Taking on four years of rigorous, bachelors degree-level courses is no easy feat. You will find that free time quickly becomes a foreign concept to you as there is always another reading assignment, paper, or exam on the horizon that you should be focusing on. The more this experience stretches on, the easier it can become to start asking, “Why am I even here?” And then after graduation, as you try to take your newfound learning into the workforce, fighting just to keep your head above water, you might find yourself going through the motions and forgetting all that good stuff you gained during your bachelor’s degree.

To you, I say two things. First, this happens to everyone. Second, keeping perspective on your bachelor’s degree during and after your college experience will make all the difference.

And what should that perspective be? That your bachelor’s degree program is an investment.

It’s an investment of lots of money and even more time, and that investment will only yield the dividends with some TLC over long periods of time and a little discipline. But make no mistake: your bachelor’s degree will bear fruit.

bachelors degree tips

You’re probably wondering now how exactly you’re supposed to pull that off, so we have included here a bunch of tips to help you make the bachelor’s degree during your program and after graduation.

During Your Degree Program

So how do you maximize your bachelor’s degree investment while you’re still in the midst of classes and assignments. If you’re working while you’re in school, things can be even more hectic. But there are some time-tested guidelines you can follow to get the most value out of this challenging, rewarding experience:

1. Plan everything.

You know the adage: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Well, they might as well hand you a four-year planner when you walk in (or log in) on the first day of college because you’re level of success in your bachelor’s degree program will be directly proportional to your ability to plan and manage your time.

Start with goals. Ask yourself what you want to walk away with, beyond the obvious diploma in hand. When you sit in that graduation ceremony, what kind of person do you want to be? What skills and experience do you want to have? What career do you want to be prepared for? This is the time to envision your future so you can go build it.

Goals are just dreams unless you figure how you’re going to make it real. You’ll need to figure out what classes you’ll need to take, what grades you’ll need to get, and what people you’ll need to know to be successful. Make plans for each term or semester and then get more specific to each week and day. Just beware, with every semester packed with classwork, assignments, and exams, not to mention whatever is going in your personal life, your education can go to the dogs pretty quickly without a good daily plan.

Making planning a daily habit, however, will help you keep all of these demands in check while ensuring that you’re moving toward your goals.

2. Take it one step at a time.

It’s easy to get so preoccupied with grades and career that you forget to actually enjoy the bachelor’s degree experience, which is a feast of new ideas and exciting opportunities. Jeffrey Durso-Finley at the New York Times put it this way:

“Plenty of students complain about their work or obsess about their G.P.A., but that’s just wasted energy and time. Don’t get caught up in any academic ennui. Instead, focus on your assignments, papers and projects for their intrinsic learning value; the grades will come naturally.”

Every assignment is a chance to expand your abilities and your expertise. Understanding them for what they are will help you to view them less as another hurdle to get over and more as the future-building experience you signed up for.

3. Leave room to explore your options.

Entering the college experience, it becomes clear that some majors are more glamorous or prestigious than others. Their level of prestige is often based on how much you can make or awesome they’ll make you look to your friends or parents. If you base your major decision on these factors alone, however, you might find that you’re missing out on a whole world of intriguing, profitable options.

On Quora, programmer Chelsea Hunersen expressed this idea when she said:

“When you start college, all you really know is law, medicine, and business, but there are so many more great options, so don’t be afraid to explore them and to change your mind!”

While you’re setting the course for your life and career, take this unique opportunity to taste-test different fields. The most prestigious major might not be the most fulfilling for you. You might find a greater level of interest and better earnings in a more obscure major. But you’ll never know if you don’t explore your options.

4. Pursue internships.

Looking forward to that day when your classes are done and you have to make it all count in a full-time job, internships are a great way to gain relevant work experience while still in school.

Internships let you meet people and form connections in your field. They give you a chance to see the things you’ve been learning about in action in the real world. Finally, they give you an awesome entry to put in your resume to show future employers that you were busy and engaged, gaining skills and experience, instead of just waiting around to collect a diploma.

5. Participate in extracurricular activities.

A bachelor’s degree program offers more than just classes, and some of the best opportunities will come outside of the lecture hall. In fact the most valuable networking opportunities will happen elsewhere. For this reason, joining a club, fraternity, or sorority is a highly recommended way to get the most out of your college experience.

If you are an on-campus student, this will be easier for you, since most campuses hold an activity at the beginning of the school year to introduce students to all the clubs and organizations at their disposal.

The worst thing you can do is to mistakenly assume that all of that extracurricular stuff is just a distraction. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As they move beyond college, most graduates find that they get far more value from the strength of their network than they ever will from that extra thirty minutes of reading on neutrinos.

6. Talk to your instructors outside of class.

If you’re really out to maximize your college investment, you want to get as much learning out of your instructor or professor as possible. Jeffrey Durso-Finley explains:

“You have access to some of the most accomplished experts in their field, and you are paying a tremendous amount of money to have access to them. Don’t waste it… you’ll be surprised at how enthusiastic (most) professors are to sit and talk to you. More important, you may be surprised to learn how they’d like to get to know you beyond the paper or lab assignment you’ve handed in.”

Every extra minute you spend talking to your instructor outside of class is an extra bit of information you will take with you into your career, an advantage over everyone else who just rushed out the door when the bell rang.

Instructors can also be a valuable addition to your network. After all, they don’t spend all their time grading papers and they’re usually experts in their fields. So get to know them beyond just lectures.

7. Did I mention networking?

It’s been argued that with college you pay not so much for the education as you do for the network. The real benefit of pricey schools like Harvard or USC is not so much the quality of their coursework as the quality of their vast alumni networks. But this is true of every college. As we already stated, you might forget what you learned in that Physics course, but that guy you shared a study group with could end up being the contact you need to land your first job.

