Now that you have developed a career plan and gotten a handle on your interests, it’s time to test the waters. But since employers prefer to hire people with experience, how can you gain experience if they won’t hire you without any? There are several ways to gain some experience while you are in college. Engaging in experiential learning opportunities, such as service learning, volunteer activities, internships, co-op programs, and competitions and projects designed for students, can help you gain some experience while you are in college.

Experiential Learning Opportunities

Gaining experience in your field while in college can help you meet people who may later serve as important references for employment. That experience can also teach you things you won’t learn in the classroom. Here are a number of ways to pursue such experience:

Working in College

Most students have to work while they are in college to support themselves and/or their families. Although balancing work and study is a challenging task, there are many benefits to working while taking classes:

If you do not already have a job, your first decision will be whether to work on campus or off. If you choose to work on campus, look for opportunities as early in the term as you can. You might be pleasantly surprised by the variety of on-campus opportunities, such as tutoring in the writing or math center, being an attendant in the fitness center, or serving as a student ambassador for the admissions office or career center.

One benefit of on-campus employment is that the work schedules are often flexible. Another benefit is that you might be able to connect with instructors and administrators you can later consult as mentors or ask for reference letters. Plus, your supervisor will understand that you occasionally need time off to study or take exams. Finally, students who work on campus are more likely to graduate from college than are students who work off campus; keep this fact in mind as you think about mixing college and work.

Some on-campus jobs are reserved for work-study students. The federal work-study program is a form of government-sponsored financial aid that provides part-time employment to help with college expenses. Once you accept the work-study award on your financial aid notification, you will be sent information regarding the steps you should take for getting a job within the program. Keep in mind that your work-study award will be limited to a certain number of hours and amount of money each term; once you reach your limit in earnings, you can no longer work until the next term begins. Generally, you will have to interview for a work-study position whether on or off campus. Check with your college’s financial aid office or career center to get a list of available jobs and to get help preparing your application materials and getting ready for the interview.


In looking for a job, you may decide that you would rather work off campus. An off-campus job might pay better than an on-campus one, or be closer to your home, or be in an organization where you want to continue working after you finish college. The best place to start looking for off-campus jobs is your college career center, which might have listings or websites with off-campus employment opportunities. Feel free to ask a career counselor for suggestions.

Whether you work on or off campus, keep in mind that overextending yourself can negatively affect your college success and your ability to attend class, do your homework, and participate in many other valuable parts of college life, such as group study. Take some time to decide how involved you are able to be, and stay within reasonable limits. Students who work in paid jobs more than fifteen to twenty hours a week have a lower chance of succeeding in college.