Treat your education like it's your job
Why pay for school when you barely attend class, or when you do you hardly pay attention or retain any useful information? Not enough students treat their education like it's their job- or sometimes in the case of students who get hired by circles related to their professors, like it's their interview. Imagine your condensed 2-year, or 4 year diploma/degree as though it's the longest interview of your life. These are fundamental years in developing the core of your habits, work ethic and future job prospects, so it helps to take it seriously. At the end of the day, the only one who loses in that regard would be you, so there's no excuse to avoid approaching it like there's value to be gained in learning.
Although there are pros and cons to working with your teachers, there's no harm in leaving a good impression and forging the beginnings of a network of relevant contacts in your field. You may not work directly under your professor, but you may work with someone they know, or someone who comes to them requesting top students.
Strategize your self-management & professional presentation
As you transition through high school to post-secondary and then ultimately "work", you need to consider your strategy, trajectory and presentation tactics along the way. No one graduates, uploads a bunch of knockout pieces to their site-builder portfolio and achieves instant success. Creative or tech related careers (if not all careers these days) typically have a long and winding road to fame and fortune, so it's best to set your expectations straight early in your journey.
If you weren't already treating school like it was your job, well, once you graduate- you are the boss. You make the decisions and tell yourself when, where, why and how certain tasks are accomplished and goals are met. You are in charge of your brand perception, your client management, your job hunt and your portfolio. No one else tells you where to apply and why it would make you happy- those are all on you.
As someone who graduated from a course quite literally titled Independent Illustration, who then went on to work in a tight-knit indie studio environment, I have perspective into both sides of the industry and can identify the pros and cons to working alone as a freelancer versus as an entity within the greater scope of a team. Having this perspective in both worlds helps me as a manager in both areas, and I have observed the ways being limited to one area (i.e. only a freelancer or only an entry-level position within a huge conglomerate) can make you biased or prone to behave in a certain way.
Key takeaways for me were:
Don't get caught up in the whirlwind of studio life, and don't become complacent. Make an active effort to avoid relying on others too often or placing all of your eggs in one basket, as a general risk-aversion tip in business.
Your reputation means (almost) everything: What you say, do, and communicate (intentionally or accidentally) are all factors that will stick with people you've met long after you've parted ways. As someone entering the business world, it's crucial that you understand how you're presenting yourself to others and what their first impressions are. Within seconds of meeting you, that person has already formed their opinion of you, and once that is set it's rather hard to change (at least, it can take a long time).
Pay special attention to your brand identity and social media presence. This is a digital world, and while your physical presence and print marketing collateral are vital to your business' impression on others, your digital footprint is what really has longevity as users from all around the world try to connect with you and learn more about your identity.
Network with sincerity
You know what I'm talking about. The networking events with the sweaty handshakes, awkward silences and forced interest in topics or business verticals totally irrelevant to you. Everyone is there to just hound, hound each other with their proposition like it's the greatest thing since blockchains. But if everyone there is pitching to each other- who will invest or propose a job to you, when they're all looking for ways to get paid? The majority of the crowd is in the same boat. Once in a while you will come across useful contacts or relevant investors, and occasionally those individuals will redirect you to other contacts or grant you access to an previously exclusive social circle. In order to find those opportunities, it helps to approach networking sincerely and find the events that are right for you and your target market.
Forge genuine connections with people, and not just shove your pitch down their throat. The majority of these people are not amateurs and can smell the bullshit on you if you try to force your business too hard. As a woman I am naturally conditioned to be patient and considerate, meaning that I am actively paying attention to the dynamics of the situation at hand and how/when the appropriate time presents itself to mention something. It's okay to let a moment pass if it would be forced otherwise- trust me, the person on the other end will be grateful for it.
Social outings are always awkward, but regardless of how anxious, socially-inept or uninterested you may be, try to tell yourself that those are the few hours you need to tackle with confidence until you can go home and relax. It's ironic, the majority of developers and artists would rather be working. Try to keep that in mind if you feel your nerves getting out of check- misery loves company, after all.
Continue improving your craft
You get the piece of paper you spent years grinding for, and it feels nice. The paper has embossed detailing, maybe even a gold stamp and ornate borders. It's printed on a thicker stock, with the fancy script writing and directorial signature letting you know it's for real. You're on your own now.
It's completely up to you to continue your education process. Every professional artist, creative, manager or director can recognize the need to continue self-educating, whether that be through online courses, tutorials, books, workshops, or practice exercises. School does not end when you graduate, and if you approach life that way, you will slowly find yourself feeling like you're lagging behind compared to your peers who are putting in those extra hours to hone their craft.
Depending on your field, put actions in place to track, monitor and improve your craft. Whether that be by doing regular life drawing studies to stay sharp when drawing characters, or by doing consistent DJ mixes to gather inspiration for your music productions, or by attending game jams and scripting your own experimental sequences- whatever it is, find your method of improvement, and do your best to keep up with it. Try to have realistic expectations throughout the process. If you miss a day, go off schedule or have to manage multiple roles such as a day job or being a parent, tailor your schedule and workload around that.
Stay motivated during the down-time
As much as it's on you to stay sharp with your skill toolset, it's equally as important to stay motivated in the search for work, the beginning of a start-up endeavour, or in between jobs as you freelance. The world does not stop during down-time, and neither should you. The types of people I respect and hire most frequently have that attitude, where they are constantly staggering their workload and taking the initiative to look for the next challenge they can take on.
If you really feel in a slump and are completely unmotivated to move forward, it can help to take a break and re-evaluate your goals and intentions objectively. Always make time for regular periods away from work or whatever your triggers for stress are, where you can focus on things that inspire or reinvigorate you. Then get back to it!