Although you will feel relieved when you step out of your final exam, which is one of the most challenging parts of the class, your work doesn’t stop there. You will have to keep your skills and new knowledge updated and fresh so that you can make effective use of it later on. Whether you’ve just studied accounting skills for your business management degree, details of kings and empires for your graduate thesis in history, or computer programming methods for a computer science course, keeping up with your studies will help you retain that knowledge so that you can apply it in other courses and in your career.
Keep in mind as you read through this section that the content of some subjects is more constant than that of others. For example, programming languages change regularly, and healthcare best practices are continually updated, but anatomy and physiology terms and mathematical theorems stay the same. For fields that are constantly evolving, you will have to be even more proactive to stay up-to-date in your field.
Just after the exam
- Save your textbooks. Unfortunately, the cost of textbooks makes it hard to hold on to them. However, key reference manuals will be useful to you in the future, and you should resist the urge to sell them back if you expect to stay in the field. In addition, many courses, particularly in literature, require inexpensive copies of the texts being studied, which may be worth more if you keep them handy than the small sum you would get for resale. If you made notes in the margin of some of these classics, it would be wise to keep these copies if you plan to pursue graduate studies or teach on these works in the future.
- Hold on to your notebooks. Most courses will leave you with a collection of class notes, lecture notes, and handouts, which may be more valuable than the textbook, since these notes are the only record of what your professors emphasized during class. This may be less important if you took electives that don’t have direct bearing on further courses, but many courses—particularly when you are pursuing a major in a subject or a graduate degree—build on other courses. Keep these notes organized in a single place where you can readily access them. Use a labeling system so that you can locate that critical piece of information when you need it, whether it’s two semesters or ten years later.
- Back up your data. Backing up data is important for any digital media that you recorded during your courses, from tape-recordings to videos of lectures your instructor provided. If you’re working in digital media, graphic design or some other artistic field featuring a lot of digitally based work, this is even more important, as you will likely need to assemble a portfolio either to pursue graduate study or to use as your resumé for artistic jobs. Be sure to use durable media, and you should keep your disks and license keys for software as well, as changes in drivers and display equipment can change your works dramatically.
Next semester and next year
- Stay in touch with your instructors and peers. You likely developed favorite teachers and study partners, even if it was an informal arrangement based on having several classes together. Instructors are a great resource for work and internship opportunities. At the undergraduate level, they can introduce you to new programs, independent study, and provide you with vital professional contacts if you intend to enter academia or pursue graduate study. At the graduate level, they become even more vital, as they will likely judge your academic work and provide you with guidance in your course selections and, in many programs, your research. Your peers are also a useful resource, providing you with perspective and possibly work opportunities when they need a reliable business partner.
- Join a professional organization. Most fields of study have a professional association of experienced professionals and students pursuing a career in that discipline. These groups often publish a journal, which you will receive as part of your membership package. These journals discuss the state of employment in the field, whether it be teaching or advanced-practice nursing. These journals will also provide you with academic insight and allow you to stay on top of developing trends and knowledge, especially in fast-moving fields like information technology. Many professional organizations also offer certification programs that give you a professional advantage; some of these you might need in order to work in that field at all. The cost of a student membership in these groups is usually a nominal fee of $50-$60 per year.
After graduation and going forward!
- Pursue publishing opportunities. Even if you are working in a field not known for many opportunities for research, professional associations welcome articles on their topics of study. Throughout your career, you will gain new insight and unique experiences that you can to pass on to others. The process of researching and writing articles for publication is an excellent refresher on many of the basics of research methodology and the writing style and conventions within your discipline. If the thought of publishing in a professional journal is daunting, contact professionals interested in similar research and ask about collaborating on research projects. By collaborating on research with experienced professionals, you gain insight from their approach to research and learn from their perspective on how the field is changing.
- Pursue free online courses. A wide range of open courseware and massive open online courses (MOOC) are available in many subjects, with more being offered every semester. Enrolling in a “MOOC” will give you the opportunity to review your studies and to share your experience with other students through online conversations. These opportunities to teach other students serve as both a refresher and a test of your own mastery of course content.