Companies are not just looking for good grades and extra-curricular activity, but a sufficient amount of work experience. They want to know that you've worked somewhere else, have done a great job, and have good references. This is how they figure out if you really are as bright and talented as your resume suggest and there really is no litmus test like real world experience for an employee.
Finding a job will take much less time if your references are actual professionals in your field that you have personally worked for than if your references are your grandma and your best friend. Work experience is really the only way to get this. It will also help you qualify for more positions with your level of education and get you into an interview faster. Experience impresses human resource managers because it shows that graduates have a passion for their line of work and have already been broken in by another company.
Work experience will also set you up to make a higher salary or hourly wage for your first job. Many places will ask for so many years of education or applicable work experience. This means that you may qualify for that sales job without an associate in business if you've spent several years in a sales position and have proven your value at your previous company. You will find that there are industries where work experience means more than education ever could even though your parents may have told you that college was the only way to get anywhere in any industry. This could actually save you money as tuition costs are rising well beyond affordable levels and with state budget deficits, it is likely that state-funded schools will keep up this trend.
Students do have the option of internships. Many schools will work directly with you and a company to help you find the best internship possible. Some internships will pay a wage to their students but some highly-demanded internships are volunteer and will pay you nothing. If you do not have the funds to live in a new location and work for free, you might have to sacrifice that dream internship with one that pays well but is not exactly what you wanted.
Volunteer service is another option if you do not have the option of doing an internship and you are having a hard time finding a job. This will help you give back to your community, and if you have found a fitting volunteer position for your field, you will have applicable experience and good references.
Work experience should not just be considered a way to get your foot in the door but an opportunity to grow as an employee. You will find that in your next job, you will be able to get on your feet faster and make a bigger impact on the company. New college graduates will learn how to work in different environment and your next employer will be impressed. Work experience can not only help you get the job, but it can also set you in line to receive pay increases and promotions faster than your co-workers that just started their work experience at their current job.