As you approach the completion of your bachelor’s degree, you may question what your next steps should be. It’s easy to feel lost without the prospect of heading back to classes on the horizon. Some of your classmates may be applying to or have already applied and been accepted to graduate or professional degree programs. Others may be actively looking for internships or receiving job offers. There isn’t a better option between the two; depending on career goals, some people will immediately start working, while some must first further their education. Different decisions are right for different people.
Explore your options.
With more and more students earning undergraduate degrees each year, those who are planning to move on to a competitive field should consider earning an advanced degree as a way to stand out—even if it’s not required. If you’re not sure whether you’ll need an advanced degree for your intended field, look up some job advertisements for positions you would be interested in. If the requirements include an advanced degree or certification or say something along the lines of “master’s degree preferred,” consider applying to school now and planning to complete your education in the next few years.
If you want to take a few years off from school (or aren’t sure that you ever want to go back), explore the job market—and start early. Having something lined up for immediately after graduation, even if it’s a short-term position, will give you some breathing room. It’s okay to work as an intern, or take temporary or contract positions, to determine what you like and don’t like before making a decision about what you actually want to do in the future. You may find that you love your first job out of school and want to pursue it as a career, or you may decide that what you thought was interesting isn’t actually right for you. From there, you can pursue other fields or make the choice to return to school.
Whichever choice you make, plan ahead while you’re still in school. If you’re moving on to graduate school, be prepared to get the letters of recommendation you’ll need from professors; for the possibility of taking the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT; and for the application process. If you’re entering the job market, update your résumé, prepare references, and perfect your cover letters. Don’t forget about the resources you have available to you through your undergraduate institution: the career center, writing center, alumni network, etc. Staff can help you write your résumé, search for job postings, and practice your interview skills. Reaching out to alums can introduce you to other opportunities, and if you find someone who went to a school you’re interested in attending or works in a similar field, resolve some of your questions.
Remember, there is not one “right” choice that is best for everyone. Rather, make the choice that best fits your situation and goals right now. Even though it may be difficult, it’s always an option to go back to school as an adult, after any number of years off. That said, if your current career goals require a specific advanced degree for you to get started, go ahead and get that degree now.
And now for the fun part…
Take care of the practicalities.
Whether you head straight into school or a job, it’s likely that you’ll be moving to a new city, if not a new state. You’re not going to be able to rely on your college housing situation beyond graduation. Moving, then, means that you’ll need to find a new place to live, and possibly roommates to live with. Thoroughly research anywhere you’re considering moving (even if your options are limited to where you’re applying to school or for jobs), and make sure that you will enjoy the lifestyle and culture there. Consider size of a city, popular local activities, the cost of living, and climate. Factor in the fact, too, that even the neighborhood you choose to live in within a city can have a huge effect on your happiness and well-being.
The practicalities of graduating and moving on from your alma mater don’t end with finding an affordable place to live.
- After a six-month grace period, you’ll need to begin repaying your federal student loans (unless you’ve enrolled in graduate school and take more than a half-time course load). Making loan payments on time is key to maintaining a good credit score and getting out of debt. Learn more about loan repayment here.
- If you were on your school’s health insurance plan, you need to make sure that you switch health insurance providers so that you maintain coverage. You can piggyback off your parent’s plan until you turn 26, purchase coverage through the state or federal health insurance marketplace, or enroll in Medicaid. Learn more here.
- Health insurance coverage isn’t the only health-related chore you need to take care of after graduating and moving. You need to find a new primary care physician, dentist, and any other specialist(s) you visit regularly in your new town, and you need to make sure that they take your new health insurance so you’re not paying for all of your appointments out of pocket.
- Perhaps most importantly, you need to create a budget. Factor in your loan and insurance payments, rent and utilities, transportation, groceries, clothes, and money that should go straight into your savings account. If you’re a student again, you may also need to add in tuition and fees. Hey, no one said that living on your own was all fun and games.
It’s not all paperwork and appointments, though. After graduation and moving, you get to explore your new city. You get to find a new set of friends. You’ll start getting a lot of junk mail that’s addressed to you and not your parents (yep, you’ve made it). You can get a pet.
Whatever direction you choose, and wherever you end up, make the best of it!