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Preparing for life—and jobs—outside the classroom

In the survey of University of Minnesota families, conducted during Spring 2012, the second greatest concern parents expressed regarding their student was career planning. (The greatest concern is health and safety.) Each year during the four-year academic time span, concerns about career preparation increase, and for parents of juniors and seniors, this is the most significant worry.

Clearly, parents are thinking about their student’s ability to find a job after college. The selection of a college major and a career plan can seem to be the most important decision students make during their academic years, and students and their parents often believe that the major, coupled with classroom achievement, are the critical elements to a successful first job and a long and rewarding career. However, according to Paul Timmins, Career Services director in the College of Liberal Arts, it should not be a choice between doing well in the classroom or spending time on other activities. Instead, students need to find ways of doing both well.

Timmins tells students that when a potential employee reads through a resume, their major is just one word on a one- or two-page document.

“When I explain to students that their major might literally be only one word on their resume,” he explains, “I also stress that it is a really important word.”

Employers don't hire someone just because of the major, he says. Instead, employers hire talent.

“They want to be convinced that the person who has applied for their job has the right talent to do the job. And that talent is grown both inside and outside of the classroom. Inside the classroom, it's grown by the classes someone takes and how well they do in those classes. But employers also expect to see talent developed outside the classroom.”

This out-of-class talent can be developed in a number of different ways, and Timmins tells students that there's no single, best way to build it. Students are increasingly aware that employers look for evidence of strong internships, and some employers report that just one internship is not enough. 

Internships are not the only route to landing a good job after college, however. Timmins says that being involved on campus, having a good part-time job, volunteering, conducting research, and studying abroad are all ways of developing skills that will increase a student’s chance of being interviewed and hired.

Community Service Learning

While many students volunteer in the community as part of a fraternity or sorority, athletic team, student organization, or independently, the University also offers classes that combine credit-bearing coursework with volunteer assignments. These courses provide unique opportunities to apply the information taught in class to real-world applications. Typically, students volunteer for two to three hours a week in intentional projects tied to their class.

Service-learning classes are available in subjects ranging from agriculture and health sciences to psychology, urban design, graphic design, business management, recreation studies, languages, and much more.

Students who are intent on combining volunteerism with their academics can combine their service and coursework, supplement both with a special project, and receive acknowledgement from the Community Engagement Scholars Program. Completion of the program includes a formal notation on the student’s transcript.

Those who simply wish to participate in volunteer activities but are less interested in the formal process can receive guidance on off-campus volunteer activities through the Community Service-Learning Center.

For information on all these opportunities, see the Community Service-Learning website.

Jobs and Internships

While a student’s primary role during the college years should be focused on academics, work experience adds credibility to a student’s resume. On-campus jobs are typically convenient, being close to where students live and study. The University’s Student Employment Programs office can help guide students through the steps of identifying job openings and reviewing position requirements. 

While many jobs and internships are available on campus, especially in research and education, most students look off campus for pre-professional jobs and internships. In the Twin Cities, students have extensive opportunities to obtain experience in government, business, the arts, nonprofit organizations, and start-up companies.

CLA student.

See Personal Experience: Service Learning for a firsthand, student account of a service-learning experience.

Campus Engagement

With more than 800 student organizations on campus, leadership positions and involvement opportunities are nearly endless. Although many groups are based around social activities, many more focus on professional development and learning. A budding attorney, for example, might join the Undergraduate Mock Trial Association, serve on the University Student Legal Services Board of Directors, or sign up for the Pre Law Society. Students interested in occupational therapy could attend meetings of the Pre-Occupational Therapy Student Group.


A benefit of attending a research university is that students can participate in the development of ideas and practices that will offer insights or become solutions for the challenges facing today’s and tomorrow’s science, industry, and society. Students find on-campus research jobs through the Student Employment Office, by connecting with faculty in the classroom, or by creating their own research projects under the supervision of a faculty member.

Directed study or directed research is available in most majors, allowing students to earn credit while working on a research project under the guidance of a faculty member.

A more formal program, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) offers a stipend of $1,400 for students to work on a research project of their own or to support a faculty project.

Information on undergraduate research opportunities is described at

Studying Abroad

The most common reaction following an international study opportunity is, “That was the best thing I’ve ever done. It changed my life.” When students take part in a learning abroad program, they experience their education in entirely new ways, expand their personal limits, and learn to rely on problem-solving skills they didn’t know they had.

A traditional study abroad program is centered on taking coursework at a university in another country, but the University also offers international programs that include internships, work experiences, and service-learning projects. For those who want the benefits of learning on another campus or in another community, but without leaving the United States, the University’s National Student Exchange and Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs provide domestic options.