Linking College and Real-World Experiences: How to Set Yourself Up for Success Outside of the Classroom - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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February 27, 2019

Linking College and Real-World Experiences: How to Set Yourself Up for Success Outside of the Classroom

As a student, it's easy to get caught up in the stress of academic obligations. From papers to group projects and especially exams, schoolwork often takes precedence over all else. In reality, however, there's far more to success than classroom endeavors alone.

To make it in your career — and in life — you need to accurately apply the knowledge you've gained in class to real-world situations. This ability cannot be gained purely from textbooks or lectures but, rather, through in-person experience. The sooner you gain this experience, the better an edge you'll enjoy as you seek out rewarding career opportunities.

How Real-World Experience Helps You Make the Most of Your Degree

If you're like many students, you sometimes struggle to connect the concepts covered in your classroom or textbooks to your future career pursuits. You might begin to wonder: Why does that reading or term paper matter? Why do you need to prepare so thoroughly for exams?

Caught up in deadlines and routines, you may neglect to think critically about course material and how the skills you're currently gaining might benefit you in the future. If your academic pursuits feel as if they hold little purpose, you'll struggle to stay motivated.

Real-world experience allows you to bridge this divide; immersed in the field, you can see critical concepts play out in real time. This is true not only for career-oriented courses, but also general education. For example, students across a broad range of disciplines can easily see the importance of their college writing courses as soon as they're asked to write business emails, draft press releases, or develop lesson plans.

Only with experience do you realize not only how much you've learned in class and how necessary that knowledge is, but also how much you have yet to learn.

Opportunities for Gaining Experience Outside of the Classroom

Experiential learning is directly built into many academic programs, with students often required to complete clinicals or capstones prior to graduation. Other opportunities, however, require more personal initiative. The following are among the most commonly pursued options for gaining real-world experience:


Internships are increasingly seen as a prerequisite to full-time work in a variety of fields. Often available for credit, these structured work experiences provide critical skill development while connecting you to key industry players who can help you find the perfect post-graduation job. The career-boosting impact is increasingly borne out by research; a notable study from the NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition suggests that the more internships students complete, the more likely they are to find employment within six months of graduation.

Capstone Projects

Capstone projects connect academic learning with real-world situations while encouraging both critical and introspective thought. Often self-guided, capstone projects involve rigorous research, with students diving in-depth into a specific niche. While capstones can vary dramatically depending on the student's major and personal interests or goals, they often involve extended interaction with faculty or influential professionals.

Part or Full-Time Jobs

Students tend to prioritize internships, but there remains plenty of value in traditional part or full-time jobs. Most students work in some capacity while attending college; research from the Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce suggests that over 70 percent of college students have worked at some point while attending school. Ideally, students can find ways to apply newfound skills in these positions while also using them as a stepping stone for future career endeavors.

Sometimes, jobs held during college will relate directly to desired career outcomes — for example, nursing students pursuing their BSN often seek jobs as nurse's aides or assistants. In other situations, industry exposure may be subtler, but still valuable. Examples could include administrative work or even customer service in a niche industry.

Volunteer Positions

A variety of organizations are eager for help and happy to provide workplace exposure that might otherwise be out of reach. Volunteer positions allow you to develop essential skills while expanding your professional network and boosting your resume. Perhaps more importantly, however, these positions are personally rewarding. You'll come away with a sense of satisfaction that can only be gained by giving of yourself to those who need help most.

Clinical Experience

Healthcare-oriented majors typically require students to obtain a specific number of clinical hours prior to graduation. Clinical courses allow students to gain hands-on experience while still enjoying plenty of support and instruction. Upon completion, students feel better equipped to handle future workplace challenges.

Student Teaching

Education is unique in that it's impossible to enter the profession without acquiring significant real-world experience. While aspiring teachers often receive regular exposure to actual classrooms as early as their freshman year, student teaching provides by far the most enlightening experience. Many education students report learning the most while immersed all day, every day, in a real classroom environment.

Making the Most of Experiential Learning Opportunities

Experiential learning is a gift, but it takes a unique combination of passion and discipline to make the most of real-world opportunities. This includes hard work both in and out of the classroom. As you proceed with lectures and required readings, keep an eye out for connections to your internship or volunteer position. Likewise, look closely for important theories or concepts you've covered in class as you immerse yourself in your field of choice. Take time to reflect on and write about your latest discoveries.

No matter your major or desired career, you can benefit greatly from experiential learning opportunities. The more you're exposed to your field of choice, the better prepared you'll be to make your mark in the workplace post-graduation.

If you’d like to learn more about professions that enable you to serve wholeheartedly and faithfully in your life’s work or want to learn more about a biblically based, Christ-centered education at Geneva, we’d love to chat with you. For more information on how Geneva College can help you pursue your education and career goals, please phone us at 855-979-5563 or email