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Secondary education really is a privilege. It opens one’s mind and world and exposes students to exciting new fields and career options. Some students feel that learning is limited to what is projected on the PowerPoint in the front of their lecture hall, or what they will be tested on in a couple of weeks. However, these students are overlooking the oldest, and best classroom — real life. The working world.

Too many times I have heard other students say, “I don’t know what a [insert career occupation] does” or “That’s not my job to do”. I’m writing to encourage you that you should make it your job to do, whatever it may be. Career paths are not straight and they are not always direct. If you enter college with aspirations to be a journalist and end up a journalist, kudos to you. If you enter college with aspirations to be a journalist and end up a pilot, kudos to you. The important part is that you landed a career you are interested in and did not know as much about four years ago when you graduated high school. Throughout your college years, make a dedicated effort to gain exposure and insight to as many different paths that interest you. It’s easier to learn now what works for you than to be in your field as a professional and realize you are not happy.

How can I get exposure to areas outside my courses? 

It’s quite simple! Internships are of course one of the most helpful avenue to find out about a career path and if it is right for you. However, internships often are 12-weeks during a summer and have a highly competitive selection process that considers relative coursework and experience. Rather than committing yourself to that 12-week test-period, reach out to professors or leaders in areas that interest you. If  you are studying business but want to learn about a computer science occupation, ask your professor if he has any contacts who would let you shadow them for a day or two.

Shadowing is a great opportunity for practical application to education. Studying Human Resources itself is broad, but shadowing a Employee Relations specialist or Talent Acquisition specialist will allow you to explore the daily activities of a specific position. Also, as you continue your classroom learning, you will have a better understanding of how the different departments of HR work within the business. If you are home on winter break, you may even be able to get five days in five different fields. In lecture, it’s similar to reading your textbook before going to class–there are less surprises and you are able to follow along easier.

The worst someone call tell you is no.

Students may be hesitant to reach out to professionals for they feel the professional would not want to give up their time. When you think of the worst possible scenario, the pressure can be taken off of you! You can’t get fired; the professional would simply respond that they don’t have time. There’s no harm in that, and you can always try again or contact another mentor. However, professionals seem to enjoy acting as a mentor for students and are usually happy to give advice and talk about their own career path.

The best that can happen outweighs the worst that can happen. 

If everything would go smoothly, you would gain valuable exposure to a field that can really set you apart from other students. It shows a deeper level of understanding and ambition. Students have to go to lectures, students don’t have to go out on their own and gain more knowledge. Good students go to lectures, great students take initiative.

Go be that great student. Go learn outside of your classroom.

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