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No matter what your friends may tell you, elite employers do care about your college grades. This is especially true for competitive summer internships and the most sought-after entry level positions. So with that reality check, what can you do about a lackluster GPA?

1. Switch gears on your grades ASAP. The sooner you start adding stronger grades to a mediocre average, the better. So if your social life or extra-curricular activities are interfering with academics, revamp your priorities. If you are having genuine difficulty in specific courses, seek out your professor or teaching assistant, or even hire a tutor. Do not wait until you are sinking into the quicksand, unless you want your main business communication phrase to be: “Do you want fries with that?”
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It depends… on what you ultimately decide to do, either in college or after college. During undergraduate, you may choose to transfer to a more prestigious school, or apply for a cool study abroad program that requires a good GPA. After college, you may aspire to an elite graduate or professional program, or a top tier company entry level position. If whatever goal you end up choosing does not require decent grades, then you’ll be ok if you slack off. But if you slack off, and later decide on a higher aspiration, then you’re screwed. Let’s look at the possible goals after college that could require a strong  GPA.

1. Law School. According to US News & World Report, the 25th-75th percentile GPA scores for all students for the lowest of the top ten law schools is 3.5-3.9. If your GPA is on the low side, that puts more pressure on your LSAT score.

2. Graduate Business School. According to US News & World Report, the average GPA score for the lowest of the top ten graduate B-schools is 3.5. If your GPA is low, that puts more pressure on your GMAT score.
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Note: This is an update of my popular 11/09 post (where new data were available). Since last year, it is important to note that Sunbelt cities, especially in Texas, have peppered the top ten lists in greater numbers. Austin, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Atlanta are well worth considering.

Graduating from college in this economy! Finding a job in your field, in a stimulating city where you can survive the cost of living and have a social life.  What a complicated equation! So many “best cities” rankings! San Francisco is a cool place to live, but how can you can afford it right out of college? You can afford Omaha, and hey, Warren Buffet lives there, but what will you do on Saturday night?
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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, higher education journalist, author of The College Solution, and expert on all things college and financial at the College Solution Blog and CBS Money Watch, recently wrote a thought-provoking piece called “8 Reasons Not to Get A Business Degree.” I highly recommend Lynn’s post for college students wrestling with the daunting task of choosing a  major. I was intrigued to find that employers favor liberal arts majors because of their critical thinking, communications and teamwork skills.
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That said, how can a liberal arts major prepare for a job in the real world?
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Like a broken record, your parents keep nagging: “Have you gone over to Career Services yet?” Automatically, you don’t want to go there. It’s like a sugary Pollyanna suggesting you skip down to the public library to find a book when it’s so much easier to download that book to your Kindle. It sounds even more lame when the guys in your fraternity tell you it’s worthless, even though they themselves have never gone over there (they just listened to their frat bro’s who have never gone either).

The reasoning goes something like this: “University career center counselors are most likely bureaucratic paper pushers who probably couldn’t get a better gig themselves. So how can they help me anyway?” How good the career counselors are ultimately depends on your college’s local job market. But that’s not why you go there. Here are the proverbial three reasons to visit your university’s career center, early and often:
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You’re a junior in college, beginning to sweat about getting a job after graduation, listening to all the horrifying urban legends about recent grads from elite colleges who are still unemployed. But there’s not much you can do yet about your future, except nailing a good GPA, posting your profile on LinkedIn, and checking in with your college’s career services office about summer internships.

Ok, so here’s a thought: take the GMAT (or the LSAT, or the GRE–or even all three, what Grad.spot calls the “unholy trinity of graduate school testing) while you’re “still smart.” Within the first three years out of college, you will probably want to apply to graduate school. Especially if the job you are able to get out of college is not what you want to be doing the rest of your life.

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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”
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This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field. Many professionals are willing to take the time to help a student in this advisory way.

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AT LAST!
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You finished your summer internship and you’re back on campus. Time to dive into September frat parties, catch up with friends, make sure you’re enrolled in the right classes with the best professors from RateMyProfessors.com. Another college semester is underway!

