I was recently interviewed by the New Jersey Society of Certificated Public Accountants; it stuck me as odd at first that I would be invited to offer my financial opinion to an organization that accepts only trained and accredited individuals, which I am not.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had plenty of financial training – from the school of Hard Knocks – so when I was asked what college students planning for a career in financial management should know about money, credit, and debt I thought, “Why are you asking me?” “Isn’t that what they’re going to college to learn?”

Then it hit me. Having book knowledge of a thing doesn’t necessarily guarantee practical application. Actually, that holds true regardless of your major. That’s why it’s important when at all possible to get in the trenches and actually do, practice, and apply what you’re learning about.

When preparing for a career, whether in financial management or another sector, there are two primary things that all college students should do beyond going to class and acing their exams.

1. Apply for internships early and often.

The prime time for applying for summer internships is January, February, and early March.

Even out of 10 employers are more concerned with practical work experience rather than a candidate’s grade point average. It’s a no-brainer that an internship in your field of study could mean more to you in the future than the part-time job at the mall right now.

Here are five ways to land a great internship:

Be Prepared – Research internship requirements; pay special attention to deadlines and application rules. Give yourself enough time to get letters of recommendations from professors and copies of transcripts from the registrar.

Be Open to the Possibilities – If your internship is not paid, or you don’t get the position you want, don’t count it as a loss. Still looking for alternatives to learn, grow and gain experience.

Network – Join the student chapter of at least two professional organizations and actively participate to develop your social and business skills.

Be Pleasantly Persistent – Create a follow-up plan and be sure to keep an open connection with business contacts you meet.

Market Yourself – Advertise and market your abilities in a creative way, so you stand out from other candidates.

2. Get a copy of your credit report at least once a year.

Be aware that the use of credit reports is increasing as a measure for screening job applicants. It’s better to be informed than to be surprised.

Now more than ever employers are reviewing applicants’ credit reports for how much they owe, how faithfully they pay their debts and how recently they’ve gone over their available limit. The bottom line is a bad credit report can cost you a career opportunity, no matter how well-qualified you are.

Whatever your reason for going to college, be sure to make it count, and, most importantly, be prepared to prove to the world (through your résumé and credit report) that the years you invested in college were spent preparing you for a real career, not setting you up for just another job.