Money, Career & Skill Development – Advice I Wish I Had In University
The narrative throughout my life was to bury your head in the books at university and get the best grades you can. Don’t party too much, focus on your schoolwork and then hit the ground running with your career once you finish school.
Okay, I did that…
I was able to graduate with Deans and Honours recognition. It was intrinsically rewarding to be achieving these marks and getting praise from administrators and my family. I was a great student – well maybe not even a student, a great grades achiever. Unfortunately, I wasn’t being a great learner or prepper for my career and overall development.
There is some basic money, career & skill development advice I would give my younger self during those formative 17-24 years.
You could probably easily list off a handful of things to tell the earlier version of yourself too. Also, like many (most) post-secondary students, I was financially illiterate (see my post Stupid Money Mistakes I Made).
The type of advice I am writing about here is not take out an additional $10K in student loans in 2008 and buy Amazon stock. Or start accruing BitCoin in 2011 and sell perfectly on December 16, 2017.
I am talking about actionable advice that could have easily been implemented as a young adult. Advice that could help with career readiness, general skill development and money management.
Scholarships: A Dollar Awarded, Is A Dollar Saved
One of the biggest misses I made during my post-secondary career was not applying for more scholarships. Whether it was laziness, self-doubt or ignorance, I can’t recall why I didn’t make the effort.
If I had been able to secure an additional $5,000 worth of scholarships across my entire post-secondary education, I would’ve decreased my student loan debt balance by 13%. Factor in the interest owed across the repayment of those student loans and that’s an additional $1,000 saved.
The financial reward is one thing but the skills sharpened doing the scholarship application process over and over again are so beneficial.
Critical analysis, creative writing, pitching and selling yourself.
The net benefit of applying for more scholarships would’ve been a big win and the effort to do so would’ve been well worth the payoff.
If I could give my younger self and any soon-to-be or current university student advice, it would be to dedicate a set amount of time to apply for scholarships.
Spend 1-2 hours per weekend in the latter half of your final year of high school searching and applying for scholarships and bursaries. Once you’re in University, repeat the same every semester and summer.
If you spent 8 hours in a month applying for scholarships and landed a $1,000 bursary, that’s an hourly rate of $125.
That’s a nice ROI.
See this article from TIME has an article 13 Tips for Winning College Scholarships. This advice is easy to action for any university student. You won’t regret the time invested to potentially secure some extra scholarship money and hone your creative writing skills.
Work Experience: Preparing For The Real World
I’ve seen so many doe-eyed Interns and entry-level coordinators come into our organization and immediately realize, this is nothing like what the books and classroom said it would be.
Like many of you probably did, I had that stark realization too. Hands-on work experience in a fast-paced environment is a shortfall of many post-secondary graduates.
A PewResearchCenter report found that 50% of college graduates listed “gaining more work experience” as the most influential area during their undergraduate studies that would’ve better prepared them for the type of job they wanted.
I fall in that 50%.
Could I have better used even 12-16 hours a week to pursue meaningful part-time work? Yes, cut out some time in the library, gym or on the couch and that would’ve been easily attainable and more rewarding.
If you’re looking at pursuing a career under the general heading of “business”, I’d recommend sourcing out opportunities at startups or small businesses local to your school.
Not to chase stock options or become part of an IPO like an episode of Silicon Valley. But to be around engaging, hard-working people that are pushing for success in order for their business to breakthrough and prosper.
The multi-faceted skillset required for employees at these smaller companies will provide you with the opportunity to test, learn and experience a variety of tasks or specialties in your desired career path require. If “business” isn’t the career path of choice, getting hands-on experience in whatever field you’re working towards will be so beneficial and set-up you up for early success once you enter the workplace full-time.
Ideally you get paid for this work experience but if not luckily many programs include a mandatory work-placement or Internship.
See this article by The Intern Group on 8 Reasons Why An Internship Is Hands Down The Best Way To Prepare For Your Career.
