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Our Best Advice For College Students


I find myself wanting to stop, shake and shout life tips to every 18-22 year old I see. I made a lot of good and bad decisions that have led to my success (and perhaps were a hinderance at different times) and because of such I feel compelled to write a whole post for you. But why stop at just my experiences? I asked everyone who works for me to give their advice, too. These are practical skills, not just ‘Have fun!’ or  ‘Take risks!’. Do those things but I think this advice will make a huge difference in starting your career after college and managing your 20’s in the most productive (but still fun!) way possible.

Learn as many computer skills possible.

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I’m a Xennial which means I was computer savvy enough to start a blog, but ‘blogging’ is about where it ends. Unless you are going to be a doctor I’d say you should not leave college without at these skills: Excel, Photoshop, and basic HTML. Your first job post college will be likely be entry-level, and every single company in the world, regardless of what it actually does, needs admin, digital and social media help. You can’t get an admin job very well without excel, and knowing photoshop well enough to create flyers, manage a blog, send out newsletters, etc is super valuable. It’s the skills that many people in my generation don’t have, which make you super hirable. I have no doubt that you can handle a company’s instagram account, but if you know photoshop enough to do something really interesting with it (or even retouch photos), your value just increased and you became way less dispensable to them. If you have basic HTML skills you will rise faster and make more. I still get so many resumes from new students who just graduated with a journalism degree but don’t know photoshop and I can’t hire them. This goes for all the fine arts. If you are a voice major you need photoshop because you aren’t going to be paid to sing immediately but you can get a job at a music label in their marketing department, or work for a producer as an assistant if you have skills that can support that industry, even if they fall outside what you are studying. I never had these backup skills (hell, the internet was barely started when I was in college) and I would never hire me right now with my lack of skills. The world has gone digital, you better know those skills to compete. Your boss will most likely be my generation (or even younger) that expects these things, so just because you are studying history doesn’t mean you are going to be a historian – get yourself some computer and graphic design skills while your brain is ready to learn.

Document everything in an online portfolio.

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Set up a basic wordpress or squarespace site and as you finish something you are proud of, upload it. This doesn’t have to represent your exact style or the most perfect work, don’t be precious about it because you can ALWAYS delete it. But a future employer might want to know if you know such-and-such a program and you want to be able to say ‘yes’ and show them an example, even if it isn’t perfect or isn’t your style anymore. Brady, Sara and Jess all regretted not documenting so many of their college projects, and the best way to do it is an easy to make website that you update at the end of every semester. They have their own sites now to document their work (see above) but they all wish they would have started them sooner to document more. If you are a writer then start a blog, not to become a blogger necessarily but to have it documented where someone could read it. You never know who may read it and discover you. Plus it’s a super fun journal. In addition to this you will want to continually update your resume as things happened. Brady and I were talking about this yesterday and all through college he wishes he would have updated it continually rather than trying to go back and remember all the projects, accolades or jobs he had. This can either be done on your website or on a LinkedIn profile, but it should all be somewhere and there should be an easy way to contact you, should someone stumble into it and want to learn more, or better yet, hire you. In case you missed our first post on a “good resume” click through HERE.

Create a professional AND a private instagram account.

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If you are hoping to get a creative career then your ‘professional’ account should be work that inspires you – or your own work. I hired Sara because her instagram account was good. I didn’t even call her references. It’s a daily business card and marketing tool.

But let’s just chat about social media for a second. Never post anything on social media that you won’t want a future boss to see. I know you think it might be private, but just don’t do it. We will google you, we will see your FB profile pic and there are still many employers like myself who think an account full of selfies is weird and a turnoff, unless you are going into the modeling industry. A good friend was about to send the ‘we’d love to hire you’ email when she googled the person and she saw a side of her personality that was such a red flag that it was over before it started. Have two accounts, one for future employers or collaborators and one for your friends, but don’t trust that the internet will remain private. Make sure that you aren’t telling an inaccurate story about yourself online, no matter who is following.

Let yourself feel unattached.

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Listen, I know you have been together since Sophmore year of high school and that you really love each other, but it doesn’t have to necessarily end to feel ‘unattached’. Brian and I met when we were 21 so I can’t accurately say that you can’t find your partner when you are 17 (or 15, like my parents). But if you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are doing the long distance thing in college, make sure that you aren’t so busy being obsessed with getting their text message that you are missing out on the most crucial part of being in college – becoming independent (of even him). Now is when you open up, mold new sides of your personality that didn’t exist pre-college. You can try things that your high school friends would have judged you for, you can start taking certain sides of your personality more or less seriously because nobody is there reminding you of ‘who you are’. One of the reasons I moved to New York after college was because I knew that I wanted to be in the art/design field and I felt weird exploring that side of me in front of my high school/college friends that watched me get my degree in English.

