How to know when you’re on the right collegiate path

By September 20, 2010

Last year I decided to leave Chicago for a job in Los Angeles. Today’s guest author, Alex, did the opposite. College is a stressful time for anyone, but what comes after college can be just as scary. Below, you can read about Alex’s decision to leave sunny LA for unpredictable Chicago, how she’s helping other twenty-somethings and why she couldn’t be happier.


It’s official. I have my first job out of college. The funny part about it is that the industry in which I work did not even exist (as a profession) when I went into college: social media.

During the college application process, the most stressful decision was not which university to attend, but rather which major to declare. I decided to check the “Spanish” box and call it a day, all the while knowing that there must be a better fit for me out there. Though I enjoyed learning and speaking Spanish, what career would it lead me to? Teaching and translating didn’t tickle my fancy, and those seemed to be my only options.

Three-quarters of the way through my freshman year this major decision (pun intended) really started weighing on me. I called my dad back at home in Chicago to talk about it while walking home from class in beautiful Los Angeles weather. “I know this isn’t the right major for me, but what is? What would I be good at?”

Pause. This is where you need to imagine that you’re watching a movie because what happens next certainly felt like my stereotypical Hollywood epiphany. You know that moment in a movie when the protagonist figures out the solution to their unlikely intricate predicament? The character stops dead in their tracks, the clouds part, and a huge gospel choir starts chanting “hallelujah!”

Bar the music and the meteorological phenomenon, my big moment of clarity was forthcoming. No sooner did I ask my dad about fitting career fields did the magic word enter my mind: Advertising.

That was it. That was absolutely the field for me. At that moment all of the pieces started to fall into place. I was attending Loyola Marymount University at the time, and they do not have an advertising program. Plus, I wanted to begin my advertising career in a city where all the industry big shots were located, which narrowed my North American choices to New York and Chicago. Being from Chicago, this new career path was also improving my personal life by bringing me closer to my family. Double win. Off to Loyola University Chicago I went, where I began studying for their Advertising & Public Relations degree through their School of Communications.

Why Chicago? Why not get a general communications degree at the university I was already attending? I am a big believer that you can only learn so much in the classroom, and that you have to learn from the leaders if you really want to be at the top of your game. Living in the same city as the industry hot shots meant that they popped into the classroom during their lunch break as guest lecturers. For example, SEO (search engine optimization) mastermind Brent Payne gave a crash course in my digital public relations class since my professor sent him a tweet a few days before the class. That sort of thing occurred often, and many of my professors were also working in the industry while teaching, and I would never have gotten that level of education if I hadn’t relocated.

If they didn’t come to me, I could go to them.  Being located in an advertising hub allowed me the opportunity to attend conferences and networking events and thus get my name out there, making it exponentially easier to get a great job out of college. Through these events and relationships I found a newly developing industry in advertising that had my name written all over it: social media.

Now here I am, in Chicago, starting a job as a social media strategist at a Paco Communications (a hispanic advertising agency) and creating a website called The Ad Grad in order to inspire and help advertising students. The Ad Grad was designed to do digitally what I did in real life: learn from the pros. For advertising students who aren’t in a big advertising city, The Ad Grad brings the expertise of working professionals to them in a permanent, digital, sharable way.  I get these experts to impart their knowledge to advertising students in the form of video interviews, many of which are answers to questions that real advertising students submit to the site. Current college students and recent graduates also post articles pertinent to advertising students so that they get a dynamic perspective on the field in which they aspire to work.

Long story short, finding a field of work that I am passionate about made all the difference in my life. I encourage college students to take a look at what they’re studying and make any adjustments while they still can in order to set themselves up for success for when it comes time to make the transition from college to corporate.


To read more from Alex, be sure to follow her on Twitter (@theadgrad) and check out The Ad Grad blog.