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You understand the importance of locating your classes and the best coffee shop—but where’s your school’s career center? If you don’t know, go find it. There’s more happening there than the standard job search (though they’re great for that too), and students who stop by a few times a year gain a powerful advantage.

“The earlier students start to explore careers, the more time they have to test out their interests, build essential skills, and gain exposure and experience in possible fields,” says Jean Papalia, director of graduate student career services at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Nearly 86 percent of students have used their career center for résumé help at least once, according to a 2017 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). More than half of students are making use of career counseling and internship assistance.

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Here’s how your career services can help:

1. Find four full years of opportunities

“I thought that my career services office would only help me find full-time jobs when my four years were up,” says Lexi K. at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, “but they helped me find summer jobs, apply for on-campus opportunities, [get] semester-long internships, etc.”

2. Check out your potential future(s)

The self-assessments offered at career centers are not designed to tell you what to do but instead to give you ideas that aren’t already on your radar. The questions touch on your values, motivation, skills, and interests. “The career center also hosts career fairs and employer meet-and-greets, so they’ve provided me with plenty of opportunities for exposure and learning what kinds of employers and fields would be interested in someone with my degree,” says Anthony S., a third-year undergraduate at University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

3. Pick your area of study and know what to do with it

Weighing your major, minor, and elective options? Considering their impact on your career opportunities can help set you up for getting employers’ attention. “The various personality and aptitude tests I took were helpful in narrowing my potential career path and interests,” says Noa S., a fourth-year undergraduate student at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

4. Network with alumni

Your predecessors are often open to requests for informational interviews and might even connect you with a specific opportunity or strategic contact. “Networking is a key component of career exploration and job search success,” says Papalia. “Alumni are especially supportive and always willing to provide information and advice.”

5. Develop your best résumé and cover letter

Selling yourself on paper is not as easy as you think. Check out your school’s drop-in sessions or workshops for assistance with selecting content, formatting, organization, grammar, and layout flair. “My résumé would be terrible without my career center’s help. Not only with formatting but also content and how to alter the résumé for each job. They were also happy and supportive when I got a position,” says Emily O., a fourth-year undergraduate student at St. Louis University in Missouri.

6. Own that interview

Whether your mock interview occurs over the phone, via Skype™, or in person, you might be paired with a career counselor, another professional, or a fellow student who has interviewed already. “I didn’t know that such a thing existed or that it would be helpful to practice with a real recruiter and no penalties,” says Kayla G. at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Jake A., a fourth-year undergraduate student at University of the Pacific in California, added: “Mock interviews helped me get more comfortable with doing more interviews.”

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Article sources

Cynthia Dantes, director, career service, public health and professional degree programs, Tufts University School of Medicine, Massachusetts.

Jean Papalia, director of graduate student career services, Tufts University, Massachusetts.

College Parents of America. (n.d.). How the college career office can help your college student. Retrieved from http://www.collegeparents.org/members/resources/articles/how-college-career-office-can-help-your-college-student

Fouad, N. A., Guillen, A., Harris-Hodge, E., Henry, C., et al. (2006). Need, awareness, and use of career services for college students. Journal of Career Assessment, 14(4), 407–420.Retrieved from http://jca.sagepub.com/content/14/4/407.abstract

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2012, December 5). Student survey: Class of 2012 used career center at same rate as class of 2011. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/s12052012/student-career-center-use.aspx

Student Health 101 survey, February 2015.