Brian and I had to break up in our early 20’s because we felt that we just needed our own growth – it was hard to become adults with someone who knew the ‘old you’ watching the messy process. If you are meant to be, like us, you’ll make it (read about our ups and downs here).  I’m not saying to break up, just let yourself feel more unattached. Be independent, and don’t put all the energy that you should be putting into yourself, your classes and forming new friendship into a high school boyfriend 4 states away.

Work in the customer service industry.

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…even if it’s just for a summer. I’m talking restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels. Having a low-level job working with people. Here’s why:

  1. Your parents may have tried to teach you how to treat people, but it’s not until you are a waitress at a diner, being harassed, blamed for the food, ordered around, denigrated and generally sh*t upon as you are just trying to be nice and feed people, that you really learn the importance of manners, smiles and respect. You can personally feel the importance of those three things and you will learn to do the same to everyone else, regardless of how high or low their position is.
  2. Learning how to ‘serve’ all people in a friendly way will be good for your career. People want to work with nice people. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like friendliness and good manners. I would NEVER hire someone who was rude to a waitress, it shows that they don’t know enough about how to behave in this world. Because listen, we are all in the customer service industry and the earlier you learn that the better off you are. Besides …
  3. After college you may need to ‘find yourself’ a bit and having even one restaurant, cafe or bar job on your resume can help you get that filler job until you figure it out. I moved to New York and took classes during the day and worked retail with Jonathan Adler which as you can imagine didn’t pay my rent, so having that bartending job at night helped my career progress and stay afloat . It pays way better than minimum wage and you make new friends in new cities in a snap.
  4. Servers and bartenders are generally good at hustling and have a good multi-tasking brain. They tend to be good ‘managers’ because they have had to please so many people with different, albeit similar, needs at the same time.

Get an internship in your field.

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Future employers love interesting internships. It shows that you used your time wisely, were willing to work hard for very little and have been at the bottom of the totem pole. Two of my best friends packed their summers with business/marketing internships fields and now one of them is in charge of marketing for Nike basketball (as a 37 year old woman – unheard of). I had one internship for a gallery, but I wish I had known even what I wanted to do then, as I would have reached out and packed that resume full of interns (speaking of, how do we find interns who are in college in LA studying design?).

Side Hustle.

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They say that millenials don’t feel satisfied unless they have a job AND a side hustle. This is that thing you are doing on the weekends that you love, that feeds your soul and honestly makes you a more creative person. Start learning the art of the side hustle in college. Sure you are getting your degree in marketing (GREAT CHOICE) but that doesn’t mean that on the weekends you aren’t shooting fashion, or creating a you-tube channel where you do fake interviews of old TV characters. Could be anything that gets you excited to be productive and creative – this will set you up for success and you will look more interesting to a potential employer, meanwhile kickstarting your freelance career.

Attend the discourses or talks in your industry.

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Those optional Friday 9am guest lectures can be super valuable in both information and connections. Professionals (in any field) have valuable wisdom that you don’t have. Listen, take notes and let their experience influence yours. And if you find that they really resonate with you, reach out, tell them why and offer to assist them in any way. You or your parents are probably paying a pretty penny for this education, so reap the benefits of a higher education by getting an even higher education from the professionals already in your industry. 

Get on top of your finances.

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I wouldn’t know anything about how to do this – I paid for school and lived month to month, penny to penny, but Sara, Jess and Brady all had GREAT advice. 

  1. Set up and use program like Mint that keeps track of all your purchases. I asked Sara why she did this and she said that a. she had to for a class (PARENTS!! MAKE YOUR KIDS DO THIS IN ORDER FOR YOU TO GIVE THEM MONEY!). And then once it was set up she felt empowered by knowing how she was spending money and could adjust once she knew that she was spending $80 a week on coffee.
  2. Start building your credit by getting one very low-limit card. Purchase one thing a month and pay it off. Brady set one up in college just to pay for his car’s gas and then paid it off in full every time to help him build his credit slowly. Don’t do what I did and get a $1500 card that I forgot about, then move and not forward your mail and then have that card go to collections only to ruin your credit for 10 years and even have it effect it to this very day. That is what NOT to do. But also entering the real world without any credit will make getting an apartment or a car really hard (even with a co-signer).
  3. Get everything on auto-pay. I know a lot of college students don’t have “bills”, but hopefully some of you do and if so making them manageable will reduce the possibility of defaulting, meanwhile reduces the stress of ‘gah, have I paid my…. bill this month??’. Most banks now have programs that allow you to setup autopay all from your account and manage it all in one place.
  4. Start a savings account for both traveling, special splurges and emergencies with apps like Digit. It takes a nominal amount out of your account each week, based on how much is in. Some weeks it might be $20 and some only $2 – with the point being that it’s small enough that you won’t notice, but meanwhile you are saving.

