High school teachers are oft to tell you that college is a different level of education; a higher level of education, if you will. It requires a level of dedication, a level of patience, and a level of professionalism. For many people, that’s a scary word for them to grasp, and even others have far more questions than answers. Professionalism - What is it? What does it look like? How can we get it? Can I still have fun while being “professional”? Do I have to give up my sense of style to be “professional”?
All excellent questions.
Coming into college, I had all the same questions. Luckily for me, my personal style is very polished already (mostly composed of sweaters and skirts or nicely pressed dresses), and my personality corresponds with a friendly and professional atmosphere. However, this isn’t the case for everyone, and as my friends prepare for college (or, even the working world), we find ourselves asking: are we professional, and if we aren’t, how can we be?
The good news is this: anyone can be professional. The better news is this: college and professionalism, while they do go hand-in-hand, are not necessarily the same thing. Unless a class explicitly requires it, generally, formal attire is not necessary for a college class. Many of my classmates arrive to class in either sweatpants or leggings, and none of them are judged for their attire (especially not in at 8:15 in the morning where pretty much everyone has just rolled out of bed). While professionalism in the way we respect and treat our teachers is mandatory, there is no loss of self necessary for when you arrive to class. As far as professionalism in regards to behavior, the best rule is the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Treat your professors with the respect you would like them to treat you with; address them and regard them as you would like them to address and regard you. As long as you follow through with a certain amount of respect, you are being professional.
However, that being said, college is still a training ground for a professional world. As we go through our college education, everything we do is preparing us to enter our chosen job field. Every class we take, every paper we write--everything is preparing us to move forward. So professionalism will, at one point or another, become a part of our lives. So the question still stands: what is professionalism, and how do we obtain it?
Respect will still be a large part of professionalism in the working world: treat your bosses, coworkers, and clients with respect, and things will go smoothly for you. In addition, there is a need for formal speech and attire in the workplace. The speech will probably be the most difficult part; though it’s good to feel at home with your coworkers and to obtain a level of formality, it is also good to try to maintain formal speaking patterns when speaking to potential employers. There are little tricks to maintain this; try writing down some key phrases and keeping them on hand, or speaking more formally with friends. You can also ask someone who’s already in the world of employment what they do to achieve that level of formality.
As for the dress, it is easy to change your wardrobe, but can be costly and time-sensitive. For time-sensitive situations, online shopping is the best way to go about things. If you can get your measurements (or already have them on hand), you can easily get formal attire (blazers, jackets, etc.) off of Amazon or even shipped directly to you from brand name retailers. Cost-effective solutions can be more difficult. However, specifically at Cabrini, the Cabrini Closet is there to help with your formal attire needs. Make an appointment to speak with someone at the Career and Professional Development Center to get access to the closet!
Just remember: at the end of the day, everyone can be professional. You’ve got this!