadership. It also shows that you’re willing to donate your time to a cause you care about, which is a sign of great character.

Get your finances in order

A post-secondary education is a significant financial investment. Though most of today’s students will graduate with some level of debt, for many, this can be quite the financial setback.

One of the quickest ways to repay a student loan is to be informed of all your repayment options, set goals and if possible, begin making payments before graduation. Many schools host information sessions and webinars for students, giving budgeting advice and tips on how to repay student loans faster. Services like these are great resources that you can rely on as you make your way towards a debt-free life.

If you’re able to begin repaying your loan before graduation, start by setting a realistic goal, such as putting down $50 every month or $1,000 in a year. It might not seem like much at first but if you’re consistent, it’ll go a long way. To figure out what goal is best for you, start by creating a personal budget. This short video has some great pointers on how to make your own.

I’ve come to realize that as a student, I was so focused on getting my degree that I hadn’t thought about what I would do once I got it. While I have no regrets about my six years as a post-secondary student, if I could do it all again, there are things I would certainly do differently.

Between networking, interning, volunteering and getting serious about my student loans, these are all opportunities that I believe would have put me ahead of my peers upon graduation. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take advantage of them and finish your final year like a boss!

But that’s just According to Adrienne.

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