Study Abroad.

Advice To My 20 Year Old Self Travel Cheaply

This is a major regret of mine, see more of my thoughts on traveling HERE. I thought I couldn’t afford it but I should have gotten an extra student loan. The opportunity to actually live in another country doesn’t come up very often post college. In college you have no attachments, jobs or probably kids so this is your chance to really dive into another culture for 3 months or longer, and you may not get this chance again. Nobody in the history of time has ever said “I wish I hadn’t lived in Italy when I was 20”.

Explore your hobbies and commit to figuring out how to turn one into a career.

I always tell people – ask yourself what your favorite thing to do on a Saturday is, because that is what you should be doing all week, 9-5. The earlier you figure what that thing is and how it could be a career, the happier you’ll be for the rest of your life.

Now hit the books (and call home and say hi to your parents :))

Now we’ll open it up to you guys – what is your best advice for kids heading into (or back) to college? What do you wish someone would have told you? And in case you missed “Dissecting the Good and Bad Resume” or “Travel A Lot, and Do It On The Cheap” be sure to click through to read more.

Fin Mark


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Emily, this is an awesome post. I teach interior designs students, and I shared it in their facebook groups.


As a 53-year old attorney who is looking ahead to retirement, not just starting out, I read this with great interest. And it all sounds exhausting! Granted, I no longer have the energy of a 20-year old, but it does seem very hard to be a young person today. It seems like there is so much more out there that one feels pressured to be part of.

I would add two pieces of advice to this list: 1. If you are earning, save money for retirement sooner rather than later, even if it’s a very small amount. It adds up later. I know too many people my age and older who wish they had done this. 2. Enjoy the journey! Youth is too often wasted on the young. It’s actually true that you will look back fondly on what seem like difficult times when you are going through them. Instead of always focusing on what’s next, take some time to enjoy the now.

Love your blog, Emily. I discovered it after you were a recent guest on a Washington Post home design chat. All the best.


I love this! I have a daughter leaving for college in 2 weeks so your timing was perfect. Good solid advice. I can already hear myself repeatedly asking “How are your computer skills?”


I’m like you, I’m a Xennial. and all of this is such amazing advice. I wish i had this type of advice. the two things i regret the most — not interning throughout college, and not studying abroad!


Same here. I had a job in college and I was interning in grad school, but haven’t done enough fun or experience building things earlier on. I wanted to study abroad but the cost scared me off. That would have been a good experience.

I’d also add, do something fun (or unrelated to the career you want to have) earlier in High school. So many kids (myself included) were focused on good grades in science and math, and didn’t take music or art in high school. At this point I regret it, and I believe I could add those two courses to my schedule and wouldn’t be overwhelmed ,especially in my last year.


Wow, that was great.. I’ve been out of college for two years now, but this would have been so helpful to hear then!! But since I’ve only been out of college for two years, I can definitely still apply some of these tips now!


I am a recent college grad (age 21) and these are all GREAT tips! I studied interior design and now have a full time job working on commercial design projects. I loved my design school education, and it has definitely helped grow my passion for all things architecture + interiors! Just curious – what did you study in school? And how did that help get you to where you are today? (Perhaps this thought could be elaborated into another post as well!) Thanks! 🙂


Emily stated in this post that she majored in English.


I fully support this post, there is a lot of excellent advice! I definitely agree that everyone should have to work a job in the service industry, but I wouldn’t necessarily stop at the front of the house. Yes, that’s where you make more money, but working a job in the back of the house (kitchen) teaches equally as important skills. For one, you’ll learn how to cook! It also provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment and immediate gratification to take something raw and turn it into something delicious. Furthermore it provides excellent stress management coping skills, and multi-tasking skills. You will emerge with a whole new respect for how much effort goes into that Instagram-perfect croissant/quinoa bowl/pho/whatever. Plus you’ll be able to turn your left-overs into something new and tasty!


Nobody in the history of time has ever said “I wish I hadn’t lived in Italy when I was 20”.

Except maybe Amanda Knox.

(Sorry couldn’t help it! : )


Best comment of all time Elle!!!!!


I had the same thought 😉


haha, that’s exactly what I thought! 🙂 but still great points!


