Every day of the past four years has been building to this moment: graduation. You made it, so take a moment to celebrate!
But once the excitement of graduating fades, you may find yourself wondering: “Now what?”
The question of what to do after college haunts every student to some degree or another. If you’re not sure what that next step looks like, this article is for you.
Below, we examine what to do after college. No matter what you majored in, the ideas in this article will help you plan your next move.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Peers
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably uncertain about what you want to do after college. During this process of discernment, it’s easy to compare yourself to your classmates.
When I graduated, for instance, I had two friends who seemed to have it all figured out. One was going to start medical school just a few months after graduation. The other was planning to enter a Ph.D. program at an Ivy League school.
In comparison, I felt like I was slacking. I knew vaguely what I wanted to do, but I certainly didn’t have such prestigious plans lined up.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s okay! Don’t worry about what your peers are doing. Comparing yourself to them is unhealthy, particularly if you dwell on it. Everyone is on a different path, and it’s alright if yours doesn’t fit the mold.
Don’t Go to Graduate School for the Wrong Reasons
If you’re thinking about going to graduate school, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. For instance, some fields such as teaching require a master’s to even get a job. In that case, graduate school is the logical choice.
On the other hand, don’t go to graduate school just because you’re unsure about your next step.
You can do plenty of career exploration without spending the time and money to go to graduate school. And of course, don’t go to grad school just to delay paying off your student loans.
Remember: You can always attend graduate school later if you decide it makes sense.
Stick to a Routine
You won’t realize how much structure college provides until you leave it. Once you graduate, you may suddenly find yourself with a lot of unstructured free time. Without a proper schedule and routine, these open-ended days can quickly devolve into an unhealthy mess.
To avoid this, I recommend creating (and sticking to) a daily routine. It doesn’t have to be super rigid, just enough to keep you busy. Here are some things to include in your daily routine:
- Wake up at a set time (at least on weekdays)
- Eat a healthy meal
- Do something active
- Apply for jobs
- Spend time on a hobby
- Hang out with friends (or make new ones)
Trust me, you’ll feel a lot better if you don’t spend your days binging on Cheerios and Arrested Development (though that can be fun every once in a while).
Make Finding a Job Your Full-Time Job
You may have heard this advice, but it bears repeating: When you don’t have a job, finding a job is your full-time job. And you should treat it accordingly.
I don’t think this means you need to spend forty hours per week on your job hunt. But you should schedule time each “business day” to find and apply for jobs. You can also use this time to update your resume, arrange informational interviews, and perfect your LinkedIn profile.
In general, it’s better to submit one high-quality job application per day than several half-hearted ones. The goal is to do something each day that gets you closer to the job you want (or, at least, to something you can do in the meantime).
Move Back Home
I realize that moving back in with your family after you graduate isn’t your dream. But in a lot of cases, it can be a smart strategic move.
Assuming your folks will have you, spending a couple of months or even years living at home can help you:
- Save up for a security deposit or moving expenses
- Pay off student debt
- Search for jobs
Of course, you need to set some ground rules to make this work. Establish things such as quiet hours, policies on guests, and whether you’ll pay rent. Otherwise, things could get tense and awkward.
And most importantly, set a clear timeline for how long you’ll live there. This way, your parents won’t bug you about when you plan to move out.
Move to a New City
While the increasing prevalence of remote work is changing things in some industries, large cities still tend to have more economic opportunities than small towns. So if the job prospects in your home or college town aren’t great, consider moving somewhere with more options.
To make this work, you need to plan accordingly. Make sure that your new job’s start date gives you enough time to move. Search for apartments before you arrive. And of course, ask your employer if they’ll help with relocation expenses (which can easily run into the thousands of dollars).
For more detailed advice, check out our comprehensive guide to moving to a new city.
Explore Your Options
If you’re not sure what career you want to pursue, there are a few things you can do to get clarity.
First, consider doing an internship. A paid one is ideal, but even an unpaid one could be worth it if you can get some work experience and professional contacts out of it. This article will help you get started.
As another option, set up informational interviews with professionals in fields that interest you.
Unlike a traditional interview, the goal isn’t for you to get a job. Instead, it’s a chance for you to ask someone more experienced how they got into their chosen field.
LinkedIn is a great place to find people to meet with. Just be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to offer you a job.
Finally, you can spend time researching careers online. While it’s no substitute for on-the-job experience, it can help you figure out what interests you. This, in turn, can inform the internships you apply for or the informational interviews you arrange.
Spend Time Volunteering
If you aren’t sure what job you want to do but know you want to make a positive impact, look into a volunteer program. The most common examples (at least in the U.S.) are AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.
The details of these programs vary greatly depending on where they send you and what they assign you to do. But in general, they’ll cover your basic living expenses and possibly pay you a small stipend. You may also be able to get your student loan payments deferred during this time, though this isn’t a guarantee.
Aside from giving you a sense of purpose, volunteer programs can help you figure out what you want to do next. You’ll get to connect with lots of different people, potentially exposing you to career paths you didn’t even know existed. You might even decide that non-profit work is your calling.
If nothing else, you’ll have an unconventional experience you can put on your resume and discuss in future job interviews.
My final suggestion for what to do after college is to move to a different country.
Assuming you have a U.S. passport, there are dozens of countries where you can spend months without getting a visa. And if you can get accepted into a government-sponsored program, you may be able to stay for longer.
It’s cliché, but living in another country will give you so much perspective. Perspective on your country, but also perspective on yourself. For instance, my time in Medellín, Colombia, was invaluable not only for learning a new language but also for deciding that freelance writing was what I wanted to do.
There are so many ways to live abroad that it’s impossible to mention them all here. But these are some solid options to consider:
- Teach English. Many countries have special work visas for native English speakers willing to live and teach abroad.
- Get a remote job. If you can get a job you can do from anywhere, it vastly expands the possible places you can move to.
- Go to graduate school. It’s far from the easiest option, but a student visa can allow you to live in another country for an extended period.
- Volunteer. Programs such as the Peace Corps will give you the chance to live in another country for a couple of years. Just keep in mind that they could send you anywhere.
Note: Before traveling abroad, check the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most current info on your destination, including travel restrictions and visa requirements.
Proceed with Confidence and Enthusiasm
As you can now see, there are all kinds of things you can do after college. Even if you don’t know what you want to do, the ideas on this list will help you find the right path.
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