One of the biggest challenges for entering college students is finding time to do everything they need to do, in order to prepare for a successful career after graduation. As part of PayScale’s College Salary Report, we asked several successful people to tell us how they bridged the gap between choosing a major and graduating to a satisfying career. For Sarah Fenske, Editor in Chief of the Riverfront Times and graduate of The College of Wooster, the answer was simple: gain work experience, in any way possible.
(Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fenske)
PayScale: How did you choose your major?
Sarah Fenske: I chose PoliSci because I was interested in politics and thought I’d go to law school. I later added an English major because I started realizing I wanted to be a journalist, instead – and I kept seeing all these internships that required majors in journalism or English. (My college didn’t have a journalism major.)
PayScale: Does it relate to what you wound up doing?
Sarah Fenske: Yes, although ironically, my political science major has related more directly than the English major I picked up expressly to be considered for journalism internships. Knowing about government and political philosophy gave me a huge advantage as a cub reporter over competitors who had spent four years studying how to write a lede! But I also really ended up enjoying my English major – it was wonderful to read so many interesting books and learn how to approach them with a critical eye.
PayScale: What’s the best thing you did during college, in terms of preparing for your eventual career?
Sarah Fenske: Volunteered for the campus newspaper. The work I did there led directly to landing an unpaid internship – the editor of the magazine was impressed with what I’d written, and also impressed that I was about to start as the campus paper’s editor in chief. Then that internship led directly to my first job after graduation – as a reporter at a mid-sized daily newspaper. Normally it would be pretty hard to land a gig like that without a journalism degree (or really any related coursework), but the magazine editor vouching for me got me in the door, and that led to an offer just a few weeks after graduation.
PayScale: What’s the biggest mistake you made, or what would you do differently?
Sarah Fenske: I let myself get too busy. When campus organizations tapped me for leadership positions, I always said yes – to the point that I wasn’t just editing the newspaper, I was co-chairing the campus volunteer network and working as a resident assistant and teaching Sunday school and balancing a number of other commitments as well. I got a little burnt out, partly because I was so terrified about having a great resume so I could land a good job. In retrospect, no one cared about nine-tenths of my resume – I’m not sure any of my employers have ever cared that I was Phi Beta Kappa, much less that I’d been elected to Campus Council. They cared only that I was a good reporter who could write well – and that someone they respected had vouched for me. (Again, that internship was crucial!)
PayScale: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Sarah Fenske: I can’t stress enough how short-sighted college students are when they worry about landing paid internships. Many unpaid internships will work with your schedule so you can take a paid job, too – in the summer of my unpaid internship, I was in the office only three days a week and spent my other days, and evenings, waiting tables. And even though it was a part-time internship, that opportunity literally changed my life.
Whenever possible, the key is to put the time in and, in the short term, care about learning a skill and making connections. If you’re good at what you do, paid employment will follow.
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