Dear Engineering Students of the Class of 2015…
Here you are. Tottering on the cliff-edge of the “real world.” All that’s left is one more year of classes, professors, and those pesky problem sets that seem to take hours longer than they should (Thermodynamics…need I say more?). Most people at this point kick back, relax and enjoy the new opportunities that that big two-one on their ID brings them. It’s easy to push away feelings of anxiety about the gaping unknown that waits for you once you’ve crossed that stage and received that piece of paper you’ve worked so hard for. If you’re one of the few lucky ones who have entered this final year of undergrad with a fulltime job offer, you can probably stop reading this now. However, if you are in the vast majority of seniors with no set plans after graduation, read on to discover how to make your senior year work best for you long-term.
First, think about what path you would like to follow after graduation. One of the best pieces of advice my father gave me was to pursue an engineering major because you can do essentially anything with it. Well, great advice for entering college, but now it leads to a tough decision. You can do essentially anything with your major – great! But what do you want to do with it? Even a simple option of a full-time job becomes complicated as you consider which track to go down: design engineer, research and development, management, private industry, government, and the list goes on. If you pursue further education, you must choose between a Masters, Ph.D., or even law school, medical school or an MBA program.
Whew. If you’re starting to feel a pit in your stomach…that’s a good sign. Think about what you want to do and write down a list. Have people told you that you have good people skills? Do you enjoy being the group leader in your class project groups? Maybe you should consider either a management track or an MBA program. More useful than thinking about what you would enjoy doing, consider what you would not enjoy doing. Talk to your advisors and mentors – many professors have experience in both industry and academics and can give good insight as to the lifestyle of each. Your university’s career center will be able to work with you to create a list of opportunities that your degree will offer you. Then cross items off the list that you are not interested in pursuing. It’s okay if you have several options you’re considering – but make sure you narrow it down far enough so you’re not spread too thin with applications and test preparation.
The second step is to create an action plan for each path left on the list. If you’re looking at further education, find out what schools you would be interested in attending. Reach out (email is best) to professors and students to find out what it’s really like beyond the smiling pictures from the university’s homepage. If you’re looking at employment, think about out what type of company you want to work for. Large, international companies often have a different culture then small, local companies. Government careers have different requirements than the private sector (as well as different benefits). Once you’ve limited your options, research specific companies with job opportunities you are qualified for. (Hint: Career fairs are perfect for this.)
The third step involves applications and test preparation: many jobs and further education have pre-requisites. Whether it’s the GRE for graduate school or the LSATs for law school, most opportunities require students to take a standardized assessment. Even full-time engineering jobs aren’t exempt as some positions require the dreaded FE examination. The point is, do research. Find out what testing and coursework is required and make note of important dates. Research application deadlines – especially for graduate school.
So let’s reassess. By now, you have written out a list of opportunities that your degree will offer. On that list, you have crossed out the career paths that you do not wish to pursue. For the few that are left, you have researched and generated an action plan. You have a planner (or online calendar) where you have written down the important test sign-up and application deadlines as well as the dates of the tests themselves. (Hint: if you get to choose a testing date, make sure you pick a date with enough time to prepare as well as enough time after to retake if necessary. Keep in mind academic obligations such as midterms and finals.)
The final step is to follow through on your action plan! Get help when you need it. Cambridge Coaching’s great GRE tutors (or MCAT or LSAT or GMAT or…) and graduate school application coaches have been in exactly the same situation you find yourself in now. It’s worth the extra money in the long-term. If you begin your senior year organized, you’ll avoid slipping into the abyss that is senioritis. With a plan, you can succeed academically, get that dream position AND enjoy those happy hour specials.