Every spring, Scott Cawelti, now an emeritus professor at the University of Northern Iowa, would give advice to graduating seniors. He covered most everything, but I would like to add some advice for new students.

Don’t go to school to get a job.

That may sound strange, but it reflects a mindset that has profound implications. Hopefully, a college education will help in obtaining a job, but that is not the reason you should be a student. Instead, go to school to make a living. A living is much more than a job. In fact, you may wish not to work for someone else at all.

The most successful people in our society don’t have jobs, they have careers and interests.

Students going to school to get a job typically look at their college experience not as education, but as a set of hoops they must jump through to reach their imagined goal. Students with this mindset have a tendency to take a class only because there is a box that must be checked off to get a degree, which will hopefully lead to a job.

They end up taking classes in which they have no interest, and many times could not care less if they ever know anything about the class’s subject matter.

The mindset also comes with other built-in problems. Employers want to see students from prestigious programs, and they want students with high GPAs. So, some students end up going to schools they would rather not attend, and they are on a constant lookout for classes that have a reputation of an “easy A.”

Some very good research has shown many students are multiple times more likely to take a class that promises a higher-grade point average than more demanding courses. Research has also shown when students list the attributes of a “good” teacher, what they have learned from that teacher seldom makes the top ten attributes, and in some cases, doesn’t make the list at all.

I have seen the profound disgust of professionals who have discovered that some honor students arranged their schedule so they never took a class from the professsors with the tough reputations. This is an impoverished job-oriented strategy. In truth, employers really don’t care what a student’s GPA is. It is just a handy way to sort through job-seekers with a minimum of hassle.

What they actually care about is exactly what students with a job orientation don’t care about. They want to know what a new employee can do, what they know and how they react to a challenge. Most good jobs are not obtained because of a GPA. They are given to individuals because they know someone who recommended them. Good jobs come because you know somebody.

Don’t go to school to get a job. Go to school to get a life. Take the hardest classes you can find, and get to know a lot of people; people who like you because of what you know and what you can do.

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Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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