Take 3 Steps to Build In-Demand Job Skills at College

Look for schools with course variety and internships to improve your odds of landing that first job.

Many schools, including Northeastern University, facilitate internship and co-op programs for students to build career skills.

Many schools, including Northeastern University, facilitate internship and co-op programs for students to build career skills.

By + More

Many colleges now facilitate internships. American University's School of Communication sponsors internships with media organizations in the nation's capital, for example, and Miami Dade College has students interning with Florida Power & Light, Baptist Health of South Florida and other local employers. 

Meanwhile, interest in co-op education has jumped since the job market slumped; co-op powerhouse Northeastern University, for example, received 47,359 applications for 2,800 freshmen seats this fall, 74 percent more than in 2006. 

"Northeastern's emphasis on experiential learning and the co-op was the big draw," says Taylor Hogan, who left in July for his first six-month co-op with Heart Capital, a social investment firm in Cape Town, South Africa. The co-op gives Hogan on-the-ground experience in urban agriculture and social entrepreneurship, his two keenest interests. 

[See other schools with stellar examples of internships or co-ops.] 

3. Explore widely and delve deep: Other resume attention-getters include in-depth theses or projects, undergraduate research with a faculty member and study abroad

Worcester Polytechnic Institute requires two projects that are supposed to solve real problems or address real needs. For example, 2013 civil engineering graduate Marco Villar teamed up with classmates to develop cheap, sustainable paper insulation for housing in impoverished communities in Namibia that could also create jobs. 

Finally, just as technical majors may want to take writing or public speaking courses, humanities and other non-techie students should consider adding some computer science expertise to their list of credentials. 

"A computer today is like the ax of the Stone Age and is key to efficient survival in today's world," argues Samir Khuller, chair of the University of Maryland's computer science department. "Students in any field will have a competitive advantage if they can understand the algorithms available to help them do their own work." 

The bottom line, says Georgetown's Carnevale, is that getting equipped as fully as possible for the workplace takes thought and planning. And it is up to forward-thinking students themselves. 

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.