Congratulations! You’re a graduate! But if you’re feeling anything remotely similar to what I did a couple months ago and overthinking over how to decide what to do after college, then the feeling is not as merry as everyone makes it out to be.
I remember on the last day of my exam when the realisation suddenly dawned on me. I squandered away the entire past month feeling ecstatic about not having to attend lectures anymore. But then it hit me – there was no college to come to anymore. Which meant I had to figure out what to do with my life after college.
While the idea of no more grumpy early mornings, unbeatable assignment deadlines and not having to deal with impertinent professors seemed like the most captivating destination, I somehow forgot to factor in the idea that beyond this point I had to pave the path ahead all by myself.
As restrictive as following a set pattern of routine can be, it definitely creates inevitable confusion in the mind when that major chunk of daily certainty is taken away.
So here’s what can help you decide what to do after college.
First off, take a break
Trust me you need it. Amidst all the confusion, uncertainty and the fear of what lies ahead, it becomes very difficult to keep track of what is it that you feel currently, and what is it exactly that you need. And you need a break.
You spent those three-four years working towards getting that degree and now that you have it, it is all right to take a month off and relax without worrying about what the future holds or think about your next move.
Take a vacation with your family or your friends (if you can all agree on one destination that is). Or just stay at home, veg-out on your couch and ‘Netflix and Chill’ for a whole month. Whatever your chosen mode of leisure is, do it, refresh your mind and your body and mentally prepare yourself for the challenges that life will throw in your way pretty soon.
Think about what it is that you want to do
Now as vague and clichéd as it sounds, it is a significant decision in the process of deciding your next course of action. The world is your oyster. Think about what it is that you wish to pursue and work your mind in that direction.
Is it a job or an internship that you want? Having wrecked your brains over your textbooks for over three years now, if you think you’re at a point where you feel equipped enough to take a little work experience and indulge yourself to a taste of the real world then looking for a job should be your next move.
While looking for a job is the most common decision for a lot of young individuals, there is an equally strong majority, which decides to pursue further studies. If research, academia, or teaching is where your heart lies, then looking for courses that suit your interest, should be the next step.
But there is also no written imposition that restricts you to these two options. This is the time to explore your interests, give your passions a chance, and put yourself out there to see what you’re actually good at. Take a hobby class to excel in the craft you wish to, or collaborate with people or artists in the fields you desire to make it big in, look for opportunities on social media to accelerate your interests.
And if the confusion of what it is that you want still persists, then explore everything that you can lay your hands on. This is the time to delve and introspect.
Remember, the world is much more forgiving when you are young.
Looking for a job?
If this is the option that you’ve chosen to pursue, then start by looking at what the market has to offer and how you can adapt to what it demands. Keeping in mind the current and unique career options after graduation, in the professional space.
The start-up culture is reigning supreme and it has become a lot more significant to have cross-functional skills than ever before. Smaller companies that are starting out generally tend to look for fresh minds in the industry. Their ideal candidate choices are those that boast of more than one skill set, competitiveness and most importantly, the willingness to learn.
I remember during my first job interview as I simpered through it, trying to hide my nervousness as my palms sweat profusely, trying to conjure up answers to the questions thrown at me. The interviewee (aka my current boss) asked me questions which catered more to my willingness to learn new things rather than what my current capabilities are.
Weeks later as we chatted about that interview, the insight that I received from her was that the reason they chose to hire me had to do more with this curiosity and the eagerness to learn and undertake new things instead of what I already knew.
As freshers into the industry, no one expects you to have worldly knowledge or corporate wisdom. What they do expect is the alacrity to learn and grow as professionals.
So build yourself with the aim of developing cross-functional skills. With a plethora of courses and upskilling avenues available online, don’t restrict yourself to the knowledge that you’ve gained through your grad school. Look for online courses that will enhance your skills, help you gain newer ones and make you a more valuable asset to the organisation you wish to be a part of. Take this quiz to find out your interests in the real world and what kind of a job you’d like to work at: What to do after college quiz.
Coming to the logistics of it all, give yourself at least a month or two before you successfully get an interview callback from the places you wish to get in.
Funny story; a couple of months ago when I was job hunting, I remember my dad sitting next to me as he saw he me blindly clicking the “apply now” button on LinkedIn for over 10 jobs in a single breath.
