Before I Go…A Bit of Advice to Prepare for Life After College

It feels strange to be writing a “farewell” post to students and to the department. Graduating is a strange experience. On one hand, I am ready to be done with classes and have a full-time professional job in my field. But on the other, it feels scary to be leaving UNCW and the Communication Studies Department for the “real world.” In a way, college has been my safety net, catching me when I fall or can’t keep up. And now, it is time to leave the nest and fly on my own (sorry, had to include a cheesy Seahawk pun in here somewhere). As I have been preparing to graduate and apply to jobs, I have realized there were a few things I wish I had done or I was grateful for, that would have or has better prepared me for the jobs I want after college. I want to share those realizations with my fellow Seahawks to (hopefully) benefit you and help you be prepared for your future too. It can be really easy to get comfortable in college and think of it as your safety net; nothing bad can happen to you here. But if you don’t do some work before you leave UNCW, adulting will be a rude awakening.

First, I encourage you to actively self-educate. If you have an interest in a particular skill or area of study, but either can’t take a course or it isn’t specifically within your major, then seek out resources and learn about it yourself. Don’t wait for the information to be handed to you or expect that it will come up in a class. If you want to learn how to use Photoshop, but don’t have room for a graphic design class, watch tutorials. Teach yourself. MAKE time for self-learning because you will probably regret not having done so when your dream job requires an understanding of Photoshop. A message from your future self: take the certification class. Watch the YouTube videos. Learn that thing that is really interesting but really daunting. You may not “feel” like it but you’ll be glad you did it.

Second, look at job postings in areas of interest BEFORE enrolling in the Capstone course (when you will be required to do it). Understanding what companies in your desired field are looking for in candidates will inform your choices, while you are still in school, and put you ahead of the game. For example, you may not have realized that your dream job may require knowing how to write computer code. In digital communication, that is not uncommon. Knowing this before your final semester will allow you to take an introductory course in computer programming and practice the skills independently. Even if you aren’t sure what your dream job is yet, still look at a variety of job postings in your areas of study. Doing so can help you narrow down your choices or help you choose a variety of courses for maximum flexibility when pursuing the post-graduation opportunities. Getting an idea of the necessary skills and experience companies want from prospective employees, and then learning about those things, is an investment in your future.

Third, listen to and respect your professors. They have your best interest in mind and will help you. When you have an assignment that seems pointless, try to look at the bigger picture and envision how the assignment might help you down the road. I remember an assignment where I had to learn how to use a project planning website called I thought it was confusing to use and I didn’t see any benefit. How did learning a new software platform relate to IMC? Fast forward to my internship – guess what they use for project planning? None other than When I told them I already knew how to use the website, they were very impressed, and being able to use the platform meant I could focus on doing the creative work. Put your best effort into your assignments, even when you don’t understand the value or purpose of it, because those assignments are preparing you for future job applications. And save everything. You will need your assignments for the Capstone course, but they are also evidence of what you can do. You’ll be thanking your professors later, trust me.

Ultimately, you get out of college what you put in. Make the most of it by doing everything you can to set yourself up for success. You will be more prepared for your future dream job and career. Take it from someone who just finished and is now applying for jobs: don’t waste this time. Do all you can to set yourself up for a successful future.

Olivia Nelson is a recent UNCW Department of Communication Studies graduate with a minor in Studio Art. She is the recipient of the Fall 2020 IMC Achievement Award.

Woman tasting coffee (top): Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash