Broadly defined, student success in higher education includes the ability of students to accomplish their educational goals in a timely manner and to achieve personal milestones. Student success can mean different things to different people. Traditional measures include degree and certificate completion, performance milestones, course completion rates, and grades. Variables that affect individual definitions include demographic considerations, age groups, gender, ethnicity, family income and financial need. In reviewing the literature, I found a variety of definitions. Therefore, I decided to write this article specifically for students. If you are a student reading this article, my hope is that you will use this discussion to help define your own definition of success that you apply in answering your own question that might be, “Now What???”
An individual consideration directly related to graduation includes how successfully you are able to matriculate into the world of work or transfer to complete your next level degree. In reviewing the systems that provide support for graduates, I notice that we do little or nothing to prepare our graduates to successfully audition for the real world. Students have to dig for seminars on interview techniques, resume writing, dressing for success, etc. Those that have been accepted and plan to transfer to pursue a next level degree have a leg up. In any case, this is the time of year when many college students begin to think about life after graduation.
As you graduate from college earning an AA, BA, MA or doctoral degree you face a series of post commencement success decisions. Graduation can and should be fulfilling. It is up to you and to help to position yourself for success. My main purpose in this article is to encourage you to think positively because positive thinking is a best road to positive results, so my objective is to help you make Positive Post Commencement Success Decisions.
Planning sharpens your thinking and learning.
Feeling good about yourself and your goals can help build your confidence. If you are willing to act strategically and interact with others, as a counseling psychologist, I offer you seven steps to consider:
1. SET AND EXPRESS YOUR CLEAR AND REALISTIC GOALS. Decide what you want to do next and really explore your decision. You can always change your mind. You do not have to set lifelong goals at this point in your life. In fact, your decision-making will likely refine and improve with time and experience but immediate short-term goals linked to action plans will give you direction and keep you making progress. You may have multiple, diverse goals but you will discover your true passion as you reach your conclusions. Be willing to think about choices and don’t fear focus. Always express your goals as clearly as you can.
2. PACKAGE YOURSELF. Get ready so you can swiftly respond to opportunities. Prepare your resume(s) to honestly highlight your preparation and suitability for the specific job you are after, a template for cover letters, a list of personal references and recommendations, portfolios and other materials that project goals and qualifications. Don’t forget to send a short, polite follow up letter or email to potential employers.
3. THE 3 Ps OF JOB SEARCH: People, Postings and Places. Explore all media for job postings including printed and on-line resources to develop your list of people, places, and possibilities for follow up… and then do it! Visit job fairs, on campus recruiting and resume collections, use internet listing services and make a personal list of sources.
4. DON’T BE CLUELESS IN SEATTLE: Prepare for your opportunity by exploring websites and gathering all the information you can find on the employers and companies to which you apply. Being informed and learning about their needs, goals and interests will help you to present your strengths in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.
5. NETWORK. Cast your net and work it… identify and contact friends, family members, faculty members and counselors who might offer insight, referrals, and advice. Succinctly communicate your motivations and qualifications by phone and in-person. Always prepare before any special conversation by focusing on your purpose and reason for contacting the person.
6. TAKE CLASSES, VOLUNTEER, OBTAIN INTERNSHIPS OR PART-TIME JOBS. One well known definition of success is, “Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” Graduation is not an end. Graduation generally means you have learned how to learn… and that’s a great accomplishment. Successful post-degree job seekers and internship candidates continue their skill-building by taking specialized classes in goal-related areas or by finding strategic part-time paid or volunteer positions. Each experience will enhance your qualifications and ability to reach your goals. They put you in proximity to the people and places you want to reach. One or two specialized courses can become your springboard to success… as can a post-degree internship and meeting with individuals who have positions like those to which you aspire.
7. PERSISTENCE AND PROXIMITY! Follow up, follow up, and then follow up. Be assertive, communicative and smart enough to seize your opportunity when it comes. Taking an internship or entry level position within a company or organization in your chosen field gives you real-world experience and creates opportunities for advancement by proximity. If you’re in the building you will meet people in the department you want to join and hear about openings. You learn the corporate culture and find appropriate ways to demonstrate your value.
Whether you are transferring to a next level college or entering the world of work, I suggest that you consider a popular song written many years ago that has stood the test of time. It is titled: Accentuate the Positive. Its insightful lyrics still hold true and sum up the way I encourage you to think about Post Commencement Success Decisions:
Lyrics to: Accentuate the Positive
“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative, and…
Don’t mess with Mister In-between”
Whatever you choose to do, I suggest that you keep in mind that positive steps bring positive results. Psychologists assert that everything you focus on expands, so I encourage you to make your plan, keep your priorities in perspective and stay positive as you make your Post Commencement Success Decisions.
Dr. Bernard Luskin, LMFT is President Emeritus of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association. Bernie Luskin has been CEO of six colleges and universities, Chairman of the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges and CEO of divisions of Fortune 500 companies, including Philips Interactive Media and Jones Education Networks. He is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Counseling Psychologist. Luskin received a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to Media Psychology from the American Psychological Association and Distinguished Alumni and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the UCLA Doctoral Alumni Association, California State University at Los Angeles, the Irish Government and European Commission. Luskin won two Emmy’s from The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and has published ten books and many articles.
Contributors: Thanks to Dr. Toni Luskin, Susana Bojorquez and Andrea Rambo for your help in preparing and posting this article.