So funny. Thanks for this 🙂


And Meredith Kercher, who, for some inexplicable reason, seems to get forgotten when this case is mentioned. Please could you remove these comments and the ‘LOLs’ – whatever the truth of the case, a girl was murdered when spending part of her degree in Italy. Not especially ‘LOL’ or relevant to a design blog.


OMG Elle, I said the same think out loud while reading this.


Not studying abroad is my only regret from college, so totally agree!


Wonderful post full of such valuable advice! It’s so easy to let those years pass by without making the most of them. Wish I would have read this 15 years ago!

Jordan G

I agree with all of this advice. One thing you can do (at least, I did this when I was in college 10 years ago) was get a credit card in conjunction with my parents. Basically they added me to their credit card so I could build my own credit without the risk of having my own card. I was only allowed to use it when I asked their permission, so mostly I just had my name on their card and never used it. Still, it built my credit for when I graduated and got my own. This only works if your parents are good at paying off the credit card, of course!


This is wonderful advice. As a fellow Xennial, I wholeheartedly agree with all your points–and so wish I had more computer skills beyond the basics. I’d add to the computer thing–learn how to manage and organize the files/data on your computer. Delete, archive and back up. We have SO much digital info that it’s just as important to organize as your kitchen pantry or linen closet.



Jordan G

I’ll add another comment: Since this is so helpful, the next post in this series could be advice for young professionals and new grads. How/when to start saving for retirement, understanding your insurance needs, managing your bills and basically how to become a fully functioning adult. The learning never ends!


My advice would be: save for retirment from DAY ONE. Sure, you may not be able to save 15% like you are supposed to but you HAVE to start early. Retirement is non-negotiable, you will need money when you are old. You will always have bills (student loans now, vet/pet, mortgage, childcare …); the bills will NEVER stop when you are an adult. So make retirement savings NONNEGOTIABLE.


Agree 100%


This is all excellent advice; I couldn’t agree more! I graduated last year with degrees in Psychology & Neuroscience and am working in the research field now, and all of this is still incredibly applicable, even for those of us who don’t work in the creative industries! Learning Excel and HTML has been huge for me; those skills are not only important to my job, but have set me up to be an employee that’s very difficult to replace.


Such a great post, full of good advice! You asked ” how do we find interns who are in college in LA studying design?”, and I wondered if you had contacted any of the college departments directly? At my university years ago, there was a person in each department responsible for connecting students with internships. That’s how my husband actually ended up in the company he still works with now! It’s not in design, but hopefully there is a similar system in place for those students as well!


This is a GREAT suggestion! I would definitely contact departments at local universities! (Marketing, graphic design, interiors – or whatever you may need!) I just graduated from interior design school and our department receptionist was ALWAYS forwarding emails from employers who reached out to the department who were seeking internships or full time positions.


My husband works for the same company he did his engineering co-op with during university. He has been with the company for over 20 years now!


This!!! My husband’s company reaches out directly to the marketing departments at the two universities in town. They’ve found a lot of great interns that way, ended up with some great full-time entry level employees, and even found some more experienced freelancers among the faculty.


Can I go back in time and take this advice please? Trying to figure out how to use it now in my mid-30s! A little behind the game :/



In the same boat here. I happened to have been lucky to build my credit and study abroad, but as I look forward to a career pivot I am working toward some of this advice:

-setting up an online portfolio
-taking a basic HTML and computer skills course (maybe a night class or weekends depending on your availability)
-looking into a “side hustle” which seems to be code for a passion hobby?

It’s not too late for an internship or to be a bartender, either, depending on what your home life looks like.



I just forwarded this to my sister – who at 44 is starting a new career – a design career. Although I know this advice is likely meant for younger students, I definitely see it applying to my sister as well. Things have changed so much over the years, it’s good to know how to do college in 2017. And it’s so valuable to know how one can get potentially rise above the masses – even if it’s something as small as learning photoshop.


I even feel like a lot of this could apply to my 12 (*gulp) almost 13 year old, especially that social media thing. Just things for him to think about.


