College tips 101: How to set yourself up for a high-paying career (before and after graduation)


You’ve narrowed down what you want to study and when your projected graduation date will be. 

You know you want to land a high-paying job after graduation, but you’re starting to wonder if you’ll actually be able to.

Without years of experience in the field, how will you know how to market yourself or who to interview with? How will you know what pay level to start at? How will you know which companies to stay away from?

In this guide, we’ll take a look at six tips you can implement (before and after graduation) to set yourself up for a high-paying career.

Before graduation 

Here are three ways to set yourself up for a high-paying career before graduation:

Start refining your niche and relevant special skills 

Nurturing your skills and refining your niche before graduation is essential to becoming an expert in your field — and getting hired at a well-paid job. 

Being in a niche market means you’ll:

  • Be able to demand a higher salary 
  • Serve a gap in the market
  • Have the unique opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants
  • Have a narrower market with reduced competition

Here are some tips to help you refine your niche and build relevant skills:

1. Use open education resources (OERs) 

Open education resources like StuDocu help students find the study materials they need to expand their knowledge in a selected field. OERs are typically online platforms or databases students can use to search and share study materials, like class notes and study guides. 

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Use OERs to study up on your field and expand your knowledge base on specific industry-related topics. 

2. Build an online presence showcasing your niche

It’s never too late to build an online presence that showcases what you do and what you know. From building a targeted audience base on social media to posting industry-specific articles on your blog, building an online presence gives hiring managers an inside look at your soft and hard skills. 

If you’re not ready to start a social media presence or a blog, create a website and an online resume or portfolio to showcase your work. LinkedIn is also a great place to add your resume and network with other professionals.

3. Find your niche

Finding your niche may sound like a daunting task, but all it really means is finding something specific that:

  • You love
  • You’re good at
  • You can be paid for
  • The job market needs

To do this, start by mapping out everything you love about your field of study. What specific aspects are you drawn to? What parts are you naturally good at? What parts do you love learning about?

Then, conduct job market research to find out which niches and special skills are sought after the most in your field.

Learn how to manage and invest money 

Landing a high-paying job is important, but knowing how to manage and invest what you make from that job is just as important. 

To manage your money strategically, you’ll need to know how to budget, save, pay off debt, and help your money grow. 

For helpful advice on managing and investing your money, The Motley Fool is a great resource especially when you are starting out with buying stocks

Learning how to manage your money before graduation is crucial to getting debt-free and making your money work for you once you land a job.

Boost your experience and networking efforts 

Don’t put off building relevant experience and a network until after you’ve received your degree. 

It takes time to build a quality resume and network. Waiting until after graduation to do so puts you at risk of not having the requirements hiring managers are looking for. 

Yes, your degree is important. But frequently, who you know and what experience you have will play a major role in whether or not you get hired. 

When boosting your experience, look for internships, part-time jobs, and freelance opportunities that can help you practice what you’re learning and sharpen your skills. At the end of every internship, job, or freelance project, make sure to collect positive testimonials about your experience. Then, embed your testimonials in the testimonials section of your resume and on your website. 

When networking, look for industry experts and networking groups you can join online and in person. Facebook groups and LinkedIn are great networking platforms. 

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After graduation 

Here are three ways that you can set yourself up for a high-paying career after graduation.

Don’t shy away from discussing pay with fellow alumni 

After graduation, you and your peers are in the job search stage together — which means some of your peers may get jobs in your field before you do. When that happens, you’ll have the opportunity to ask them questions about their pay, bonus structures, and job perks.

The key is to take advantage of this opportunity and simply ask your fellow alumni more about what they do and what benefits they have. 

Nelson Sherwin, the manager of several PEO Companies, says, “when employees are actively encouraged to discuss pay with one another, they can catch discrepancies that HR might have missed, which is extremely helpful for both the employee — who now potentially gets more money coming their way — as well as the HR representative who otherwise might not have ever caught it.”

In other words, don’t shy away from discussing pay with your old college friends if they land jobs before you. Doing so could benefit you, them, and even industry-related HR practices. 

Refuse to start with low pay

A lot of graduates make the mistake of jumping to accept low-paying jobs. Maybe they’re desperate for work, could use the experience, or they think starting at the bottom is what everyone does. While that can work, it can also take much longer to climb up the pay scale if you start out too low. 

So what should you do instead? Know what the standard rates are for beginners in your industry. 

For instance, if you’re interested in being a journalist, you may find out that the standard pay for beginner journalists is 12 cents per word. But you may also receive lower offers that pay only two to three cents per word. 

Now imagine how long it would take you to scale up to 12 cents from two or three cents per word? It could take years before you’re on track to just earn entry-level industry rates. But if you start out at 12 cents per word, it won’t take you nearly as much time to scale up to 48 cents per word and beyond.  

When reviewing offers, don’t jump at the first ones you see. Always make sure the pay rate is standard for beginners in your industry. 

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Set up informational interviews 

An informational interview is a conversation with an employee or a manager to learn more about their job.  

Informational interviews allow you to ask someone everything you need to know about their career

If you want to be a marine biologist, you’ll probably interview other marine biologists. If you want to be an oncology nurse, you’ll probably interview other oncology nurses. 

Informational interviews can also help you practice your interviewing skills and boost your confidence before going into a job interview with an employer. They can also help you understand what steps you need to take to land a job and what kind of industry-specific language to use in your resume.

Wrap up 

Setting yourself up for a high-paying career is possible when you have a pre-and-post-graduation strategy to get you there. By refining your niche, building your experience, and staying on top of industry standards, you’ll be on your way to landing your dream career. 

Ioana Wilkinson

Ioana is a freelance content writer and SEO strategist for B2B and B2C brands specializing in Business, Marketing, Tech, and Mental Health. Born in Transylvania, raised in Texas, and transplanted to Barcelona, Ioana’s next move is taking her to sunny Mexico. 

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