For recent college grads, the question “What are you going to do next?” can be the source of embarrassment, anxiety, or even dread. After nearly seventeen years of having a structured life plan — that is, school — deciding what to do after receiving an undergraduate degree is a complicated process. The options are almost unlimited… but choosing the right one can be tricky.
With the economic recession in mind, many of my classmates decided to enroll in graduate programs directly after college. There are many benefits to attending grad school: students can continue to defer payment of college loans, gain research experience, wait for the job market to improve and delve into specialized areas of study that they find interesting.
Grad school is not for everyone, however. By the end of their college careers, many students are tired of school and need a break. Professors have told me that grad school is only worth it if you are one hundred percent committed to the time, effort and expense. But for those who are truly interested in furthering their education and attaining an advanced degree, grad school is a great post-college option.
Another possible route for students to take after graduation is to travel. If you have the time and money, traveling with friends or by yourself after college is a fun, enriching experience. It is also best to do it while you are young and free from family and employment obligations. Many of my friends are traveling in Europe or Asia for at least a few weeks this summer before heading off to grad school or looking for a full-time job. A summer of backpacking through foreign countries will give you unforgettable memories and a chance to relax and have fun before “real life” kicks in.
Non-profit or service organizations provide many opportunities for young people to make a difference in the world after college. The Peace Corps and Teach for America both require two-year commitments and give stipends to their volunteers. These types of organizations allow twenty-somethings to gain valuable life experience and independence while providing structure and support. Other well-regarded programs include AmeriCorps and Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
Finally, the most obvious option for recent grads is full time employment. Although the market is slow right now, it is still possible to find jobs — and I think it is often the best option for graduates. Getting a job right out of college allows you to begin to pay off loans, gain independence and experience working life. It is always possible to go back to school after a couple years to earn another degree, or to change jobs if you are not satisfied with your first one. Most people change careers several times throughout their lives, so employment can often be as flexible and open an option as any other.
Obviously, the best post-college path for any graduate depends on his or her individual needs and goals, but this list encompasses some of the more popular and open-ended options. For many, building a fulfilling and meaningful life after college can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Grads should investigate different programs, career paths and other opportunities… and then pick the one that fits them best.