I agree with most of this until we get to the bottom and finances, which is where I think a caveat is needed for people who are living paycheck to paycheck. I say the below in the hopes of saving someone else from some of the grief I went through. I do not hate autopay or automatic savings accounts if you have a comfortable balance in your checking account. However, setting up autopay is a terrible idea if you’re living paycheck to paycheck because of bank fees. If you overdraft, there is going to be a fee for that, and a fee for having a below-minimum balance, and then other fees after that (at least that is what happens if you have BB&T bank). Some bills, like car insurance, are large sums of money, and banks deliberately will alter the sequence of your payments to increase bank fees (I don’t have time to explain there here, but it is Google-able). Also, as far as credit cards, setting up autopay for the minimum due is way too easy, and then you get suckered into interest charges. Speaking of banks, I think there needs to be a recommendation in this post about… Read more »


I don’t think all student loans are bad. Some student loans have subsidized interest and deferment. What Emily essentially said “I regret not investing in myself more” when she said that she regrets not taking the loan. I did that too when I decided to stay in my school as opposed to studying for a semester or two in Australia, which I really wanted to do. That would have been expensive, but I made wrong assumptions about my finances and my parent’s ability to pay for some of that. I assumed it’s better to save than to experience something new. In grad school I assumed wrong again, that I don’t have enough money (and time) to spent the time with my classmates outside of school, going to restaurants, bars etc. I’m not a drinker and not a spender on things that are not necessities in general. And wasting an hour or two of my time on a commute since I was living outside the city seemed silly. I know why I did that, and I know I saved money because of that, but at the same time I know I wasted an opportunity to build valuable relationships with my classmates,… Read more »


Everything depends on whether or not your investments pay off at the end. Education can be a ticket to financial stability, but it can be a ticket to financial instability if you spend too much on it, but fail to gain internship experience or don’t have grit or imagination to create yourself your own job and career. That’s not a criticism, that’s just self-realization that having grit and stepping outside of comfort zone are two most important things in any career. For some people it comes naturally, for others it doesn’t. Some people get lucky and they get recruited, other people have work hard (networking, doing side projects, making little money, taking risks) to get what they want later.


I remember an assignment one of my boys got in a high school math class. Something like: Let’s assume you spend $3/day on a coffee drink…take that daily three dollars and put it in savings plan which you then use to open an investment account. Using the history of the stock market over the last 60 years, how much will that $3/day have amounted to when you’re 60 and ready to retire. And yes, BINGO, the answer yielded just over one million dollars. It’s TIME that works the magic. So please, please, please young people: save just a little in your 20s to establish the habit and you will love love love knowing you have the money to stop working when you want to.


yes, yes. YES. So great! I would add that any “customer service” related job applies. My first job in high school was in a restaurant, and I worked retail throughout college (and some after I graduated). I feel like those two industries teach invaluable lessons about how to treat people. Even to this day, I refold anything I’ve grabbed off the rack!


This is a very valuable list for any young person today – especially the part about paying bills and juggling working life while being pleasant to others. I am a study abroad advisor at a private university, and about half of the programs we offer, including flights, living, etc., are actually *cheaper* than staying on campus for a semester! Less than 10% of students in the U.S. actually study abroad, so a study abroad experience can help any person get an interview…

Good job, Emily and team!


This was all SUCH great advice. I’m a doctor and had a pretty linear career path and I still think all these things are true!

One thing I would add – it’s stressful to constantly update your CV because it should be perfectly formatted and clean and organized. So I keep my CV but I also keep a document called “Stuff to add to my CV” where I haphazardly write down all the presentations/lectures/publications/posters that I do throughout the year with relevant details. Then when I do go to update my CV (at least annually) I can just scan through that document and all the info is there.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and life with us!


I am 100 percent going to do this, because you’re right: the CV is too pristine! Thanks for sharing.


Love this! My husband is a doctor and I am a graphic designer, and we recently collaborated on a lecture he gave about the benefits of incorporating design elements into a CV. The misconception about a plain black and white CV being best will hopefully start to be replaced by well designed ones that prove even doctors can and should be able to display a little professional creativity in their resume! ?


Love this post!

As far as finances go, I wish someone had advised my husband to take student loans seriously. Specifically don’t take out loans to pay for a private law school when you don’t really want to be a lawyer (WTF?). The interest is more than our mortgage (THE INTEREST) and we will likely still be paying it off when our future kids are starting college.


^I feel you. I too married someone who had insane student loans to become a lawyer. We were on income-based repayment and our minimum monthly payment was the same as our mortgage and it did not cover all of the interest (essentially, we owed more at the end of each month than at the beginning!).


Diving into politics here (oops), but as a Canadian, it makes me so sad to hear these stories. In my opinion, everyone should be able to pursue a higher education, no matter how rich your family is, and no one should have to pay off student loans for decades! I’m sorry you all have to go through this. Here, education is so affordable that I was able to pay for my Invisalign braces during my undergrad.


Inspiring to hear. Yeah education and Health should be worry free!
Good job Canadians!


Same here in Belgium (and in most of Europe basically). I don’t know anyone who has a student loan. Direct cost (tuition+books) for university is like max 1500$ a year. I studied in England for an entire year through the European Erasmus program and got a grant for that, which made my year abroad actually for free (including food and stay). Awesome.


