Graduating from college is no small feat. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, only 62% of bachelor’s-degree-seeking students overall graduate with a degree. In fact, many colleges and universities see their graduation rate as a key success metric. It’s a number that can add credibility to an institution’s recruiting efforts.

But to students, graduation is a symbolic moment. It marks the transition to the so-called “real world.” It’s a time filled with excitement—and a lot of unknowns. Whether students are beginning their careers or continuing their education, things change drastically after graduation. Part of helping students succeed is giving them the tools they need to navigate this period and find solid footing.

Here are a few tips for higher education practitioners to help students succeed in their transition to life after college.

Guide students toward internships

Many entry-level jobs require at least some work experience. For graduating students, this scenario presents a challenging paradox where, to be considered for a job to gain experience, they must already have one to two years of experience. One solution to this can be promoting internships to students still in school or on the verge of graduating.

By reaching out to their institution’s alumni, practitioners can help students tap into a professional network of likeminded individuals. Alumni may even know of open internships or positions for juniors, seniors, or even recent grads. This can put students on the path to gaining work experience and being competitive candidates for that first job out of college. In fact, students who intern while in college used their experience to take a full-time position 56% of the time, according to a study done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2019.

Help students understand the importance of networking

Networking is often a new skill for students to learn. It can feel awkward as they get the hang of it, but practitioners can help students understand the benefits of networking. By attending networking events and reaching out to alumni or professors who work in the industry they’re interested in, students can expand their list of professional contacts, meet likeminded people, and potentially discover career opportunities for after they graduate.

Practitioners can also connect students with relevant contacts and promote on-campus networking events to help students get comfortable with meeting new people in a professional environment. If a student hasn’t created a LinkedIn account, it may be beneficial to show them how to get started and connect with them on the platform.

Help students develop a portfolio and a resume

Along with a repertoire of experiences and contacts gained through internships and networking, students should be documenting their achievements and completed projects in a professional portfolio and resume. A portfolio can help students show off their skills through their capstone projects, research papers, and other completed assignments.

Many times, employers must sift through numerous candidates for a position, assessing candidates’ abilities and making first impressions based on submitted materials alone. Some services, such as The Muse and Monster.com, can help students polish their resumes (for a fee) and compile their relevant skills and experiences. They can even help students craft a resume that’s less likely to be filtered out by a company’s applicant tracking system.

Additionally, there are a number of services that empower students to create their own online portfolios. Website builders like Wix and Squarespace offer free templates that make the creation process quicker and easier. Busy students who may not have the know-how to make their own portfolio website from scratch can take advantage of these templates to help showcase their abilities without stressing over the presentation.

Provide a letter of recommendation

For students with little work experience, letters of recommendation from their educators and advisors can add legitimacy to their resumes and portfolios. Additionally, letters of recommendation are crucial for students looking to continue their education. Professional and other graduate degree programs routinely require them for admission.

A well-written letter of recommendation speaks not only to a student’s abilities, but also their personality and attitude. It should be focused on describing personal experiences that practitioners have had with the student, especially those where the student displayed discipline, persistence, and teamwork.

Encourage extracurricular involvement

While it’s better to get involved on campus early, it’s never too late for students to take on extracurricular activities. Whether it’s a professional development group, social organization, or an intramural sports team, activities outside of class can help students grow their network, feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and moderate the effects of stress in their lives.

Additionally, extracurriculars can provide students with opportunities to develop the soft skills that employers look for, such as effective communication, teamwork, leadership, and good judgment. In their conversations with students, practitioners can find out what interests them, then refer them to the right student or community organizations.

Ready to launch

Putting these tips together, practitioners can help prepare students for what lies ahead after graduation. By readying their resumes and portfolios, obtaining stellar recommendations from their advisors and educators, and growing their network both professionally and personally, students will find themselves in a position to succeed after college. That “real world” they keep hearing about may even seem a little less intimidating.

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