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Brand Yourself: Your Degree is Not Enough


Graduates are grumbling- their degree didn’t get them what they’d hoped.  No longer will a degree guarantee a shiny lucrative career with enough income to pay off those precarious student loans.

To get noticed you must stand out. Your degree is nothing more than a piece of paper that states you’ve done the BARE MINIMUM to make yourself marketable to employers or graduate schools.   Don’t wait out the economy- the fact is, the job market and academia has changed- your degree is unremarkable.  You must be remarkable.


Even if the economy rebounded immediately- the fact remains the same, a degree does not have the clout it used to.  The answer to this isn’t to get a “higher degree,”  you’ll have the same problem applying for grad schools as you will applying for jobs.   Thousands of students are graduating each semester, and thousands more are enrolling in higher degree programs to wait out this bad economy- while a degree is essential for many careers, is it enough? Short answer: No.

The fact is, competition is fierce. Truth be told, hiring agents cannot see past the piece of paper- to the hours you labored over a tough chemistry exam, the the fact that you’re a first generation college student, or the blood/sweat/tears that you put forth above and beyond that of your peers to graduate with honors (or to graduate at all).  That piece of paper tells them nothing except that you at least meet the minimum qualifications for their position.   What will make you noticeable in a pile of degree-holding applicants is what is the papers of your resume, your cover letter and the impression you make on your interview.  Sadly though, these areas are rarely fully developed in the coursework required for today’s average baccalaureate degree.

Speaking from experience, I have seen plenty of qualified, recent graduates get rejected or just ignored for relying on their degree- even when that degree is from a prestigious university.  You owe it to yourself to stand out from the crowd, you cannot afford to blend in.



Market Yourself as More Than a Piece of Paper:

-Work for Free. The youth of previous generations had to work hard for years to reach levels of respectable status and income- your degree does not mean you get to expedite that process.  You will probably have to work just as much as they did, but you just did 4-6 years in a classroom first.   Intern at a company you’d like to work for, or at least get some experience volunteering at a company that’d look good on your resume.  You may not be getting paid, but you will be getting a line on your resume- which looks far better on paper than post-graduate unemployment.

-Research and Network. Somewhere, out there- is someone doing what you want to do.  Living the life you want to live.  Find these people, even if it’s just by reading their blog, watching their interviews on YouTube or reading their memoir.  Smart people have already written just about everything you need to know to get your dream job- I assure you, there is a probably a “Guide for Dummies,” on your given industry or topic.  Find people doing what you want to do and seek out their wisdom.


-Grow. Sadly, most universities today produce cookie-cutter degrees with cookie-cutter graduates.  You need to discover ways to differentiate from the pack.   Start filling your life with inspiration and experience that you didn’t get in the classroom.  Read books about people that have lead phenomenal lives, participate in the community and start doing things you’ve always wanted to do- travel, explore, question.  This is the time.  If you’re feeling downtrodden from the job hunt, you need to recharge your batteries, or perhaps explore a new way of approaching the search.


-Brand Yourself. The term “branding” is usually used for marketing- but increasingly it is used to market people.  Using social media and blogs to market yourself is a relatively new phenomena but has been hugely successful if done correctly.  Barack Obama comes to mind as someone who pioneered social media to get “hired,” as the United States President, but similarly, you can use blogging or social media to get yourself known and build credibility within your niche or industry.  Improving your contacts, writing skills and computer know-how can only boost your hireability.


More on Branding:

How to Brand Yourself in a Competitive Job Market– Q&A @MarketingProfs

How to Brand Yourself @RuckMakers

7 Secrets to Getting Your Next Job Using Social Media @Mashable

Maruchan, the breakfast of championsThe best advice to save money on your campus is to be resourceful (beyond stocking up on Top Ramen).   Each school is different in how it provides perks to its students, so keep an eye out for freebies.  Until then, here are some resources for your resourcefulness:

-Free Amazon Prime: If you’re a student, you can sign up for a free year of Amazon Prime for free shipping on anything- not just textbooks or school supplies.  Sign up with your student email here.

-Cell Phone Discounts: I currently save 17% on my phone bill each month just for having a student email address.  Know that not all schools have deals negotiated with cell phone providers, and rates may vary from school to school.  Call or visit your provider’s website for details by looking up “Employee Discount.”

-Student Rates on Software: Again, different schools offer different discounts, but you can get software cheaper than retail if you’re a student and your school qualifies.  One site that does this is

-Fee Waivers: If you haven’t submitted applications yet, be sure to check if you’re eligible for an application fee waiver.  Visit the university’s website and type “application fee waiver,” in the search bar.  I was able to save several hundred dollars this way when I applied to grad school.

-TRIO/SSS: If you are a first generation and/or low income college student, see if your school has any of these federal programs.  Different states might have local organizations like this- such as one I was in, California State University’s Educational Opportunity Program.  Each semester I received stipends and access to free facilities, mentoring and book and equipment loans.  Call your financial aid office to see what programs are set up at your school if you can’t find information online.  (Also know you will have to fill out a FAFSA to qualify for these programs as they are need based).

-Free Books: I seriously never want to buy a book for school again, so I use Inter-Library Loan at my university.  You can request your syllabus early or look up the booklist at your school’s bookstore or student center.  Get to the library ASAP and request whatever you can.  Also, almost textbooks are available to check out in-house for a few hours, or can be found in academic labs on campus, so get your tuition’s worth and use what’s available!

-Free Food: If you don’t know how great college is for free food, you haven’t been paying attention.  Campuses are notorious for having bulletin boards plastered with campus events and information sessions that feed attendees.

-Campus Jobs: Simply being around faculty and staff will mean you will have a network in place that will put you ahead of your peers in terms of finding the best scholarships, exclusive campus events and people to write better letters of recommendations for scholarships and graduate programs.  Working on campus builds rapport with staff and helps you connect with hard-to-find perks.

I graduated from my (relatively affordable) state college DEBT FREE and was able to save enough to put money towards my graduate education. How? It all starts with an application.

If you’re attending college- you need to fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available online and can be done in a relatively short amount of time-don’t be intimidated! Doing so will help you qualify for any available aid in three categories: Federal aid, State aid and School/Private aid and scholarships.
As soon as your taxes are done for the previous tax year (and your parents if you’re claimed as a dependent) start the application.

Even if you feel you will not qualify for Federal or State Student Aid, your FAFSA results are still required in order to apply for certain scholarships through your school or charitable scholarship funds.

Log on to Fafsa.Ed.Gov with the following:
-Your social security number, along with your parents if you are claimed as a dependent (and under 24 years of age).
-Driver’s license information, and the birth dates of your parents (if they are claiming you).
-Your most recent income tax return AND that of your parents (if they claim you).
-Your bank statements and parent’s financial information. (This will be used to document your assets- if you fill a form out online, you will not have to have an official hard copy, but you will have to be honest!)
-Apply for an online PIN to log in. If your parents are claiming you, you will need to register them as well- which might delay your completion (based on how cooperative your parents are).  DO NOT lose your pin- you will need it to access your information to edit or reapply later!

The Deadline:
Each school has a different date for the priority registration of the FAFSA. The sooner you apply, the better.

Don’t get frustrated or hung up on the details- just like doing taxes, it’s an annoying process and sometimes not having the right information on hand can be a stumbling block.

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January 2020
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