Learning outside of the classroom: The value of experience

By Emily Peiffer

Emily Peiffer is a soon-to-be Junior at Susquehanna University and a GoEnnounce contributor.

We hear it again and again: Nothing beats experience. But this isn’t just an annoying piece of advice from our superiors. As a college student, be sure to never underestimate the value of real-life, hands-on experience.

Classroom learning is incredibly important. You learn the fundamentals and skills needed to be successful. However, you can’t learn everything in a classroom.

As a journalism major, I’ve found an ample supply of real-life experience available in my field. You may have to work harder to find hands-on work in other areas of study, such as psychology or medicine, but the struggle is well worth it.

How do you know a career is suitable for you if you’ve never actually been immersed in that world? College students need to seize every opportunity they can get. Work on campus. Join an extra-curricular activity. Get a summer internship. Freelance online. All of these options help you to learn and grow outside of the structured classroom setting. School taught me the building blocks of my writing skills. Those skills would have remained stagnant without an outlet in which they could develop and improve.

After years of working on my high school newspaper, I was ready to dive right in to my campus paper. I found that if you’re persistent enough, you’ll be able to climb up the staff ladder quicker than you think. Now, going in to my junior year, I will hold one of the top editor positions on the paper. Campus newspapers give you a chance to write about a variety of topics and to interview people from all walks of life. You can gain experience working in a newsroom, editing, dealing with advertisements, leading a staff and much more. I’ve also found that the people drawn to the newspaper are some of the coolest kids on campus. I might be biased, though.

At school, I also work in the university communications office as a hometown news writer. I send out press releases for student achievements. This job, besides being a source of income, also provides me with countless connections to university personnel, editors at newspapers all over the country and students I never would have met otherwise. I strongly advise college students to get a job on campus. Whether you’re in an office or in food service, you’ll have experiences you don’t want to miss.

Despite the value of on-campus activities, nothing can beat the experience I’ve had with my internship. This summer, I worked as an intern staff writer for my local newspaper, which has a fairly large readership. Although it’s not the case with all internships, the editors treated me like a member of the staff immediately. They trust the interns to write good stories, and we are given a real byline on real stories that matter. I’ve even been on the front page a few times. I love my job. And it has helped me see just how much I love journalism. I’d be happy even if the internship weren’t paid. But it is, so I’m even happier.

Not all college students have these opportunities. But you can’t just wait around for them to fall in your lap. Seek out real-life experience in what interests you. How can you commit to something for the rest of your life without getting at least a taste of it? You might find out you hate what you’re studying, and that’s ok. But you also might find an even deeper love for something. Now is the time to find out.

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