Quarterlife_Crisis_shirtCollege is an incredible opportunity, and I’m not referring to the classes. Many students in college enjoy a financial freedom that they’ll never again experience after graduation. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone, but there are certainly a lot of you out there. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you shouldn’t spend time in college partying & hanging out with your friends because those are some of my favorite memories, but I am going to tell you that there are a lot of other things you can & should be doing to make the most of those four years.

As part of the business school, I found it very easy to be swept up in the internship game. It’s hard to ignore the loud girl behind you in Managerial Accounting talking about her $20 an hour internship or your parents repeatedly telling you about a family friend working in a prestigious summer position. Find anyone College of Business ’07 from Fordham, and they’ll probably tell you that I was the Queen of Internships. I busied myself holding five internships/externships over four years, thinking I was securing myself a key to success.

While I do think holding some jobs/internships is important, I made a few huge mistakes. First, I let internships consume my college experience. Yeah- I joined a few clubs (the ones that promised to lead to the best jobs), but I didn’t make time to explore anything that I was truly interested in. If you’re like I was, you’re reading this article thinking that’s a waste of time. Time is money & college is about finding the best job- right? Well, three years out of school I can tell you that isn’t what it’s all about. I got that first big job & was making more money than most of my friends by a long-shot, but I wasn’t happy. Two years later, I decided I didn’t want to be dissatisfied with my career any longer and quit to start all over again.

My next mistake was letting money make my decisions. My first internship was unpaid, and yes, that sucks. I was working two other jobs just to manage my bills. After that, though, I secured an internship that I really enjoyed at CBS that was paying me $8 per hour. While $8 per hour doesn’t get you very far in NYC, I really liked what I was doing. I let it get to me, though, when people told me I was being taken advantage of and should look for something higher paid. “The Big Four pay over $20 an hour and take you out every night.” The next two internships I had were significantly higher paid, but I never again really enjoyed them again like I had at CBS.

Something that haunts me to this day is my decision over my final internship. When I got back from studying abroad, I was flat broke (gotta love that Euro). I thought money was the most important thing when in reality, I should have been concentrating on finding an internship that I truly liked being that I was now entering senior year. I was offered a well-paid internship at a hedge fund & at the same time, called in for a 2nd interview at Spa-Week, which would be paid much less but offered the opportunity to grow with the company. I didn’t hesitate to take the hedge fund. Now, Spa Week has grown into a well-established national organization, & I will always wonder if I could have been part of that.

My last regret is that I didn’t take time to start a business in college. I had thought about it and even started to design a product. With my schedule of internships, though, this always took a back seat. Now, after starting two businesses, I realize how wonderful it could have been to pursue start-ups in college with a built-in network of customers (the students), a personal advisory board (your teachers), and the financial freedom to take some risks.

I hope that after reading this, you can take some time to really think about what you want after college. Don’t let yourself get swept up in other people’s ideas of what you need to be doing. You have four years- use them to really find out and pursue what makes you happy.

Written by: Tina Paparone is the co-founder & CEO of the unique gift company BeMe, which creates products to inspire girls to embrace their individuality. Find out more about BeMe & Tina’s other projects at www.TinaPaparone.com.