Is College Worth It?: One Student Weighs In

Career Readiness
Career Readiness, Teaching Inspiration/Passion

Article Summary

  • Networking regularly and early on can lead to new learning opportunities and career connections
  • Internships build the real-world experience employers want and provide a good conversation topic during interviews
  • Asking a hiring manager if they have concerns with your resume during an interview can help clear up misunderstandings and lead to additional insights for candidates on what employers are looking for
  • Staying flexible can help students uncover new interests and career paths
Reading Time: 6 minutes

With the rising cost of tuition and substantial time commitment college requires, students need to feel like their investment is worthwhile. According to our study, nearly 90 percent of students cited getting a better job as the reason to attend college. Although many students indicated their overall college experience was positive, only an approximate one-third described themselves as “extremely satisfied.”

Discover what one recent college graduate had to say about whether her college experience prepared her for the real world.

Name: Emily Eckes

School: Farmer Business School at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio

Graduation Date: Spring 2019

Degree: Business Marketing

Industry: Higher Education

Current Job Title: Sales Specialist for Learning and Development

Work or School: It’s All a Juggling Act

When recent college graduate, Emily Eckes, landed a job after graduating in the spring of 2019, she settled quickly into her new full-time role as a Sales Specialist. With the shift from classroom to workplace, Emily identified some similarities between the two, helping her discover what prepared her most for her new career—and life.

Finding the balance between work and play motivated her to work hard and save smart, both throughout college and today. In college, Emily juggled as many as four jobs at once. She took on a 45-minute commute to work as a waitress, picked up shifts as a bartender, worked as a Student Ambassador and maintained a Marketing internship. This helped Emily learn how to balance multiple responsibilities at once, which equipped her for all the moving parts in her current sales role. Once she was able to set aside her earnings—and after learning more about the value of money in a Finance course—Emily decided to open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) so she could start saving early.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Networking

With average GPA and ACT scores, Emily was relieved to be accepted into Miami University but admits that it came with some prep work. Encouraged by her mother, Emily joined the Summer Scholars Program at Miami University the summer before applying. During this 12-day program, Emily was able to live in a dorm like a college student and take part in a business-plan competition, which her group won. As a result of this experience, Emily was able to establish relationships with educators who became her professors once she got to college.

As time went on, the old adage, “it’s more about who you know than what you know,” proved true for Emily. At her restaurant job in college, she met a family she grew closer to each time they visited for a meal. Once they got to know Emily and learn what she was in school for, they set her up with an interview for a part-time Student Ambassador position—and she got the job. Because of her strong performance in this role, she was offered an interview for a similar full-time position at the company. That interview went so well, she received a job offer, accepted it and began her first full-time role as a Sales Specialist for Learning and Development.

Her mentor, an Entrepreneurship professor, was also integral. He taught her essential interviewing skills, how to dress and act professionally and the importance of eye contact. She still keeps in touch with this professor and has even connected him with other students who he was able to help in similar ways.

Two Must-Haves for a Solid Interview

Emily interviewed at several places after graduation resulting in an impressive seven job offers—and she owes it all to her internship. The one thing all her interviews had in common was their heavy focus on her internship experience. And for good reason, since internships give students hands-on experience that employers are eager to hear about during the interview process. Internship experience can reinforce an employers’ confidence in a candidate, especially if an applicant can provide examples relevant to what their duties would be in the job.

During her internship, Emily learned to close her interviews with: Do you have any concerns about my resume? This strategy delivered in one interview, where an employer had a concern with Emily’s instructional design experience that surfaced when she asked this closer question. As a result, she was able to share the instructional design skill she did have—which wasn’t properly communicated during their earlier conversation. This led to another round of interviews, and eventually the job offer for her current role.

The Value of an Education in the Workplace

Within the Business school, Emily leveraged several resources in and out of the classroom. She signed up for mock interviews in school that prepared her for the real thing. Her Sales class taught her how all the disciplines that fall under Business are connected while an entrepreneurship course used a “Shark Tank” scenario where she presented to 200 people—and got more comfortable with public speaking.

The biggest lesson from her Sales course: Read it, retain it and learn it! These words stuck with Emily throughout college, and have helped in her current role, where her colleagues are predominantly remote. She modified this habit by retaining information from coworkers solely through video calls and email versus in-person conversation.

Although Emily changed her mind a lot throughout college, eventually, it paid off. She started college as a Finance major, switched to Marketing and ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing. When she realized that many of the job shadows weren’t good fits, her mindset shifted once again. By combining her Business experience from college with her Marketing degree, she was able to transition into her current sales position. It was that flexibility and drive to find the right fit that fostered connections between the different areas in Business that ultimately brought her to her present role.

The Road to a Master’s Degree

Emily’s Sales professor emphasized the importance of asking questions for everyone—regardless of whether they were going into sales or not. This served as a solid reminder to always learn about her contacts and build relationships.

While she plans to get back into marketing eventually, she’s learning something new about the industry every day in her sales role—valuable things she can use in future positions. In terms of the future, Emily plans to get a master’s degree in Business Marketing because she believes it applies to everything in a business role and will ultimately get her to her long-term goal as a Sales Director. She’s hopeful that a master’s degree will uncover an accelerated level of business acumen when compared to her undergrad experience—where gen ed courses didn’t always feel applicable to a career in business.

“I would love to gain more real-world experience. Being exposed to only one industry every day at work doesn’t expand my knowledge overall. Articles and the news are helpful, but it’s hard to put it into perspective from a business standpoint. I know someday I want to be at the director level, no matter if it’s at my current job or a completely different industry or field—and I know getting my master’s can help accelerate that goal!”

College: What Worked, What Didn’t

When asked if college was worth the cost and time commitment, Emily was torn. While she was lucky enough to have help from her parents in paying for her education, she acknowledges that without their support, she would have struggled to pay for school. Additionally, her freshman and sophomore year classes didn’t prepare her as much for the real world as her junior and senior year classes. This begs the question: could students get more out of their college experience if all four years focused more on real-world preparation?

When assessing her format preference for course materials, Emily said she benefited from both print and digital materials. While she liked having a physical book, it was comforting to have a digital version to look back on, especially on the go. Digital resources like Quizlet, Chegg and online learning solutions made the subject matter interactive and easier to learn. She thrived during collaborative projects that required work with other classmates. She confesses that sitting in a lecture often led to boredom and resulted in urges to text friends instead of focusing in class. For instance, in one Accounting class, which had too many lectures, an outdated teaching style, lack of real-world examples and impossible office hours, Emily had trouble understanding the curriculum. One major disconnect: the material covered in class didn’t align with exams. She reveals that if this professor was able to expand on explanations and connect the class material to students’ lives, she would have been able to better grasp the material.

Emily’s favorite professor in college was in Finance. He had a calm voice and never appeared stressed. Emily appreciated that he adapted to students’ crazy schedules and was always accessible outside of class. By tying the course material to the real world and other disciplines, he reinforced the value of the subject. He used many real-world experiences and would even have his colleagues Skype into classes to speak directly to students.

As a final message to new college students, Emily stresses the importance of networking—encouraging them to take every chance they get to meet people and try to push past shy tendencies. “Your peers are from all over and learning about their experiences helps you learn about things less familiar to you. Don’t have them get to know you—get to know them.”

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