"Hey, man, what did you do this summer?" I asked a college classmate at the start of the fall semester.
He was taking pre-med courses and also considering other professions. While other classmates had spent the summer working in hospitals, doctor's offices and other jobs in fields related to their degrees, he never worked a single second as an undergraduate.
There's a difference between studying hard and working hard. My friend believed his grades were all that mattered for admission to graduate school or to land a good entry-level job.
I'm here to tell you he was wrong. In fact, colleges are the first to tell you that you need more than a degree to get hired.
Graduates with work experience are more attractive than those without.
After reviewing numerous studies, California State University concluded that work experience began becoming more crucial in hiring in 1980. By 1993, 93 percent of interns in work-study programs were offered jobs by their employers, according to a Northwestern University study that was part of California State's review.
A 2013 report by High Fliers Research concluded that college graduates without work experience have "little chance" of getting a job. High Fliers Research managing director Martin Birchall told The Huffington Post that work experience is "now just as important" as a college degree.
"New graduates who've not had any work experience at all during their studies are increasingly unlikely to be offered a good graduate job after university," said Birchall.
How work experience helps -- even if it's unpaid.
Many ambitious young adults disrespect the value of work experience because they've had jobs that have no connection to their future plans -- and pay poorly.
But working can teach you many valuable lessons, even if your job isn't intellectually challenging. Try to get a job in a field you're interested in, even if the job itself seems like a dead end.
Anna Alanko, the career services adviser at Rasmussen College, lists five reasons why an internship is a valuable work experience. They include learning more about the industry you're interested in, impressing a potential employer and learning about your own strengths and weaknesses.
Perhaps you'll find the industry so interesting that an internship will cement your career decision. Perhaps you'll find the industry so boring that your internship will lead you to change your career plans. But it's better to learn that lesson during a one-semester internship than as a full-time employee.
Performing well as an intern can also lead you to the next step in the industry. Your manager may write you a recommendation for graduate school or for a better internship. You could even get a full-time job offer or a job lead from a co-worker who was impressed by your work. Don't discount the opportunities that working for free can provide down the road.
Plus, interning can give you a chance to learn what your best job skills are, which skills need improvement and how to work with people.
Work experience and your degree go hand-in-hand.
Many ambitious young people think that lower-level jobs are an impediment to success because they're time-consuming and cause employers to stereotype you as someone with lower-level skills.