And here’s another fun fact: I had applied to an exact number of 143 jobs for a little over a month before getting into the one I could successfully call my own.
The point here is, it’s a long process. And while it may make you question everything you were certain of up until that point, I will say that starting your first job after college will all be worth the turmoil.
There were times when the job-hunting process got frustrating to the point that I almost quit before even starting out.
There was this one particular evening when I got a callback from a particular organisation I was expecting to get. The lady on the other end began by asking me the question for which if I had a penny for every time I was asked that in the span of that one month I wouldn’t have the need to look for a job in the first place – “So tell me a little about yourself”.
And I did. For the umpteenth time. But the funny thing here is, I basically just summed up my resume in words for her – nothing new and everything of what I said should have technically been known to her already (considering she called me looking at that resume). After basically repeating everything that was already there I get the response “actually we’re looking for someone with a little more experience.”
So yes, crying over my assignments and tear-ing down my laptop in the wee hours of the night did not seem so bad anymore.
But for all of you who have decided upon what to do after graduation, and chosen studying ahead as the option, the most important step is to decide what field of study you wish to pursue. There are endless options and unlimited courses out there for you to choose from. So zeroing down on a geographical location is a good way to start university hunting.
If home is where you wish to continue living then start looking for courses in universities around you that excite you. And yet another viable option available today is to pursue a degree from a reputed or an ivy league university abroad.
This will require backward planning of almost a year. Start with your research. Look for the cities you might want to move to, or the universities you wish to go to, or the kind of courses that you want to pursue. Once you’ve zeroed down on this list, the next step is to look at each of these courses and their individual requirements.
Generally most universities abroad require an IELTS (compulsory for UK and Canada) and an optional TOEFL (more widely acknowledged in the US). These are basic English language tests that are not particularly hard to master if you’ve had an English medium education. The next most common exam is the GRE or the GMAT (mainly required in the US), which tests 9th and 10th grade math along with the English vocabulary, grammar and writing abilities.
Give yourself at least 2-4 months to prepare for these competitive exams. The scores you receive in this will be an integral part of your final application to the university so make them count.
The next step is to start working on your statement of purpose, your letters of recommendation, your portfolio (if you’re looking for a fine arts course) and your overall profile. Take the university’s requirements into consideration when drafting your personal statement. It is a reflection of who you are.
Like the job-hunting process, searching for your dream university can also be quite daunting at several points. Especially in preparing for the exams. Because it tests you on the skills that you had acquired during your school days, which I doubt any of us remember vividly (apart from the fact that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, of course). So give yourself enough time in this process. Look at the university application deadlines and start planning backwards. Have patience with yourself and trust that you will ace the hell out of this too –just like you did grad school.
This is the time to explore and upskill
And for the in-betweens who are still oscillating between the aforementioned two options, this (and the world, of course) is your playground.
Think about what do you plan to do after graduation. Is it a hobby that you’ve harboured for a while and wish to explore it now that you have the time? Or is it that you wish to learn something new, gain new skills without binding yourself to a conventional school/college routine? The Internet is your answer.
Look for short-term courses (online courses, weekend courses, distance learning diplomas, etc.) to accelerate your skill sets. A similar approach can be used to look at hobby classes or people in your desired field with whom you wish to work with.
Or if in case you have a skill set which you simply wish to explore the prospects of, freelancing or taking intermittent projects and assignments for different people and organisations is also a good way to start. If you’re a writer, or a graphic designer, a stylist, or a fashion designer, etc. looking for freelance work online is relatively easy.
With websites like Upwork there are a lot of organisations that simply look for people to work with on a project basis. Your own social media accounts too are a great way to start marketing yourself as someone who is willing to undertake work.
Doing this will give you the freedom of exploring working with organisations, working for yourself, while also giving you the freedom to pursue other hobbies, passions and interests without the burden of a conventional job.
Another way to ease your confusion is to look for volunteering positions. Volunteering for organisations or causes that you believe in and would like to extend your support to is a great way to channel your interests and help find your true calling. With the plethora of animal related causes, child welfare, education-related, women centric organisations, etc. there are several avenues beyond a basic job or study option to be explored.
No matter what your true calling turns out to be, this most certainly is the best time to explore new avenues rather than jumping into something you are not completely convinced sure about when thinking what to do after college.