I would recommend gaining as much work experience as possible during a post-secondary education. An internship will provide much more value than some throwaway elective for an easy grade.
Networking: The Power Of People
Achieving good grades is just one of the many levers to set yourself up for success after graduation, leveraging networking opportunities during university is another. It’s an area I didn’t maximize until my last year either unfortunately.
From making better connections with the dedicated and career-driven students in my program to speaking directly with professionals working in the industry, I missed the boat.
Networking creates the opportunity to find a mentor to assist with steering your career path or build relationships for future work opportunities.
With every new hire my organization makes, a major factor is clearly who you know. My “who you know” network could’ve been much bigger upon graduation had I put in the necessary effort to build those relationships.
University is the ideal environment to start building your rolodex of contacts.
I wish I could’ve told my younger self to capitalize on those networking opportunities. However, for current students…
If you aren’t comfortable cold-calling or emailing people in your industry, use the relationships your professors and administrators have with prominent Alumni from your program.
As a means of paying it forward for what some great Alumni did for me, I will find the time to meet with any students from my alma mater. If the student impresses me by being genuinely engaged and dedicated, I will go out of my way to circulate their name for Internships and entry-level positions both internally and externally of my organization. I would assume Alumni from your university program would do the same.
If you set-up 1 coffee meeting or Skype call per month during a 4-year university degree, you’d have been involved in 30-40 meetings minimum once you graduate. That’s 30-40 chances to meet, listen, learn and connect with someone in the industry you want to pursue as a career.
At worse, you get a LinkedIn or email contact.
In the best case scenario…well that’s up to you and your aspirations.
Skill Development: A Toolbelt For The Modern World
During university it’s easy to become sheltered away from the “real world”. You build a routine that might include some combination of going to class, working out, studying, socializing, procrastinating, missing Mom’s cooking, and so on.
The future skills you might want to add to your tool belt may not be the most pressing thing on your mind.
At least they weren’t for me.
I wish I would’ve spent a little more time forecasting and building skills relevant in the current 21st century business landscape. A recent LinkedIn Report on The Skills Companies Need Most In 2018, identifies two particular areas I’d like to have better focused on in university.
- Public Speaking (#2 on the LinkedIn list for soft skills)
- Digital Marketing (#8 & #11 on the LinkedIn list for hard skills).
There are dozens of others that could’ve benefited me but these two have cross-industry application.
Despite the growing digital dependencies in our world, the ability to present your thoughts in a concise manner is a skill that sees no boundary both professionally and personally. Being comfortable speaking in public builds self-confidence and assist you with garnering support from others.
It will help you secure leadership positions should that be a route you want to pursue.
Public speaking is a skill applicable in most walks of life and from my experience it can be hard to play catch-up.
I did the bare minimum during university.
My advice to younger me or current university students?
Take an improv class to break down your inner reluctance and ego. A little extreme no? Check out this article from Forbes, Why Improv Training Is Great Business Training.
Other ways to get more “stage time” under your belt could be leaping at opportunities to do presentations, speak on panels or enter student case competitions. How about starting a YouTube channel or podcast?
The more experience you get communicating in front of “strangers”, the more comfortable and effective you will be at doing it when it matters in the real world. I could’ve benefited so much by doing any of the above during my time in university.
Even if your career path doesn’t have a particular need for digital marketing skills, almost every established or emerging company needs a website, social media accounts and a general digital marketing strategy.
The ability to understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), social media management, WordPress CMS and email marketing, opens the door to bountiful opportunities.
Our reliance on computer and digital connections isn’t going away anytime soon either.
These skills can create entrepreneurial opportunities, side hustle gigs and give you a well-crafted knowledge base for life in the digital world.
I might be a little bias.
If I could go back, I would try to align my electives to these skills (if they were being offered). If I couldn’t, luckily there are dozens of free and inexpensive options to learn them.