Not quite. You’ve got a few things to do before your summer internship fades into history…

1. Update your resume.Describe what you accomplished in your summer job, before you forget. If it was an internship, what were your responsibilities, what did you initiate, what did you achieve? If you didn’t have great opportunities to change the world, you still may have gained exposure to how systems work in your field, and that is valuable too. Tweak it later, but at least write it down.

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A recent post from Businessweek‘s daily “Getting In” blog asked, “MBA Applications: Is the Party Over?” Based on the Graduate Management Admissions Council‘s GMAT registration numbers from first four months of 2009, the volume of B-school applications may be leveling off after an all-time high in 2007-08.
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Reporter Ann Vander Mey points out the precedent for a boom, then bust in B-school applications during recessions: “During the 2001 dot-com bust, there was a spike in applications as people fled the job market. The spike was followed by falling GMAT test volume for the next three years.” Mey makes a persuasive argument for a similar pattern occuring today: “The financial industry, once B-schools grads’ bread and butter, is in crisis ; many news outlets, including this one, have published articles about MBAs graduating without jobs; and the MBA brand itself has taken a beating.”

Leveling out of MBA applications may be a paradoxical bright spot in the dismal 2009 economy. This past cycle was “not a pretty picture” for many applicants! My clientele fared well, but geographic flexibility was essential: a willingness to consider elite graduate business programs beyond the Northeast Corridor.

According to US News & World Report‘s 2009 rankings of the top 15 B-schools, acceptance rates for Northeast Corridor MBA programs were: HBS 11.5%, MIT Sloan 15.0%, Yale 14.4%, Columbia 15.1%, NYU Stern 13.6% (11th rank but ground zero for financial services!) and Wharton 16.3%. With the exception of Stanford and Berkeley, top schools outside the Corridor had higher acceptance rates: Third-ranked Northwestern Kellogg 19.4%, U.of Chicago 21.9%, Dartmouth Tuck 16.0%, U.of Michigan 20.1%, UCLA 19.5%, UVA Darden 24.6%, Carnegie-Mellon 28.3%, and Duke Fuqua 30.4%.

Recommended reading: The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In by Chioma Isiadinso. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA.

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College is fun. You’re surrounded by smart, dynamic young adults. Constantly stimulated by intellectually engaging courses. Enriched by a convenient array of extra-curricular activities and entertainment venues. What’s not to love? The only thing not to love is that college ends. You have to enter the “real” world. OMG!

How will you be prepared for that? Not just career choice, job search, the entry level job. But the whole enchilada: renting an apartment, furnishing your living space, buying insurance, leasing a car, investing, filing tax returns, finding doctors, figuring out a commute, creating an urban social life…the list goes on.

If this post suffers from link overload, it’s because there’s so much help out there! Every young adult is a unique individual, whose life will unfold mysteriously, serpendipitously, sometimes quixotically. But once in a while, a book, website, or personal story can offer a clue.

SELF-DISCOVERY: Books: What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, and Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Career by Nicholas Lore.

CAREER EXPLORATION. Books: The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, and How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.  Websites: Careers-in-Business.com, CareerTV , and WetFeet.com/Careers/Industries.

PERSONAL BRANDING & POSITIONING. Students often cringe at “personal branding” lingo because it sounds like  “packaging” or “selling out.” But it is really about knowing your authentic self, putting your best foot forward, and being true. Books: Man aging Brand You: 7 Steps to Creating Your Most Successful Self by Jerry Wilson & Ira Blumenthal. Websites: Dan Schwabel’s Personal Branding Blog.

JOB SEARCH & FIRST JOB: Books: Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career by Sheila J. Curran, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit, and  From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher.

Websites: CollegeGrad.com, WetFeet.com, ResumeBear.com, QuintessentialCareers.com, SimplyHired.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com(College), and  CollegeBuilder(CBCampus).com.

GETTING AN “AFTER COLLEGE” LIFE: Books: How to Survive the Real World: Life After College Graduation: Advice from 774 Graduates Who Did by HOH Books, The Quarterlifer’s Companion: How to Get On the Right Career Path, Control Your Finances, and Find the Support Network You Need To Thrive by Abby Wilner, Ramen Noodles, Rent & Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life by Kirsten Fischer. Websites: Gradspot.com and LifeAfterCollegeForum.com.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart,Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance.

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