College and Career Advice from around North Texas | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

North Texans Share Their Best College and Career Advice

Our volunteers reveal what works and what doesn’t as you start out life after high school.

Sometimes, the best way to figure out a plan for your future is to hear directly from people who have been there.

In May, our volunteer focus was college and career readiness. We asked people from all walks of life across North Texas to share their experiences with applying for and attending college, finding a career path, interviewing for jobs and finding work that they enjoy.

What does being “college or career ready” mean? Figuring out your path for the future, exposing yourself to relevant experiences and education, and developing the skills you need to get where you want to be.

College and career readiness is a focus of ours because the more young North Texans who achieve financial security, the better our community as a whole can be. That’s why one of our Aspire United 2030 Goals is to increase by 20% the number of young adults in our region who earn a living wage. This will add nearly $800 million in wages per year to the local economy.

College and career readiness is also important on an individual scale. The choices you make today will impact your financial stability and career satisfaction for years to come.

To help you determine your own path, we’re sharing some of our favorite advice from United Way volunteers. (And while you’re here: United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has a wide variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the year, and we’d love for you to be part of the movement. Visit our VOMO page to see our current and upcoming volunteer programs.)

Haley Bonneval

Haley Bonneval

Risk Analyst at Citigroup

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. The day-to-day structure is very different from high school, and you’re away from your family. It’s now up to you to take charge and manage your day-to-day life, and making the wrong choice is OK! It’s all about learning and growing.

How can young people identify and pursue success and happiness in their career?
Ask for your personal time to be respected. My first job was essentially around the clock, although not supposed to be, so eventually I talked to my managers because I was unhappy and not taking care of myself. They agreed to respect a set block of working hours, and I agreed to be flexible during busy season.

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
Enjoy your time in college. Companies are recruiting very early on now, and you don’t want to miss some of those opportunities, but don’t forget that you have college first and then your career. Also, colleges have so many clubs that will help you in your career, but sometimes you have to look for that yourself!

Dr. Maya Fernandez

Dr. Maya Fernandez

Director of Career Placement at the Dallas College Employer Resource Center

What is one of the most important tips you can share when applying for or touring colleges?
Apply to several and tour all! Keep your options open; don’t limit yourself to a few colleges.

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
Join student clubs/organizations. Find out if there is a freshman-specific club/mentoring opportunities. Plug in! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Meet your professors. Make a friend or two in each class so you have someone to study with, someone to navigate the class with.

Jeff Sargent

Jeff Sargent

Development Director at Native Prairies Association of Texas

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
Stay focused on the long-term: what kind of life you want after college. A satisfying career, family, contributing to society, whatever that may be. It is easy to get distracted by the short-term social aspects of college. Not that you should completely avoid those things, just don’t let them interfere with your goals. You will make friends for life in college. Spend time with people who make you better, not who pull you into dangerous or foolish situations.

How can young people identify and pursue success and happiness in their career?
Find something to do that you can’t wait to start when you wake up in the morning. Don’t worry about the pay at first, because if you are successful and persistent, that will come. Don’t just chase every opportunity because it pays more. Make long-term goals and stay with them, while evaluating and adjusting as needed along the way. There’s also no shame in quitting something if you discover it is not the right fit for you and changing direction. Finally, every job I’ve had in the last 25 years, except one, I got because of a personal connection rather than a cold interview. I knew someone at the other job who liked and trusted me. Networking well and being trustworthy are invaluable.

Susan Craig

Susan Craig

Talent Development Partner at Texas Instruments

Please recommend an important question candidates should ask in a job interview.
When big changes happen in your organization, how are they typically communicated to employees? (Tells you about culture). In this role, can you tell me what other teams will intersect with my work? (Tells you about teamwork/collaboration practices)

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
Don’t let others’ opinions of you define who you are. You get to define who you are, what you believe and what you will accomplish. You can do anything!

Anna Gomez

Anna Gomez

Program Manager at JPMorgan Chase

What is one of the most important tips you can share when applying for or touring colleges?
As students are applying for college, financial aid and scholarships, it’s critical to find a system that works for them in keeping organized. This may be the first time that they experience that missing a deadline will result in real consequences. For example, I’ve met a lot of students who put off applying for scholarships until the end of the school year when most scholarship apps have closed and have drastically narrowed their options for where they can attend due to financial constraints.

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?Students will hear this 1,000 times over, but DO attend office hours. It’s critical that professors get to know them on a personal level, especially in classes that are large lecture courses. Your professor is much more likely to grant you an extension to a deadline, recommend you for programs/awards/internships, write you a recommendation letter and open doors for you if they know who you are. Make them your advocate!