After Graduation

After you walk off that stage with diploma in hand, you have all kinds of expectations. You’ve done something impressive, something that most people can only dream of, and for that you’re to be commended. But all that work will only be worth something if you make the right moves in the real world. The wrong moves could make all your work pointless. To help you hit the ground running and get the most out of your bachelor’s degree, here are seven fundamentals to stick to:

bachelors degree graduation tips

1. Don’t expect people to fall at your feet.

With the growth of education options over the last couple decades, so many in the workforce now have bachelor’s degrees that it’s no longer as prestigious as it used to be. So, while you have a great accomplishment under your belt with a bachelor’s degree, you shouldn’t expect any special treatment until you’ve proven yourself in the real world.

Therefore, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to get coffee for your boss or your cubicle is as far from the corner office as possible. Don’t be offended if you are treated like a rookie. Put whatever vanity you might have surrounding your degree on the shelf and just go to work. There’s no surer way to prove your worth as a newly minted grad.

2. Get comfortable with uncertainty.

In a recent commencement address at Northeastern University, the president of The World Bank, Jim Kim, made this insightful comment:

“Uncertainty means that nothing is predetermined. Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape — with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion. Uncertainty is freedom. Take that freedom and run with it.”

One of the most unnerving things for new graduates is the sudden lack of structure. While you’re in your bachelor’s degree program, you have your syllabus and class schedule to tell you what you need to do next and when it’s due. Once you enter the real world, however, that structure is gone, replaced by a bunch of really intimidating questions. Some grads see this uncertainty and shut down, wondering if they shouldn’t retreat back to the structure of college.

But, as stated above, that uncertainty is actually freedom, a blank slate on which you can create your new career. What do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? It’s up to you. But getting comfortable with this new uncertainty in your life will make this a lot easier.

3. Balance practicality with your long-term goals.

Right off the bat, you might find yourself faced with taking a job that has nothing to do with your preferred field and being unemployed, especially in this economy. You might, for example, want to work as a financial analyst, but only be able to find work as a secretary at an accounting firm. Do you take the secretary position or do you hold out for the financial analysis position you want? These aren’t easy choices to make. But sometimes, with a little thought, you can find a way to make a seemingly unrelated job fit into your plans. The secretary position might get your foot in the door so you can get some experience working with ledgers and spreadsheets. Those are skills that are easily transferred.

Ultimately, there is no hard-and-fast rule here. It’s up to you. If you do pass up the available position, are you willing to accept the risk that you might not land your desired position in the near future? Or do you take the job and risk missing out on your desired opportunity when it shows up? Like I said, not easy.

But by staying flexible and creative, you can keep a roof over your head and work steadily toward your goals.

4. Get to work right away.

You have a lot of momentum coming out of your graduation. You’re feeling like you can climb mountains. You’re full of hope for the future. Your head is still buzzing with all of the amazing things you’ve learned and you’re ready to change the world.

The first thing you need to know is that these feelings have expiration date if you don’t get out and start making things happen. You lose motivation. You forget what you learned. You start to wonder if you really are as good as you thought you were. So, while that six-month trek through Europe might sound like just the thing after conquering your bachelor’s degree program, you might want to consider cutting it down to two weeks.

A short vacation is appropriate, deserved even, but the sooner you get to work the more momentum you will have, the better you will perform. Take too long to rest, and you might find yourself “vacationing” a lot longer than you intended to.

5. Don’t stop focusing on your network.

The network that you started during your undergraduate education is like a young garden. It’s going great, but it needs continuing attention. Neglect will cause your network to shrivel up and die.

So how do you nurture your network? Get on LinkedIn. Congratulate your friends when they get promoted and land a great new job. Follow them on Facebook and like their comments or their wedding announcements. Have lunch or dinner with your friends. By staying social and being interested in their careers and lives, you will find that they will be much more interested in you when you need them.

6. Focus on skills and expertise, not titles.

Fewer and fewer job requirements are focusing on skills and experience, instead of on titles. As you build your new career, employers are asking themselves, “Can this candidate do what I need them to do?” That’s really a question of skills and mastery those skills. Each skill is another tool in your toolbelt that makes you that much more useful and irreplaceable to them

In the course of fulfilling your job description, you will be gaining skills and expertise, using software or performing certain duties. But you should also seize opportunities to practice other skills that might not necessarily be in your job description. The skills you have the stronger your appeal and the more resilient you will be during economic downturns.

7. Align your interests with your goals.

“Do what you love.” The saying sounds trite, but there is some wisdom behind it. Those who love what they do ultimately do it well. They would work all day on it if they could. But what if, you might ask, what you love doesn’t make any money? Or what if you don’t end up loving the career you trained for but find interest elsewhere?

On this topic, Richard Branson, the unorthodox, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, gave this piece of advice:

“[S]pend your time working on whatever you are passionate about in life. If your degree was focused upon one particular area, don’t let that stop you moving in another direction.”

Keeping in line with number two above, uncertainty is a given when it comes to moving into your new career as a new grad. It just comes with the territory. But when you do what you have a strong interest in you will almost certainly perform better.

A word of caution here: do not pursue a career solely because of the paycheck. Salary alone isn’t enough to keep you motivated if you just aren’t interested in what you’re doing. In fact, as your interest wanes, so will your performance. You’ll find yourself ejected from that high-paying career faster that you can collect your check.

But also don’t fall into the “starving artist” trap where you become so limited in your idea of what the career you love looks like that you find yourself homeless because no one is hiring for the exact job you’ve envisioned in your mind. Learn to see the things you’re interested in within the opportunities that are available.

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