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Getting into college is a major challenge. Yet, once in, prepare to work hard to uncover your capabilities and apply yourself. College can be a fabulous launching pad to a successful career or a series of careers.

However, if college plans are not set and thought through, a student can easily get derailed:

On average only 67% of students will return for sophomore year.

Only 19% of students finish a four-year degree in four years.

For the Class of 2015, only 14% had ‘career type jobs’ lined up after graduation, and the average student debt load for each was $35,000.

Yes, gaining admission is important, but what you do once you matriculate is even more important. That is where the book, "Making College Count, A Real World Look at How to Succeed in and after College, 2nd Edition," proves a useful source of advice and guidance as a student sets his or her collegiate goals.

The author, Patrick S. O’Brien, discusses the college experience from several standpoints: a motivated college student; an upperclassman recruited by Proctor & Gamble; a brand manager for Crest toothpaste at P&G who becomes a recruiter and interviewer; and a college adjunct professor teaching at his alma mater, Miami University.

Most compelling are Mr. O’Brien’s observations as he describes his college process. After having a lackluster high school career with average grades and almost no extracurricular activities, he vows that in college he will not be at the back of the pack. He sets down on paper his goals: an ‘incredibly powerful tool’ if the goals are well considered and posted prominently.

Among his goals are graduating in four years because he did not want to incur more debt, and double majoring in accounting and finance, as he felt those skills were the most marketable and he enjoyed business. Mr. O’Brien continued to hustle, took courses that challenged him, set up a summer job in finance at a bank, and discovered that he did not like working in accounting or finance.

Changing majors meant that he could not graduate in four years, so instead, he discovered in discussions with a P&G recruiter that P&G was not overly concerned with his knowledge of marketing. It had its own training program and knew more about marketing than any university or graduate program in the country. What P&G liked about O’Brien was his set of skills as displayed on his resume: he had the raw material they sought to mold into an excellent marketer.

This validated O’Brien’s initial college objective, “To build a track record loaded with the qualities employees are looking for in job applicants.” These he had developed through experience in the classroom, extracurricular activities, and meaningful work experience — and even work experience that had not panned out. These are ‘winning characteristics’ crucial to succeeding in any effort.

The skills are presented under the acronym COLLEGE, covering communication, organization, leadership, logic (are you a learner by nature?), effort, group skills (most projects and jobs are done in groups — understanding their dynamics is essential), and entrepreneurship (know how to take risks).

None of this is easy or can be taken for granted. Even the initial act of putting objectives on paper requires self- discovery. Just defining what success means varies widely. Consider how John D. Rockefeller, Henry David Thoreau, Linus Pauling, or Pablo Picasso define it and you understand

One short section on “Paying your Dues," is worth the price of the book itself. It is best to pay your dues in college when most have time to explore. If not, you will still pay your dues in the future to reach some success. The longer you wait the higher the dues become.

Mr. O’Brien recommends students read "Making College Count" every six months. I recommend at least once; it will change your perception of college and possibly propel you to mold your college years to your advantage.

Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC (www.ivycollegeprep.net) and a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last 11 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800.rbecker@ivycollegeprep.net.

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