In addition to getting involved during your undergrad years, it is a really good idea to document your accomplishments. By keeping track of what you have done, you can later remember achievements better, be more specific in interviews about them, and show examples of what you have done rather than simply describing them. Besides, by doing the work now you'll save time later when you're deep into applying for schools and jobs!
Documenting your accomplishments might seem tough while you are working so hard in school. One way to simplify the task is to find a good-sized box and add "artifacts" to it. Artifacts are examples like photographs, writing samples (published or not), position descriptions from internships and jobs, programs, flyers, newspaper articles, thank you notes (print or email) you received for a job well done, screenshots of webpages you have designed, etc.
By saving the artifacts, you'll be giving yourself two important gifts:
1. Visual aids to jog your memory about the breadth and depth of your achievement
2. Contents to include in a portfolio (professional scrap book) you can bring with you to interviews
At the very least, it is a good idea to keep a running list of your accomplishments including, for example:
Quantifying your accomplishments wherever possible will help prospective employers and others evaluate your performance accurately. Additionally, you'll provide data that many others lack.
Create a permanent portfolio (professional scrap book) by dividing your artifacts by skill area and putting together pages with writing and work samples, photos of you at work, thank you notes, your resume, etc.
You can also compile a few different samples of your work in a manila file folder to leave behind at an interview or submit with your application (if asked). Finally, include summaries of these accomplishments and statistics in your resume.
Building relationships is of key importance during your college years. The value of a strong social and professional network is impossible to overestimate, especially in the nonprofit sector. Nurturing new contacts, making your professional and social needs known, and connecting colleagues with the people who can help them succeed—all of these may lead to a successful grad school application or career transition for you.
Some people think "networking" is a dirty word. In reality, networking is just another word for building relationships. For a comprehensive overview of how to network and why it's such a critical activity, see Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.
These are some people and groups you may naturally come into contact with during college:
Take on experiences, responsibilities, and tasks that you may not yet be good at, or that take you out of your professional comfort zone. If you study journalism, use a writing assignment to tackle a topic you are unfamiliar with. If you are an engineering student, try an anthropology or poetry class (or vice versa). You might discover something new about yourself that will help drive your next steps in a direction you hadn't predicted. Your worldview will expand, and you will set yourself apart from other students in your field.
No matter what year of college you are in, it's a good time to either establish or revisit your professional goals. Going to grad school isn't easy! When you hit tough times making the grade or finding time for all the reading, remembering your broader or alternative goals will help you see that this is all leading somewhere and that you are working toward a better life!
Professional goals help you:
If it helps, think of the direction you'd like to go in professionally, and steps you can take during your college years to move you in the right direction. These are your professional goals. It might also help to look at your resume: do gaps exist that you can fill during college? These are also professional goals.
This article listed many actions you can take as an undergrad to help prepare for grad school and increase your chances for success in your chosen field. The most important thing is knowing what your goal is, and with that in mind, taking the initiative to pursue every opportunity to learn, gain relevant experiences, and build as many relationships as you can from the resources available to you as an undergrad student.