21st Century College Advising

My approach to advising is to start at the end of your college career and then work my way back. But, first, let me ask you a tough question.

Do you want to be in college?

I know you are here. But, did you choose to be here? Before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into higher education, you owe your debt-burdened future-self and family a serious consideration of this question. I know our culture admonishes those not thinking about college with “Do you want to dig ditches all of your life?”. But, two things. First, there’s nothing wrong with digging ditches (I unpack that notion in this blog here). And, second, there are a number of alternatives to going to college (here’s a list of 11). Moreover, after reading “Shop Class as Soulcraft” I’m no longer actively encouraging my son down the college path. If he wants to go I’ll support him. If not, I’ll support him. I know the question is a big one. So, for now, since you’re here, let’s assume your answer is “yes”. If so, then, looking forward and reasoning back, you need to begin taking these 8 steps today.

Step 1: Know Your Adjectives

  • Chose five adjectives, five traits that you want to become part of how you show up in the world, part of your soul’s muscular memory: 5 Adjectives

Step 2: Know How to Show Up in a College Classroom

  • As a professor, I’m not looking for an audience. I’m looking for co-conspirators who will join me in creating a better future. Read this letter to my students: Dear Econ 202 Students,

Step 3: Know Your Two Professors

  • Before you leave college, you will need two letters of recommendation. But, not just any letter of recommendation. You need two letters of recommendation like the ones I review in this blog. The ones I write for the students who choose me as their professor.

Step 4: Know This

The world has changed. Our higher education system (for the most part) has not. How so? Read the commencement address that I was never invited to give: Dear Graduating Class.

Step 5: Review what Was and Now Is Wanted from You in the World or Work

It’s all here in this blog post from Seth Godin.

There are millions of college seniors beginning their job search in earnest. And many of them are using skills they’ve been rewarded for in the past: 

Writing applications.

Being judged on visible metrics.

Showing up at the official (placement) office.

Doing well on the assignments.

Paying attention to deadlines, but waiting until the last minute, why not.

Getting picked.

Fitting in.

The thing is, whether you’re a newly graduated senior (in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt) or a middle-aged, experienced knowledge worker looking for a new job, what the best gigs want to know is… (click Seth’s name to read more) – Seth Godin

You also need to stay on top of which industries and professions artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning are disrupting and displacing (essentially, it’s all of them). You also need to know that there are jobs out there that are not so easily disrupted, very difficult to outsource (possibly impossible – but I’ve learned to never say that something is impossible), high paying, ask you to be a a creative problem solver, and do not need a four-year college degree. They’re called the skilled trades.

Step 6: Start Getting Ready for Graduation Day, today

Here’s a to-do list:

  • Purchase your domain name (for example, I own shawnhumphrey.com). UMW’s Domain of One’s Own will make it happen for you.
  • Get rid of that prom picture on LinkedIn. Here are some how to tips for a DIY professional headshot.
  • What’s the first thing we do before hiring you? We look at your social media streams. So, do a social media cleanse and set up some rules about what you will and will not post (look here and here).
  • Begin building your digital identity and on-line portfolio of passion projects.

Step 7: Consider these questions

Do grades matter?

They do. And, they don’t. In some cases, they are a primary indicator (like grad school). In most cases they are secondary (look here and here). When I look for students to work with, GPA is that last thing I consider. I look for a work ethic, curiosity, and a bit of funkiness.

Does your major matter?

Here are Six Reasons why majors do not matter. And, here are Six Myths about College Majors.

Is the resume dead?

Pretty much. What are the most creative organizations looking for? “Hungry. Not: went to “Stanford.” So, what can you do? Focus on your digital identity, power network, and build a portfolio of passion projects that highlight your voice. And, build out that bio page on your personal website.

Step 8: Set Up a Meeting With Me (this invitation is for students at UMW and those not at UMW)

I’m not the best advisor when it comes to deciding what classes to take and in what sequence (hello dyslexia!). But, I’m damn good at getting you through life. So, contact me (shumphre@umw.edu). Let’s zoom.


Here’s a worksheet that I have my students complete during the second week of each semester:


You can see specific advising to Economics and Life in General on my Advising page.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn