What I wish I had known in graduate school

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As I made my way through my graduate degrees in Counseling Psychology and Community Counseling, I did a lot right: I had a job in the field, I didn’t take out much debt, and I stayed engaged in classes even when I didn’t want to be there.

Yet, there are many things I should have done. I think my career would be even farther along if I had utilized that time in a different way. Maybe you’re in graduate school. Here in Traverse City, we have Western Michigan University’s University Extension campus, so I get a lot of questions like:

“What should I be doing now to help my career?”

“What do you wish you knew then, that you know now?”

“I’m not engaged in classes, what can I do?”

1. Share what you are learning

Unless you are going to be a professor, as a graduate student, you are closer to the current research than you will probably be at any point in your career. Once we get started in counseling, many of us rely on others to tell us what the most important findings are. This can be through professional organizations, speakers, webinars, or conferences. Rarely do everyday counselors write term papers for the fun of it.

So share what you are learning. In doing so, you will create an audience now. They will be waiting for the day that you graduate and enter the field. Also, if future interviewers Google your name, they will see the wealth of knowledge you have acquired.

Start accounts with Twitter, LinkedIn, professional Facebook page, and e-mail list. It is never too soon to start sharing. Just make sure you tell folks that you are a graduate student.

2. The power of a mentor

Most of my advancements have come through other people. Someone knew me from my internship and gave me a part-time counseling job. Someone saw me speak at a conference and they invited me to check out their agency. Someone refers to me now because they knew me back in high school. The world is all about connections.

In graduate school, you can still play the student card. You can ask questions, sit in on sessions, or learn in a much different way. Take the time to take a counselor in private practice out for lunch or for a coffee. People love passing on knowledge; use that as a way to learn from the best in your community.

3. Take advantage of student rates and volunteering

Professors, clinicians, and conference organizers are always looking for engaging young people to help them with technology, marketing, and planning. As a student you often get discounts or even free conferences. Often as a volunteer you can get discounts on lodging or other benefits.

4. Don’t underestimate your skills

Even though I am in my 30s, you probably know a lot more than I do about technology and how to use it. If a graduate student approached me and asked to guest blog about their experience, I would give them a shot. It would build my audience and give someone that is motivated a chance to grow their own skills.

Non-profits, boards of directors, and other groups are continually seeking help with keeping up with technology.

You can start building your career now. As your audience grows, people will be waiting for the day you graduate…what a great feeling that will be. Whether you are in Traverse City at Western Michigan University or somewhere else in the world, growing these skills now will help you launch an amazing counseling private practice.


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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor in Traverse City, MI where he owns Mental Wellness Counseling. He also runs a therapeutic sailing program called SAIL Champion.

Photo by Rodney Martin used with Creative Commons