Getting your college degree is a huge achievement, but the next steps in life can feel disorienting and stressful. If you’re hesitant to jump into a full-time gig right away, there are alternatives you can consider that will provide you with more life experience while still advancing your career. Here are some postgrad options that can help fortify your résumé and boost your confidence before you enter the workforce.
1. Take on an internship or apprenticeship
A summer internship can be a great way to get hands-on experience in your field before you move forward with your career. While about 43% of internships at for-profit businesses are unpaid, companies are increasingly hiring interns for full-time entry-level jobs. More than 56% of Class of 2018 interns were hired full-time after completing their internships, according to a NACE Internship and Co-op Survey Report. You could also search for an apprenticeship, which provides paid training and instruction in your field. Although they’re most common in trades like plumbing and carpentry, a lot of different fields have apprenticeship programs; Google, for example, offers opportunities in software engineering and marketing.
2. Volunteer or work with a nonprofit
You could also use the education and skills you gained with your degree to do something positive for the world. One option is making a commitment to serve in an organization such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, or Peace Corps. These programs often help students qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program (as long as you meet the additional requirements). What’s more, you may also qualify for student loan forbearance while serving, which will help you keep your finances in check.
3. Pick up a freelance gig or side hustle
If you’re not ready to choose a career path but need some extra cash to pay off your student loans, consider working as an independent contractor in an industry that utilizes the skills you learned in college. Freelance gigs exist in many fields and can be a great way to earn experience and money at the same time. You might offer tutoring, writing, graphic design, accounting, or software engineering services to businesses or individuals looking to connect with freelancers. A freelance gig could even blossom into a full-time career. To get started, consider offering your services on a platform like Fiverr or Upwork.
4. Start your own business
From Reddit to Snapchat, many successful businesses were started by students or recent college grads. However, you should be aware that while about four out of five new businesses in the US succeed past their first year, around 50% fail within the first five years. You’ll want to explore outcomes for your business before you start. The Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends conducting market research and competitive analysis to make sure there’s a demand for your product or service in your community, enough customers who are willing and able to buy your product or service, and space to differentiate yourself from the competition. The next steps are to write a business plan and look for funding.
5. Teach English abroad
In many countries, you don’t need a teaching certificate to teach English—you just need a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification. TEFL courses vary in cost and time commitment, so you’ll want to choose a comprehensive and reputable course, which will typically require at least 120 hours of study. Once you have this certificate, you can apply to programs in a variety of different countries, from Spain to Thailand to Japan. Salaries vary, but the International TEFL Academy (ITA) reports that teachers can get paid anywhere from $2,000–$5,000 per month. What’s more, you’ll learn about different cultures and earn valuable work experience. And you get the added benefit of sightseeing during your off-hours!
6. Pursue graduate school
Sometimes it’s a good idea to go straight to graduate school after college if you’re ready for the challenge, especially if your chosen career path requires it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies 101 occupations requiring a graduate degree, but they have varying wages and outlooks. If you have a passion for one of these fields, then getting grad school out of the way sooner rather than later could help you maximize your lifetime income. But before you apply for more federal student loans, you should do some research into the potential job opportunities and long-term earning potential for your chosen career to ensure grad school is the right investment.
7. Take time to travel
You committed four or more years to earn your degree, and you might feel like you need a break before you jump into a full-time job. If you have some savings, take advantage of the grace period on your student loans and go on a trip. Travel can be expensive, but there are ways you can be frugal and still visit some incredible destinations. For example, you can stay in hostels, which are group accommodations, or stay with a host family. You could also house or pet sit for someone in another location in exchange for free accommodations. There are plenty of websites to help you find these types of opportunities, like TrustedHousesitters.com.
Taking some time to explore, learn, teach, volunteer, or train before you get a full-time job could set you up for success in your future career. It’s a great way to refresh after all that studying and gain real-world experience that’ll contribute to your development. It’s okay to prioritize what you’re passionate about right now as long as it doesn’t interfere with your long-term goals. So pick something that sounds interesting or inspiring—you deserve it!
There’s a chance your plans after graduation won’t go…well, to plan! Check out our article What to Do If Your Postgrad Job Plans Don't Work Out to figure out how to pivot.