studies student at New York University. So why break family tradition? “I wanted to do something different and more career-focused,” says Graham, 19, originally from Memphis, Tennessee. The aspiring entertainment lawyer knew her career preference would land her in either New York or Los Angeles.
Armed with a 4.9 GPA out of a total of 5.0, Graham received a Presidential Scholar award worth $25,000 over four years — the highest honor a student can receive — and headed north. While catching the subway to classes and strolling through Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, she learned a few things during her first year in college. “Grades should always be the focus of why you’re there. It has to come from [within],” she says. Graham also suggests that students should hit the road for their college experience: “If you’re from the South, go north; if you’re from the East, go west. You have no money, you can’t cook, and those experiences are what you need to build character.”
Many experts say freshman year yields all sorts of discovery. “This time is all about learning about college life, familiarizing yourself with organizations, clubs, and the resources that the institution offers,” says John Augliera, career coordinator at the Career Services Center at Lehman College. In essence, attending college is about moving to another level and implementing these tools are the first steps.
Get to know your new environment. When you have freshman orientation, you receive a lot of material that explains the school’s resources. Don’t simply stack the materials in a corner; take the time to read them, highlighting areas of interest. Next, find out how to get involved. Take note of where the health services, career centers, tutoring centers, and financial aid offices are located. You will spend a lot of time in these places if you’re taking full advantage of your college’s resources. Also, visit the minority/diversity office for more services. Or maybe there’s a school newspaper, an Intranet, or a school Website that you can peruse. For example, Georgetown University outlines a full plan on its Website to let you know what you should be doing each year. Also, consider volunteering as a tour guide to experience your school and gain firsthand exposure to all it has to offer.
Make the grade. Although some say the economy is picking up, it’s still an employer’s market. That means you want to do all you can to distinguish yourself from the pack. “I plan to make As,” says Graham. “I know I have to study more … but I look around the class to see who’s naturally talented and then look at what I need to do to get there.” Even if you’re not the smartest kid in the class, you can improve your GPA by getting a tutor, attending a writing workshop, going to study groups, and asking your professors for help. When you get in front of potential employers, however, “they are not just looking for that top GPA; they are looking for students to articulate what