From YouTube, blogs, online courses and e-books, you can build a solid foundation of knowledge on the different pillars of digital marketing. Read this 2016 post from Neil Patel on The 9 Digital Marketing Skills In High Demand Right Now.
How would I recommend getting experience practicing these skills during university? You can volunteer (or get paid) to run/contribute to the various websites or social media channels available at your school.
Whether it’s the digital properties of the specific program and department you’re studying (ex. Business, Health Sciences, etc.) or the channels of the different collegiate sports teams. Your school alone likely has a dozen opportunities.
If you’re confident in your abilities, you can search out paid opportunities on Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr.
Financial Literacy: Fundamental Money Management
Unless I totally forgot it or somehow missed class that day, I never received a basic money management lesson in high school or university.
I am not talking about business courses that include calculating NPV, amortization schedules and P&L sheets. I am talking about a money management 101 course or set of lessons to prepare young adults on personal finance.
- Credit Cards
- Student Loans
- Retirement Saving
- Budgeting & Day-to-Day Good Money Habits
I could have benefited so much from being better educated on even the basic frameworks of money. And I think the stats below support that most recent graduates or current university students could as well.
- The average American under 35 years of age has an average of $5,808 in credit card debt (Value Penguin).
- The Student Loan Hero 2018 Report notes that there is $1.48 trillion in student loan debt in America and over 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt.
- According to CNN Money, 66% of millennials have nothing saved for retirement.
Even if I had done 25% of what the ideal scenario was, it would’ve set me up so much better.
I was financially illiterate and the fault is no ones but my own. And of course it’s easy to look back in hindsight now to identify the missing pieces of the puzzle.
However, if I could give my younger self or current university students advice on money it would be to just get a better grip of those topics mentioned above.
- Credit Cards: using a credit card properly to avoid terrible consumer debt with crippling interest
- Student Loans: mitigating your total amount of student loans however possible (community colleges, scholarships, part-time work, etc.)
- Retirement Saving: understanding the power of starting early and wonders of compounding interest – every dollar counts, no matter how small
- Budgeting & Day-to-Day Good Money Habits: building an automated money system, sticking to a budget and general sense of good daily money habits
Your parents, family friends, the library, the Internet, podcasts, books and so forth, collectively have so much knowledge. My life would’ve been so different had I read either of The Simple Path To Wealth by JL Collins or Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez.
You’re young and supposed to have fun still, of course. But educate yourself on the basic fundamentals of personal finance, you won’t have any regrets.
Check out my post on The Personal Finance Resources And Content That Saved My Financial Life. You can also get more details on the free Personal Finance Resource Starter Kit I put together through the image below.
I spent way too much time concentrating on securing that high GPA and good grades during my post-secondary education
- Can a high GPA get you into higher education like MBAs, Law School, Med School, etc.?
- 100%, of course it will be an amazing marker for your application for further education and give you a major leg up.
- Does it look nice on a resume?
- Yes, your GPA is a nice bullet point on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
- Will a high GPA unlock scholarship and association opportunities?
- It will.
However, if I could’ve spent just 20% more time focusing on these topics above, I know the outcome would be better. The money, career and skill development I could’ve attained would outweigh those good grades.
Here are some my posts with resources, tips and strategies to take control of your money and life:
- 15 Smart Money Moves You Can (Easily) Make This Month
- Calculate Your Net Worth – Why Do It And How To Track It For Free
- The Personal Finance Resources And Content That Saved My Life
- Understanding Your Credit Score And How To Check It For Free
- 35+ Rewarding Side Hustles Anyone Can Do To Earn More Money
- 25 Books On Personal & Professional Development
- 75 Podcasts To Help Improve Your Life, Finances, Business, Health & More
- 55 Great Online Udemy Courses For Millennials, Entrepreneurs And Side Hustlers
What do you wish you knew in university? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve mentioned here?
Let me know in the comments below.