Mixing Coursework and Experience

I am looking to start college next fall. Although I am currently undecided, I really like high-end technology. Specifically, I am interested in the topic of hardware and robotics. However, to pay for the degree, I want to look for a part-time job in a similar area so that I can gain some field experience while completing the coursework. Obviously, I understand that it is impossible to obtain a job in robotics without a degree. But are there quick courses or training can I look for that would help get an entry-level position in that field? 

Congratulations on creating a solid plan. You are placing yourself in a great position by looking to work and gain experience in a related field. Working part-time may even help with GPA. According to a CNBC article published in 2017, college students who work part-time tend to get better grades. The reason seems to be that these students are forced to structure their time; therefore, they develop time management skills important in all areas of life. Individuals generally gain work experience while in college through internship opportunities, volunteering, helping professors with undergraduate research, working on campus, or finding other part-time work. If the experience is tied in some way to the related field of study, such experience may stand out to employers looking at multiple candidates.   

Don’t necessarily focus on one route. Review all options and make informed decisions based on what is achievable. You seem to have several directions. One direction is to obtain work experience in any field, not necessarily related to a specific major. For example, many industries, such as the restaurant industry, seek workers that are in college and generally provide flexible work schedules that are accommodating to young individuals taking classes. The advantage of this option is that you would not be taking additional classes and can focus study time on your main goal, which is completing a college degree. Additionally, students gain skills by obtaining a part-time job while in college, and future employers will take this into consideration.  

The second option is to signup for training programs related to your degree. Consider that this will be more difficult as you will also be responsible for managing the rigor that college degrees entail. Therefore, apart from fulfilling the requirements of the training courses, class work for college will be an additional responsibility. However, many institutions offer non-degree training programs suited for individuals seeking to enter specific fields, including robotics and hardware-related industries. If you can finish the training program and earn a job in the sector, employers will most likely value the experience and the accompanying college degree, setting you apart from other potential candidates.

The next option is looking for an entry-level position that does not require prior experience within the industry. For example, 3d printing service companies require operators, but they will also eventually require individuals with advanced skills that favor college graduates. If you have the skills behind 3d printing, you could find yourself working in the automotive, manufacturing, or even aerospace industries! The idea is to think creatively. Ask yourself, what industries am I interested in that have positions that can catalyze a different job that will require a college degree? Afterward, contact these companies and see if they are hiring. Also, review job board or employment websites like Monster. Tie your resume with the job description and place special emphasis on your experience and degree.

The job market is becoming increasingly competitive, and employers are becoming more demanding in the criteria used for selecting candidates. Therefore, job seekers need to set themselves apart and create distance between other similar candidates. Students that can obtain work experience and complement such experience with a degree will hold an advantage, and such differences will be highlighted when companies compare resumes.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” -- Abraham Lincoln

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