Freshman Year: Establishing a Foundation

Freshman year is mostly about getting used to being in college, learning to manage your time, and figuring out how much you can fit in around your studies. It’s not too early to get familiar with the resources that are available to prepare you for life after graduation. As you feel ready to take on challenges beyond those presented by your classes and the transition to college, start finding ways to get involved and explore.


  • Create a master resume file on your computer with all possible relevant experience on it and get into the habit of adding new things as you do them.
  • Draft a basic resume that you can customize for particular part-time jobs or internships by drawing on your master file. Ask for feedback on your resume from at least one campus resource, preferably more (Career Services paraprofessional, networking contact or mentor, professor, academic advisor)
  • Log on to Handshake and start getting filling out your profile.
  • Stop by the Career Center to pick up a schedule of events and grab some handouts relevant to your interests. Yes, you should walk in the entrance of the physical building at 715 S. Wright St. (across from the Alma Mater statue), pick up a few pieces of actual paper, and look around. In our increasingly virtual world, the ability to go to a place and talk to a person opens up opportunities that are not available to those who try to live through their screens. 
  • Walk through a campus career fair and chat with at least one recruiter, just to get familiar with the basic set-up and structure.
  • Will you need to work while you’re in college? Attend the Part-Time Job Fair in the fall, and get in the habit of regularly checking the places where part-time jobs and paid internships get posted: the Virtual Job Board, the Research Park Job BoardHandshake, and this very website. Your job becomes part of your work history, so get in the habit of seeking part-time work that will help build your skills as well as supply a paycheck.


  • Stop by the Life and Career Design Lab in Lincoln Hall to start designing your Illinois experience. There are a lot of programs and opportunities on this campus to help you develop your interests and skills, and the LACDL staff is there to help you find your way.
  • Try out some extracurricular activities. Go to Quad Day and see the range available to you. Think about the activities that were most meaningful and enjoyable to you in high school and look for ways to find those sources of satisfaction in college, while giving yourself time to explore new possibilities.
  • If you’ve already identified some career interests, look for ways to start exploring them. Publishing? Get involved with a student publication. Museums? Volunteer at the Krannert or Spurlock museums. Arts administration? Get involved with a student theater group or the student ambassadors for the Krannert Center. Sales or fundraising? Get a job with the University of Illinois Foundation. Nonprofit management? Join a service organization or volunteer with a local nonprofit. Consulting? Apply to Illinois Business Consulting or Enactus. Teaching English abroad? Sign up to be a conversation partner for English language learners. If you don’t feel ready to reach out like this yet, that’s fine, but starting your career exploration early expands the range of options you can explore.
  • Think broadly about opportunities to get experience relevant to your career interests, including internships, volunteer work, part-time jobs, independent projects, and undergraduate research. There is no one right way to prepare for your future — so it’s helpful to know the various forms that useful experience might take.
  • Find a summer job (for the summer before sophomore year) or volunteer experience that will expose you to new career possibilities or add to your skills.


  • Recognize your network and start to cultivate it. If you had meaningful work or volunteer experience in high school, stay in touch with your supervisor. If particular high school teachers influenced your decision to come to Illinois or study a particular area, email them over winter break to let them know how things are going. If family friends or a friend’s family works in a field that interests you, arrange a time to talk to them about their work.
  • Go to office hours and make yourself known to your professors, as well as your TAs,
  • As you develop new contacts (RSO leaders, work supervisors, volunteer coordinators), make sure you get and keep accurate information about how to stay in touch with them (full name with correct spelling, phone number, email address, their organization). You will be adding to this list over the next few years,  and as you start to rely on your network, you will be glad to have all the information in one place.  

Sophomore: Exploring Options

Junior: Gaining Experience

Senior: Getting Real