Christa Ochoa

Christa Ochoa

Research Analyst at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
If you have to choose between perfect grades and meaningful work-related experiences or opportunities to learn new skills, always choose the latter. Employers won’t care that you have a perfect 4.0 if you don’t have any relevant work experience or skills. But also don’t forget to have fun! I met my lifelong friends in college, and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build lasting relationships and try new things.

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?Identify your unique strengths and look at careers that allow you to use them. There are lots of great questionnaires online that will help you with this. Don’t just pursue a career just because you think it’s what you think you “should” do.

Kerris Clark

Kerris Clark

Founder and CEO of Black Muralcal LLC

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
To take care of yourself mentally! As a resident assistant for two years, I had to create programs to educate my residents on the importance of a variety of health topics. Mental health is one of the biggest topics I always incorporated. It is very important to know how to take breaks, utilize resources and not overload your social-work life, which can deplete you and cause burnout. Preserve your health through these challenging years in college! You can only do so much in 24 hours!

How can young people identify and pursue success and happiness in their career?
You must stay consistent, prepared and ready to learn from failure, rejection and accepting a job you didn’t plan to take. Although those things are temporary. You must remain consistent to keep developing yourself for that dream career. “Never settle for less,” I like to say.

Key'Andrea Davis

Key’Andrea Davis

Employee Programs Director at Mr. Cooper Group

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
FIND OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO STUDY PRIOR TO TAKING CLASSES. (Sorry to type in caps, but I just don’t want you wasting time and money!) I am happy that I majored in something I loved (mass communications and journalism with an emphasis in PR), but I know many people who wasted a lot of time and money because they had no idea what their passion was. I may not be in PR like I thought I’d be, but I still use some of the tools I learned in college within my role today.

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
Slow down and enjoy college. Once college is over, it’s over and it’s time to get a job and be a REAL adult. I love the saying, “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap.” lol. Seriously though, growing up is going to happen fast enough, so get good grades in college, but get involved, too. My best college moments were when I joined my sorority, when I volunteered at Habitat, and when I participated in welcoming incoming freshmen, once I no longer was a freshman. When it comes to a career, find a job you’re passionate about and find a job where the company cares about your well-being, too. When you thrive and are doing well, the company thrives and does well, too!

Jillian Ingram

Jillian Ingram

Retail Platform Banker at Comerica Bank

What is one of the most important tips you can share when applying for or touring colleges?
Makes sure you apply for any and all scholarships and grants that are available for you. Also, ensure that institution is invested in not just your application, but your graduation.

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
Keep your eye on the prize. It’s great to finally be out on your own and have freedom, but discipline has to always be in play. Have fun, but stay focused on why you are there: your degree.

Paul Gomez

Paul Gomez

Test Engineer at Texas Instruments

How can young people identify and pursue success and happiness in their career?
Own your own path. No one will ever do this for you. Mentors can only suggest what you SHOULD do, but you ultimately have to make the decision. Be confident in who you are and what you believe in. Don’t be afraid to share what you know. Keep work-life balance at the top of your priority list

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
You have amazing opportunities in this digital world. Run with it. You will create a fully digital future. Get into blockchain programming 😉

Casey Lewis

Casey Lewis

Experience Manager at Grant Thornton

What is one of the most important tips you can share for how to successfully maneuver through college?
If you can handle it, I would highly suggest having a part-time job through college. When I’m interviewing people now, I think the stronger candidates are those who can manage keeping up their grades while also working a job. You don’t have to put on your resume that you only worked maybe 10-15 hours each week, but it shows that you can manage your time well, which is an important skill in the job market these days.

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
College can be a lot of fun, but don’t forget that you are paying for school now. I went to a larger university for five years, but looking back I wish I would have gone to a local community college and gotten my basics out of the way… it would have saved me a lot of money. But if you decide you want the full college experience from the beginning, apply for ALL of the scholarships you can. It might seem pointless, but some of the ones I thought there was no way I would get ended up giving me some money. And some money is better than me having to take out more of a loan to pay back later!

Christina Lovell

Christina Lovell

Senior Lead at Texas Mutual Insurance Company

What is one of the most important tips you can share when applying for or touring colleges?
Talk to current students and come prepared with questions to ask that are important to you.

What tips do you have for high school students who are about to take that next big step?
Stay focused, get involved and get out of your comfort zone. But most importantly remember coffee is your friend…. 🙂

This article was published on: Jul 1, 2021