As a graphic and web designer, I second your recommendation to learn html and photoshop, but I’d like to elaborate a bit based on my own experience: – if you’re learning Photoshop, also learn Illustrator and InDesign. You’re probably paying for the Adobe Creative Cloud suite anyway. While you *can* technically make posters and such in photoshop, it’s really not a good tool for much beyond editing images. Illustrator is excellent for creating graphics, and since it uses vectors as opposed to pixels, whatever you create in Illustrator will be BOTH web and print compatible and on the whole much more flexible. InDesign is fantastic for any kind of typesetting. I use it for text-heavy pieces, such as my resume, brochures, etc. – on that note, I believe almost all creatives can benefit from learning a bit about typography. The type you choose for your website or your brand is a big part of how you express yourself, so follow some type blogs, buy some books, and study up. Also, don’t be embarrassed to search for popular typefaces or combinations of typefaces and use that as inspiration. – html is a great skill, but because technology changes so rapidly, learning… Read more »


PREACH. I’m also a graphic designer and occasionally have come across people laying out *books* in photoshop… learning the right tools for the job is essential and can save you so much time! Everything else you said is gold too.


Great post! I graduated from journalism school 6 years ago and have been able to seamlessly navigate through several industries, finally landing on one I love, because I had so many skills outside of writing/reporting. My experience has been what you get your degree in matters little compared to what you can actually DO. Don’t feel limited by your humanities degree; if you can code, take pictures, write copy, etc., you are totally employable.

Also with finances, don’t automatically take out all the loans if you don’t have to! Do the (tedious) work of scouring the Internet for scholarships and grants before you decide to take out loans. I hustled my ass off to pay for school and have so much more financial freedom without the huge monthly loan payment. Worth it.


This is fantastic! I actually did get to do a study abroad program over the summer (12 years ago in college) and it CHANGED MY LIFE. I left as a quiet, small town farm girl and when I came back my dad said “wow, you have gained so much confidence.” Now when I have to do something out of my comfort zone I think, well I did live in Spain and it was incredible and as far out of my comfort zone as you can get. Easily one of the best decisions I ever made.


That sounds exactly like me! Small town farm girl – off to France after high school. Wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.


My biggest regret was to finish university too quickly! I took extra classes and did summer school in order to get my degree in 3 years instead of 4. In hindsight I should have enjoyed this time of independence, learning and freedom. I did my full degree abroad though, so no regrets there 😉

I would also suggest to move away from home for university and learn how to pay bills on your own, look for your own place to rent, host friends, etc. Living at home might be necessary sometimes, but you can fall into a comfort zone of ‘mom and dad’ do everything for you just like when you were a kid.


It depends on a person. I didn’t have problem learning how to pay bills when I was living with my parents. I still had jobs and internships, and I had a car to pay for, phone, and I travelled. I just didn’t have to spend on food or pay rent and other bills since my parents had a house already where I could stay. And they were happy to have me there as I was helping them with a few things as well.
Living at home may be great, but doesn’t always save money or open up opportunities to do more in the long term. Commute to school/work can be tiring. One may not have enough time left to commute to see classmates and may loose out of networking. But it’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves. One has to decide which option will allow them to invest more in themselves.

Kristi Jensen

I just had my 18 year old daughter read this and she already set up an account with Mint! Thank you for posting this – she leaves for Hawaii Pacific University next week and I will be here in Rhode Island hoping she makes smart decisions all around. This was so eye-opening for her and I am grateful! Squeeze your babies tight – they grow up and move out so fast……….


All great points, especially developing basic computer proficiency and being unattached. A few more I’d add: – Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. This applies to both the academic experience (you’ll only become a better writer if you bring your paper to your prof for feedback) and the life experiences. Older people love giving advice and sharing their experiences, and this is a great way to get an extra hand along the way. It also will help foster deeper connections with professors/advisors/bosses, possibly even turning them into mentors. Just ASKING is what ultimately got me into some cool jobs (working for the university and at the local public radio station) and opportunities (special programs that I was unaware of before). Nobody can read your mind, so if you need something, ask! – Recognize that college functions both as professional (i.e. job) training AND personal enrichment. Often people focus on one path, eschewing the other. You can study microbiology with the plan to pursue pharmacy school, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t also take a 1-credit class in dance or learn about art history. Your job is, at the very minimum, the thing that will make you money —… Read more »


I’m an accountant (financial controller) and my husband is an accountant as well (corporate controller) so money is kind of our mindset 95% of the time. We use YNAB for budgeting (You Need A Budget) it’s the best BEST app for setting and achieving financial goals, consolidating your income, and accounting for your expenses. We have paid off almost $150K in student loans by working as a team and using this app. Both our parents never knew how to manage money and we learned the hard way. There are so many students in this same predicament, loads of student loans with no real path to pay them off. It’s so sad and I hope as a society we help young adults tackle this successfully.

