Holstein cattle are unloaded from a trailer at the UW Dairy Cattle Center on Sept. 1. The cows at the Dairy Center returned to campus after being away at the Arlington Research Farm during late spring and summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the fall semester gets underway, many students are looking to their future and trying to determine which steps they still need to take to work their way into a career that suits them.

Fortunately, high school and college students looking to make agriculture their career have many options available to them and can use those options to start guiding themselves toward their dream job.

As part of virtual panel during Armor Animal Health’s Virtual Dairy Expo last week, five young agriculture industry professionals addressed questions that students might have when it comes to finding the right school and career for them in the world of ag.

For those still in high school and looking to further their education post-graduation, selecting the college that will suit them best is a logical first step.

The panelists’ reasons for choosing the school they did varied, demonstrating that each individual’s preferences will play significant role in making the final choice.

While preferences may be different, the panelists did offer several broad tips to students in their college search: determine how far away from home you want to be; know if the college offers the degree or degrees you want; see what campus activities are offered; tour the school to see if it feels right; and check out and apply for scholarships.

Considering factors like those, a major deciding factor should ultimately be how the prospective college student feels about the school, said Valerie Kramer, associate credit officer at Compeer Financial and UW-River Falls graduate.

“Go to the school that you want to, not just because your siblings or your parents may have attended that college, but make sure that the college you do attend, that it’s your choice,” Kramer said.

For students already on campus, the opportunities to discover what kind of agricultural career is right for them are expanded even more.

From Alpha Gamma Rho, an agriculture fraternity, to various dairy clubs and collegiate Farm Bureau groups, panelists spoke highly of their experiences with being involved in campus groups and activities.

“Definitely get involved,” said Valerie Free, inside sales representative for Armor Animal Health and UW-Platteville graduate. “Don’t be afraid to go to that first initial meeting. Definitely go.”

Studying abroad or being able to travel domestically with classes or clubs was also a highlight for many of the panelists.

Internships can also prove to be valuable assets for students, helping students determine if they’re on the right path and even holding the potential to set up a job post-college.

Free said that internships help get “your foot in the door to see if you even like that type of avenue.”

Isabella Haen, cheese production and marketing assistant for Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy and Ron’s Wisconsin Cheese and a Fox Valley Technical College graduate, said that her internship helped her decide the kind of career she didn’t want, which ultimately led her in another direction to the job she enjoys having now.

On the other hand, Connor Willems, a dairy focused consultant with Cargill Animal Nutrition and UW-Madison graduate, completed two summer internships with Cargill while a student, becoming a full-time employee there post-graduation. The decision to continue working for Cargill was based on his experiences as an intern, which gave him knowledge of the kind of company it was, he said.

Networking, whether it be through internships, club activities, social media, events or otherwise, and displaying initiative can help students land jobs after graduation.

“Network, network and then network some more,” Willems said, calling taking the opportunity to meet people in the workforce one of the easiest ways to find a job.

Jordan Siemers, Holstein sire analyst at Select Sires and Cornell University graduate, advised students to use their experiences, which are up to the students to choose, to chip away at any weaknesses they recognize in themselves.

“Be OK to be uncomfortable,” Siemers said.

Free also reminded job seekers to keep their resumes updated and just click “send” when applying for jobs.

Academically, taking a variety of courses in college and looking to which types of classes outside of ag curriculum might be beneficial for a career can lead to fewer regrets post-graduation.

Of the courses the panelists said they regretted not taking during their college careers, answers ranged from business and foreign language classes to computer science and even concrete engineering.

While choosing the right college, courses, internships are important to success after graduation, the panelists reminded students that the college experience should be enjoyable, too.

“Make sure that you enjoy the time with your college friends,” Kramer said.

That sentiment was echoed by Willems and Free, who reminded students that while taking academics seriously is important, they should also take some breaks and relieve stress by enjoying the opportunity to be at college and having some fun.

Trying to check off the all right things to eventually wind up in a successful career may seem stressful, but Haen cautioned graduating students not to worry in their search for a job.

“Don’t fret about finding a job right out of college,” she said. “The right one will come.”