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No Time Like the Present

The process doesn’t change in this career plan, just the pace

Northwestern student-athletes take advantage of networking events to chat with professionals from various industries. Stephen J. Carrera / Northwestern University

The most important message Northwestern lays out in its four-year process for student career planning might be the postscript.

“Please note,” it reads. “Don’t be alarmed if you are reading this as a junior or senior. You can still engage in most of these activities. Your timeline will just move at a quicker pace.”

Julie Hammer, Northwestern assistant athletics director for career enhancement and employer relations, applies that same advice to the college athletes she works with through the athletics department’s NU for Life program. “We don’t necessarily expect them to be prepared already when they come in as students,” she says. “It’s more about their attitude and desire — just their curiosity around figuring out for themselves what they want to do. To me, that’s the biggest thing.”

She thinks of the school’s four-year structure as an ideal model — what administrators would do “if we were able to program a robot to understand all the learning outcomes we hope the students are taking away.” Hammer hopes this suggested timeline can benefit even the nonrobots among us.

Steps for Each Stage

Freshman Year

  • Meet with a career counselor to discuss an individualized career plan.
  • Explore different majors, minors and certificates and consider taking assessments to clarify your interests, values and skills.
  • Join two to four student organizations to explore your interests and expand your skills.
  • Conduct at least one informational interview per semester to expand your knowledge of specific careers.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile so you can begin building a professional network.

Sophomore Year

  • Narrow down your list of academic major choices, but continue to read about different careers and industries to explore your options.
  • Continue informational interviews to expand your knowledge of different careers.
  • Take on a leadership opportunity within your student organizations. Consider chairing a committee or initiating a project.
  • Obtain an internship related to a career in which you have interest.

Junior Year

  • Select two or three industries in which you are interested in working after graduation.
  • Obtain an internship related to a career in which you have interest.
  • Seek out networking events where you can meet professionals in your potential field.
  • Research fellowships and graduate schools and consider whether those opportunities might fit your plans.
  • Research recruiting timelines for the industries that interest you and sketch out a job search plan.

Senior Year

  • Still don’t have a career focus? Meet with a career counselor to discuss your options.
  • Expand your network: Attend job fairs and networking opportunities.
  • If you are preparing for graduate or professional school, take the necessary admissions test, identify and apply to specific programs, and consider whether you want to take time off between your undergraduate and graduate studies.
About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.