Stephen Mintz

Nice article pure informative and knowledgeable thank you for sharing it.


Yes!! This is excellent advice! (And as a 33yo I have to say I don’t have an online portfolio and thinking that maybe it’s time I jump on that bandwagon. Eeek.) A piece of advice I tell students is to get admin experience if they can while they’re still at uni. It sounds less ‘fun’ than bartending/waitressing – not that it’s fun, but it’s what most people do and it sounds more exciting to be serving alcohol than dressing up for an office. But those 0.5 or 1 day a week jobs working at reception or admin person in an office (and you can get that even via temp agencies) will teach you how to be in an office, learn office dynamics, and that’s a great way to learn about mail merge/spreadsheets and other boring tasks. And by the time you start applying for jobs after uni, it’s such a plus on your CV! Even when we get interns, it makes it easier for us when they already know how to use things like Outlook/Excel AND they’re able to learn the interesting parts of the job so much faster because they’re not stressed out or bogged down by the admin… Read more »


I forgot to add that being thrown into the office world when you’re at uni is also a great way to gain maturity. It’s not always pleasant but it’s so out of your comfort zone when you’re a student, it forces you to ‘grow up’ a bit (in a good way). And that maturity is so apparent at job interviews!


These are all amazing tips!! The second to last one is really, really true – studying abroad had the most profound effect on my life after college. I took my first photography class studying abroad, became a photographer in my mid-twenties, and then during my first year of working for myself, photographed the wedding of one of my friends who was in that photography class with me so it really came full circle. And yes, I took out a $10,000 loan that semester to do it, came back afterwards with only savings-bonds-saved-from-birth to my name, but it was infinitely worth every penny because it is the one thing from my college years that I can point to that has a clear line to my life today. I feel like this list is pretty comprehensive without being too preachy…you and your team did a fabulous job!

Katy Skelton

Excellent advice! I would add that LinkedIn is actually a really useful and beneficial tool. Keep your profile updated, post photos of your work and include any and all jobs you have ever held. Just keep selfies and political links off your wall – you are there to promote your work. I am shocked at how many clients find me through LinkedIn because they need a freelance furniture designer.


Studying abroad is great advice, but if someone can’t do it (financially or because of constraints of their major) try to just travel! There is a small window of time in your life when you can travel inexpensively. One plane ticket is manageable, budget hotels and hostels are acceptable! There are student rates (flights, trains, theater!) to take advantage of all over the world. Seeing how other people live will make you a more compassionate human being.

Also – learn how to type with ALL your fingers, please! Typing is a skill you’ll use in almost every profession.


I can’t agree more with interning. Intern until you can’t fit anymore interning. I ended up doing a weird thing and going back to college when I was 27. By the time it was time to intern my advisor gave me the option to intern rather than make it a necessary part of the curriculum and I opted out of doing it (I had a baby at the time) and I SO SO SO regret it. I also wish I took way more photoshop and CAD classes. I’m struggling and trying to learn on my own to get ahead. This is great advice and you should listen to Emily and her crew!

Iona Clarke

Thanks Emily,my daughter is going off to college the end of the month. Appreciate the tips????????

Julie Roman

Excellent post. I so wish I was going off to college for a redo after reading this post. I was young, dumb, everything paid for (This is not a brag. It just highlights how bad I squandered how blessed I was…I fully work my tail off now) and had so much time on my hands. I thought I was soooo busy but truly I was just hung over and sleep deprived. I went to Providence College and I wasted so much time when I could have taken extra art classes at Rhode Island School of Design. Now I have to wait until my 3 kids are grown and out of the house before I can go back to school to learn what I love. I am going to forward this on and think this was a fabulous post.

Denise Thomas (@seattlejune)

Agreed about studying abroad. I also chose not to go for financial reasons as well. Should have taken more school loans! Study in another country, is the only advice I would give someone heading to college. Oh, and go to class. Sounds so silly, but just showing up is more than half the battle! Fun post!

Megan T

Great advice! The only thing I would add is that HTML / Photoshop are great skills but really any coding experience is good. If know a little bit of Java or CSS or HTML, then put it on your resume. Also your level/experience with that language should be on there as well. Don’t over-inflate your skills but it is really useful to say you have a tiny bit of experience. Once you know how to code you can learn any language that might be needed. Even if the job doesn’t need Java, the fact that you know some Java signals to the interviewer that you could probably learn what they need. Technology requirements are changing so rapidly that at some point it does not matter what language you know (HTML, Javascript, etc.) but just that you know a little bit of coding at all!

