When Should College Students Start Looking for a Job?

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Ah, college. A time spent learning how to cook ramen, do a keg stand, and make it to at least 50% of your 8am classes.

But wait. Isn’t there something else you should be focusing on during these four years?

In fact, there is. This is also your prep time for the career that will follow graduation. But how early in your college career do you actually need to start looking for a job?

That’s exactly what we set out to answer in this post. Take a look at our breakdown of your four years with our career development timeline for college students.

Freshman year

Although there has been some discussion about starting your internship search as early as freshman year (or even before), you don’t necessarily have to be thinking that far into the future just yet. If you don’t even know what you’re interested in, how are you expected to know what to intern as?

We suggest that you take this time to focus on figuring out what you want to major in. Take as many of your general education classes as possible, and try to identify what you are most drawn to.

Once you’ve figured out which subject catches your attention, start doing some research about career options that are related to that field of study. You can use the Explore feature on AfterCollege to get job recommendations for your major, search online for career stories, or tap into your personal or school’s alumni network to find people for informational interviews.

By the end of your freshman year it might be time to start thinking about applying for internships that you’ll do during your sophomore year. Although companies’ application deadlines vary, many require you to apply at least a semester before the start date. By identifying an internship and applying at the end of the summer before sophomore year or start of that year, you’ll be more likely to secure a spring semester internship.

Sophomore year

It’s a good idea to do an internship during your sophomore year. This will allow you to do more than one internship during your college career and start building relationships with employers early on.

You should be applying for internships during the second semester of sophomore year or the summer before your junior year. Many of the deadlines for summer internships are in March or April.

In Internship Finder’s post, “Reasons Why Employers Have Internship Programs,” one corporate real estate employer explains that in many organizations, interns start with busy work and it’s not until later that they’re asked to be involved in meetings and decisions. It’s a good idea to start your internship search early in your college career so that you can get to the next phase of internships (where you actually get to do real work) sooner.

Also, because of the crowded market, the application process for summer internships actually begins in the fall of the prior year according to Internships.com. The process continues into late May, but the earlier in the academic year you start, the more chances you’ll have of getting an internship.

Junior year

We’d suggest that you continue your internships into your junior year. It’s also a good idea to start reflecting on your experiences and applying that information to your career aspirations. For example, what did you enjoy about the summer internship you just completed? Was it the actual work you did there? Did you like the size of the office and the way the employees interacted with each other? Sophomore and junior year internships are a great way to get a better idea about what kind of company culture is right for you.

This year is also a good time to head to available career fairs/on-campus employer events. In order to score the coveted summer internship positions that fall between junior and senior year, be sure that you are attending the first semester career fairs. Although you might not be actively looking for a post-graduation job yet, they’re a great opportunity to meet employers and find out about any opportunities within their companies. And if you have an AfterCollege profile, relevant upcoming events on your campus will show up on your Explore feed.

Senior year

You can start applying for jobs as early as the first semester of this year. As job searching expert Alison Doyle points out in her post, “When Should Graduating Seniors Apply for Jobs?,” depending on your industry, some companies will begin recruiting as early as the fall of your senior year and offer positions by November.

Follow employers/companies that you’re interested in on social media to stay up-to-date on their recruiting activities and open opportunities.

This is also the year when you can head to career fairs with a résumé in hand, but remember to keep these career fair tips in mind. It’s the perfect opportunity to speak directly with employers and hear more about the entry-level positions they’re offering and get an even better idea about when they’re accepting applications.

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read): Because this is just a general timeline, you don’t need to follow it exactly. What you should keep in mind are the basics of the post. Here are the main points.

  1. Career exploration is important. Start figuring out what you’re interested in from the start of your college career.
  2. Internships are important for the rest of your job search. In fact, many employers consider them to be the most important factor on your résumé.
  3. Start everything as early as possible, from internships to applying for jobs.

Job Search Timeline

Homework time! If you want more detailed advice about the job search as a college student, you can check out our job search survival kit, our week-by-week guide to your senior year job search strategy.

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