Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jayati Sengupta Headshot

Marketing Your Way Into College (or a Job)

Posted: Updated:

I was recently at a corporate event sharing career thoughts with a very large audience comprising mostly high school juniors and seniors from local Bay Area schools. I had a great discussion with them about how to create goals, think big and leverage skills. We discussed how personal and technology collaboration skills will continue to be critical in this new age of information sharing. I fielded plenty of questions about career options for women who are interested in technology not limited to programming.

While President Obama continues to harp on how education still continues to be the great equalizer in society, the sticker price of tuition at both public and private universities have been steadily increasing to record highs. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported earlier this year that debt from student loans exceeded $1 trillion. The loan bubble is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, just like the housing mortgage crisis. To add to that, with the recent stock market crash, the vast majority of parents are finding it harder to dip into their already dwindling saving to come up with funds for college. As a result, students are racking up thousands of dollars in debt by the time they graduate. How many loans do our students have to stomach to get that higher education? Are they meant to be in perpetual debt? How can we pop this loan bubble?

As colleges become more competitive, prospective students need to leverage special talents, skills and experiences to gain admission to their top college choices. Yet, having those talents, skills and experiences still may not be enough. Students need to market their specialty wisely as they search for the college that is right for them. We have to get them to start utilizing their skills as early as freshman year in high school. We already know that colleges require students to be more well rounded these days. According to Bev Taylor, founder of The Ivy Coach:

For several years, college admission counselors at the most competitive colleges have been telling applicants who are ranked number one or two in their high schools, with perfect or near-perfect grade point averages and SAT scores, that they're just not good enough.... [They] look for evidence of accomplishment as well as the depth of commitment and follow-through that lead to significant contributions and recognition from others.

New opportunities are opening up in technology and students need to hone the skills they have to take advantage of these trends. Online brand management is key to early-stage Web-based businesses and startups in particular can leverage students to help them with part-time or contractual help. High school and college students usually have very large network of friends and they understand social interactions better. They bring an authentic voice to the medium. Think about this: Without even leaving a dorm room, students with good writing skills can run great marketing campaigns on Twitter and Facebook and make good money on the side. In return, students get real-world experience, make a neat side income and startups get actual help. Any student with an interest in social media and a flair of writing could be an asset. Students seeking careers in just about any area can benefit from social media experience on their resumes.

Another skill category where small, Web-based businesses are looking for help from students is in the area of power reviews and blogs.The explosion of the Internet has created endless opportunities for young students to make money like their parents never could. Students can flourish with their blogging skills since they can leverage a huge digital footprint. For example, if you're in college and know a lot about fashion, your service might be to blog about fashion trends and accessories for college women. There are many students with specific traits who blog on different social media outlets, from posting on Facebook and Twitter to blogging on Tumblr, answering questions on Formspring, pinning pictures on Pinterest -- which, by the way, is the latest media darling and is a creative medium to drive users to websites.

Those students that are academically capable could turn their intellectual asset into cash. They could provide both in-home or remote tutoring services. Parents of school-age kids are constantly on the lookout for affordable tutors. My 13-year-old math whiz has been able to help a 7-year-old boy of busy parents master his basic math skills. Not only does the boy enjoy these hour-long sessions, he has also improved significantly and has not had to repeat his grade. For my son, it has been a good opportunity to learn and implement business skills from scratch.

Exclusive private health clubs and sports resorts are minting money from parents that want to introduce young children to a wide variety of sports. As a parent I have faced the same issue myself. My husband and I have often thought that an excellent and affordable alternative for parents like me would be to connect with a high school or college athlete who is more than willing to coach my child for less money. Sports can be tough to master, but a talented student sports tutor can really make it more pleasant. Young children also can benefit from their energy and enthusiasm and the athlete can be a perfect role model for kids.

Students need to start evaluating their skills, be it in the area of Web design, music instruction, academic tutoring, marketing, programming, help with events/parties, culinary projects or homework projects, and come up with ways to market them. Flipgigs, an online student skill-sharing marketplace, is one such powerful platform that connects savvy and thrifty consumers and businesses to an affordable network of talented and motivated kids from high schools and colleges who are eager to build a portfolio of work by landing gigs, jobs and internships. From an early age, they can learn how to manage money, be responsible and brush up on people skills. Each of these can lead to invaluable experiences and provide much-needed autonomy. Older teens can thus build self-esteem and learn how to succeed in the real world after high school graduation. Remember -- colleges and employers love that experience.