The best thing I ever did was take one single Java class in college! That got me my first job which I was then able to learn more skills and get experience in other things from that job.

Brandi is another alternative to Mint and I have found that it works so much better for me. Probably worth comparing the two but I know that both have phone apps as well as web platforms so you can access them anywhere. I wish I would have done this when I was in college but tracking all your spending really does help you make necessary adjustments. is also a free investment program that I wish would have been available 10-15 years ago because I’d have so much more saved by now! Putting everything on autopay is the key to good credit. Even if you just set it up to only pay the minimum and then can go back and pay more later, preventing late payments is so important. All this is great advice! Thanks for this post!


Great post. I have something to add. I’m a professor at a university and I cannot stress how important it is for students to build relationships with at least one or two faculty members so that you have references for future opportunities. Students will attend my class all year, do great on the assignments, but never once raise their hand to speak in class or come to my office hours, and then will ask me for a letter of recommendation for grad school or a job. I can tell you right now that it is extremely difficult to recommend someone for a position based solely on a multiple choice exam or term paper– how do I know if that person will be a good coworker or a leader? So students– make a point of talking to your professors and making an impression on them.


Extroverts and people who are highly ambitious (to the point they don’t necessarily do good work, but they will do whatever is necessary to climb to the top) will likely talk to professors and will make an impression on them because they will use others for their own benefit. Introverts and people who are a little more self-critical may be less inclined to talk to professors. As a student, I didn’t talk to professors enough. I was a good student and was active in class so that helped me. Outside of class, I didn’t want to bother them. I was independent and learned quickly, I felt I don’t need to talk to them because I’m able to grasp the content quickly and do well in assignments. Now I know it’s better to pretend at times that one doesn’t know everything and use that as an opportunity to building relationships. I get that now, but it took experience to become a college instructor as well as a manager, to understand what I need from students and interns. Please be less critical of those who don’t come to see you. Some people are shy, some simply feel they’d bother you if they… Read more »


There’s a book you’d love Emily called Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. LMAO reading it.


This is a bit far out, but if you’re hustling and earning money for college (which you should be — you appreciate your education so much more if you have skin in the game instead of having it handed to you), and if you have relatives who can afford to help you out? Ask them to fund a Roth IRA for you, for as much as possible based on your earnings. Starting retirement saving very young means interest has longer to accumulate.


Great post! I’m a millennial but this reminds me that I could use some better computer skills to keep up with my peers 🙂

Re: study abroad: I specifically selected a college known for its study abroad programs, which charged you the same amount for tuition/room/board etc whether you were abroad or local (and student loans were dispensed the same). They also arranged for us to stay with host families (which is where the room/board fees came in). The only extra cost for my semester in Chile was plane tickets and the fun tourist stuff I did and absolutely do not regret paying for.

So I’d say 1) if you know you want to study abroad in college, look closely into your chosen school’s policies on this because it may not be more expensive, and 2) even if it IS more expensive, it’s likely still cheaper to go through your school program than to spend 4 months abroad literally any other time in your adult life–so capitalize on it even if it means slightly more loans!


These are so great! If only I could travel back in time and offer up this advice to my younger self. Instead, I’ll forward it to my younger brother who is about to turn 21. I agree with one of the commenters that is does sound exhausting to be a young person these days but hell I guess that’s just our reality. I’m 31 and am still playing catchup (as a journalist who started off in print journalism I’ve had to make a lot of career pivots to say the least lol) I think that’s always going to be our reality because the technology changes so fast and yet we’re expected to know it all. Sigh.


i REALLY wish that i had read this when i was in college. literally every single piece of advice (except the service industry one) was something i needed to hear. UG. bookmarking this for like 15 years for my kids when they grow up.


Oh my gooooooooood, I think I just had a mid-life crisis reading this. This advice is invaluable.

Paige Flamm

Yes! I agree with all of these! After reading through your list, my husband and I did each of these things, except I never studied abroad, but I feel like we were so much more prepared for life after college because of it!


Lori K

great post -especially the finances part, there are so many good options these days for easily staying on top of your $$. I sometimes miss the freedom of college and being young but wouldn’t want to be under 30 anymore for anything… LOL!

Also, I NEED that blue and pink + pineapple fabric in my life – any chance you could tag it or direct me to an old post?!?!!!! xo


I wish someone told me all this, saving this for my daughter!

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