How to Get the Highest Return on Your Time at College

College is expensive, and you should of course do your best to get the most of your time at college. While college is definitely a time to make new friends and try new things, it is also important to make sure you use your time there wisely. The better choices you make, the more likely you are to get a high return on your investment, both in terms of time spent and money spent.

While going to a college with a fancy name will certainly get your resume noticed, there are other ways to prepare yourself for the job market, as well, and they don’t require attending a fancy school or spending a lot of money on a so-called better level of education. If you make smart decisions, you will increase your chances of really making your degree mean something and possibly getting a good job. Here are five ways to maximize your time at college.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Choose the right major

There are hundreds of majors to choose from, and the choice can be difficult. Some students enter college already sure of the direction they want to take, but many end up switching their majors. This mirrors the fact that many people later switch jobs. However, choosing the right major initially can help you finish college on time and save money on tuition costs.

You can increase your chances of choosing the right major by asking questions, both to other people and through self-reflection, to find out what might be a good fit for you. You should also think about which major will help you in the career you want. Lastly, think about salary. You should pick a major you love, but you also need to think about how much money you want to make in the future.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Study

It sounds so obvious, but you really need to study in college. Some prospective employers will be much more interested in your work experience, internships, and other relevant qualifications rather than your GPA, but not all of them will overlook a poor GPA. In addition, if you plan to continue on to graduate school, a strong history of good grades will matter. Lastly, although most colleges require core classes, and some of them may have nothing to do with what you want to do in the future, the classes related to your major really will prepare you for your career. You should study, and you should pay attention to those classes in particular.

A recent study by Baylor University found that female college students spend an average of 10 hours per day on their cellphones, while male students spend about eight hours. Not only does so much cellphone usage have the potential to disrupt classes and irritate professors, but it isn’t realistic in the real world, where people have jobs to do. In addition, students spending that much time on their phones can’t possibly be focusing on their classes and studies as much as they should be.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Get an internship

Participating in an internship is one of the best ways to get a high return on your time at college. College career centers have access to employers in a way that you will probably never experience again. Staff can help you to apply for, and hopefully obtain, an internship with a company that you actually want to work for and which may have a job that is related to your potential career. Internships give you direct experience to put on your resume, help you build industry contacts, and teach you valuable lessons. The importance of a relevant internship can’t be stressed enough. If you’re lucky, you may even receive a job offer from the company that you intern for if you do a good job.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Take risks

College is not the time to be shy and timid. Not only should you be looking for an internship, but you should also be taking other risks. If possible, do your best to get to know faculty. If you can, act as a teaching assistant for a class: It looks great on your resume and gives you extremely valuable experience. A part-time job also will help boost your resume.

Studying abroad is another chance worth taking. Studying abroad will introduce you to new cultures, potentially improve your second language skills, and will impress many future employers. In addition, if you ever want to work abroad, a study abroad experience could lead directly to a chance to do so — even if you decide to look for a job abroad later on, the fact that you studied abroad may help you stand apart from other applicants.

Source: Thinkstock

5. Join clubs and organizations

Besides learning new skills and obtaining a degree, networking really is one of the most important things you will do in college. In addition to interning, make sure you join clubs and organizations that are relevant to your future in some way. Many colleges offer service fraternities or groups, which look great on your resume and also can help you network.

Sometimes if a potential employer sees a club that they participated in on a resume, they might be more prone to give that person an interview — or, at least, your activities will help you stand out. Even if the different things you participate in don’t lead you directly to a job, joining a club, and particularly, helping lead one, will teach you how to interact with all sorts of different personalities, which will be vital when you look for and eventually obtain a job.

There are several other important things you can do during college to maximize your investment. Use your years in college to learn effective time management, and make it a priority to be able to handle many different activities and classes at once. College is also a great time to adjust to changes and to learn to accept them. Lastly, even though you should prioritize studying, college is also a great time to have fun. Just make sure you do it safely, and never at the expense of your studies.

More from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet: