Up until about the age of eighteen, it seemed to me that the most important thing in the world was to earn a high GPA and get into college. Follow the well-trodden path, try not to get distracted and, with any luck, you’ll end up at a respectable higher education institution.
I did as I was told and in the summer of 2012 I found myself at Freshman Orientation at the University of Southern California, where I was informed on numerous occasions (often by an exuberant voice over a microphone) that I had become a part of the Trojan Family! At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the over-the-top welcoming manner of the orientation leaders and the sea of gold and cardinal colors flooding the campus. I had never experienced anyone so spirited, so proud to be a part of something, that it initially seemed a little silly to me. It took a while to sink in that, while my GPA had gotten me into USC, it would be the connections I made throughout my time in college that would ultimately determine the path of my adult life.
For many students, the initial relief and excitement of going to college begins to wear off once classes start and suddenly, they find themselves at the edge of a simultaneously thrilling and terrifying abyss. There’s no more clear-cut path. You can do absolutely anything. This newfound independence and boundless potential can cause some students to bury themselves in their studies or, alternatively, to shirk all responsibility whatsoever. While embracing this freedom and diligently working on academics are both integral to the college experience, nothing compares to the importance of engaging in the university’s community and networking with both your peers and alumni.
The people you meet in college may stick with you the rest of your life – and even if they don’t, the impression they leave on you, the experiences you shared, an idea you discussed – these things will almost certainly alter your path in life. You never know if the person sitting next to you in class is going to be your partner for a start-up company or in a position one day to recommend you to his or her boss. By continuously creating connections and maintaining old relations, you may find the person who might give you a lift up a few steps on the career ladder – or you may just find your best friend. Either relationship carries indispensable value and, for this reason, it is vital that students take every opportunity they can to meet new people.
While my college education has been superb, more than anything it is what USC offers outside of the lecture halls that has had an extraordinary impact on me. The weekly political discussions, afternoons with Italian Club, listening to guest speakers in the library – these events have taught and inspired me most.
I have embraced the Trojan spirit like I never would have expected and I am a proud member of the Trojan family. When I walk past a man wearing a USC baseball cap, I’ll flash a Fight On symbol with my hands or if I see a woman with a USC button on her purse I’m sure to commend her taste. There’s an instantaneous, amicable connection with alumni that is rare. It’s an easy way into any conversation, sometimes even an easy way into a company. Many universities even offer alumni online networks that can facilitate these connections, such as USC’s website, Trojans Hiring Trojans, which links alumni with students or graduates searching for work. I, myself, have gained several internships through websites such as these, which list jobs given preferentially to USC students.
It is imperative that all college students, especially freshmen, utilize the abundance of useful resources available on university campuses and make an effort to connect with alumni. While your GPA isn’t visible upon first appearance (and hardly original or exciting in black-and-white print on your resume), showing a bit of school spirit may just get you noticed by potential employers.
This post is by Elena Valeriote. Elena is a student at University of Southern California and a member of the Flinja community, a Kaplan EdTech startup aimed at helping students get hired while improving their resumes.