Start building up your network of contacts now so you’ll be better prepared after graduation.

For some of us (myself included), this is the last summer that we’ll have as an undergraduate, and possibly the last real “summer” ever. The thought is a little terrifying as we enter our last year of college. The questions start coming in from friends, families, and coworkers– What’s next for you?

Hopefully most of us have a vague idea of what we want to do. Grad school? Straight to a job? Maybe a gap year before grad school? It’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to do after school, even if next year won’t be your senior year. In this three-part post, I’ll offer some good suggestions for you to take as you begin to plan for what comes after your undergraduate degree. Part One will focus on helping you build up your network and contacts to ensure you know the right people in your field of interest. Part Two will help you establish who you are to make you stand out in the applicant crowd. Part Three will suggest things you can do once you actually enter your senior year. 

Seek Advice

Even if you’re just a sophomore or junior, it’s never too early to get advice from the professionals or professors that you admire most. By that time, you will have shown your academic prowess and will probably have an idea of what you might want to do. For soon-to-be seniors though, this is a definite first step that you should take to determining what you want to do. At your internships, ask your boss and coworkers what they did after college. Did they go to grad school right away, after a gap year, or at all? How did they get to the position they are at now? What advice would they have for you? Asking people who work in the industry you hope to break into will give you a better idea of what you should expect and plan for. They will have insights that you can definitely use for your advantage. Additionally, asking them such questions will show that you truly respect their professional views and can help form a mentor-mentee relationship that can really help you in your future career.

Make sure you seek advice from your professors as well. Most professors have very good and often unusual connections with those in their field of study, either other professors or industry professionals. Your professors have seen your work for months and months and have a very good idea of what you are capable of. They will be able to give you recommendations of where you should point yourself in terms of companies, contacts, or even graduate school programs.

Reconnect and Continue Communication

It’s always a good idea to keep in contact with people who you have worked with professionally or even past professors. If you truly enjoyed an internship from a year or two ago, keep communicating with them every so often so that they remember you and so that you have a contact in that specific place. Reconnecting shows that you are a good people-person and capable of taking the initiative of communication. It will also help you form a professional network that you will be able to utilize after graduation to help you land your dream job or graduate school or at least get in contact with another person who can help you get there.

Use Alumni Connection

Get in contact with the alumni chapter of your university to talk to people who have graduated from your school and who work in the industry you’re interested in. Sometimes when I ask my coworkers or boss about their education and professional careers, I’m not always sure that their experience is relatable to mine because they usually have a much more specific degree from a much bigger school. With a broader, more comprehensive degree from a smaller, less-well-known school, I worry that I won’t stand out in an applicant pool. However, because alumni have the same background as you, you’ll be able to get a more realistic idea of what to expect post-graduation in terms of either getting into graduate school or landing a job right out of school.

Alumni are also more likely to help you along in your career or education ambitions because of the connection they’ll feel with you. They can be an incredible helpful source of advice, networking, and even job opportunities.

Look for Part Two of this series to come Wednesday!

What other tips do you have for starting to build up yourself to prepare for senior year? Let us know in the comments!

[via USAToday College and HerCampus]