A college degree used to mean that you were guaranteed a career in your chosen field and a higher salary than those who hadn't earned a bachelor's degree.
After the economic recession in 2008, however, many college graduates found themselves saddled with thousands of dollars of student loan debt and few, if any, job prospects. Things have picked up since then, but only a small number of my graduating class entered the work force with a full-time job, myself included.
Whether you're a concerned incoming senior or a graduate in the same boat I am, don't worry. There are plenty of options out there if you don't know what to do, including part-time work, travel, and volunteering. Though there are pros and cons to these situations, you can overcome even the scariest of risks by being prepared.
Welcome to the Workforce
First, if you have a full time job, congratulations! That's awesome. Go take on the real world. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Dress and act professionally. Leave the sweatpants and profanity at home.
- Adjusting to your schedule (early mornings, long days, less free time, little to no napping) may be difficult at first, but will get easier.
- If you don't understand something, ask. Asking questions to make sure you fully understand something is totally okay.
- Use this opportunity to network, make connections, and keep your resume fresh. You never know when your dream job will open up at another company, or if the company you're at will be able to afford to keep you employed.
- Give 100%, work hard, and do more than you're asked—but also set limits. You don't want to burn out after two months.
- For more helpful hints, check out this post on the Harvard Review Blog: Five Tips for Your First Job.
Internships can be a great way for you to earn money or experience (or both) while you search for a full time job or wait for graduate school to start. If you work hard at your internship, it can lead to more opportunities—two of my current full-time coworkers began as interns. You never know what can happen! If you don't know where to start looking, check out InternMatch.com, where you can search for internships by companies, cities, or the field you want to work in.
Seasonal work is also available and can be extremely valuable. I worked as a Park Ranger in Colorado for a summer, which turned out to be valuable because I found it was something I did not want to do full time. Try working with kids at a summer camp or even working in food service at a local amusement park. Working an interesting job or at an interesting location can give you fun and valuable experience. To find exciting employment opportunities, check out job site Cool Works.
Finally, try taking a part time job in something you're passionate about and explore if you might want to pursue it. Whether it's landscaping, bartending, yoga, or floristry, working in the field can help you decide if you love it enough to make a career out of it.
Risks, Benefits, and Solutions
There are risks and benefits to both side of this situation. As a full time employee, you will gain experience and have a steady paycheck with benefits, but you will have less free time to spend with your family or friends and may feel stuck after a few months. One way to counter that situation is to explore part-time work until you are sure of what you want to do.
Working part time means lower income, most likely no benefits, and less security, but also more free time and can help you gain varied experience. With lower income, you may have to live at home or have roommates, but these things can be good or bad experiences, depending on what you make of them.
Without benefits, you may need to consider buying health insurance on your own—short-term medical insurance is one solution to the problem. Short-term medical can typically cover you from one to twelve months and is non-renewable. It can help cover costs in case of illness or injury while you don't have employer provided benefits.
Become a World Traveler
Short Recreational Trips
Right after graduation is the best time to travel—before you are tied to a job, a house, or a spouse. Some schools offer trips that can save students money while still offering a full experience.
Education First Tours offers tours like this for universities, colleges, and other organizations. Professors are often the ones who organize these trips at schools for class credit, leisure, or both.
One of the best times for professors to schedule these trips is right after classes end for the summer, when students are free from classes but may not have summer jobs yet. Ask around campus to see if your school has any programs like this.
Consider taking a trip on your own. Many young adults want to backpack through Europe or visit a famous landmark. Check out this blog for some tips on getting started and saving money.
If you are interested in something more long-term, consider finding a job in another country. Simmons University put together this awesome list of 5 programs that can help you work abroad for varying periods of time. Check it out here. You can also find working abroad opportunities using the resources in our Find a Job Abroad blog post.
If you're looking for a more fulfilling experience, volunteering abroad can be the way to go. Though it can be costly, many volunteer organizations offer aid, like Global Citizen Year, which sends graduated college seniors abroad for a year and bases the price of the trip on their ability to pay. Check out this list of 10 great volunteer organizations to see what fits your needs.
Risks, Benefits, and Solutions
There can be costs to traveling, including sometimes having to pay a substantial fee when volunteering, and coming up with the necessary funds to travel on your own (accommodations, transportation, etc,).
In addition, travel can have health risks, especially in less developed parts of the world. Consider travel medical insurance to cover accidental illness or injury, such as Atlas Travel insurance. Overall, though, the experience of traveling is priceless, and chances are that you'll learn a lot about the world and about yourself.
Making the Most of Unemployment
If you're unemployed, you know what that means—time to party!
Actually, it means answering about 100 questions from concerned family members a day—from your dad e-mailing you potential jobs, to your grandma telling you to do "one of those computer things, dear." "Don't worry," mom will chime in, too, with her advice from Dr. Phil: "If you don't have a job, your job is looking for a job."
My personal favorite piece of advice was "You should apply for so many jobs that you can wallpaper your room in rejection letters," courtesy of the school counselor in response to my anxiety about finding a job after graduation.
I would wallpaper my room in rejection letters, if I could see my walls. But I can't, because the boxes of stuff from college I haven't unpacked yet are piled from floor to ceiling.
However, there are a few things you can do to pass the time and keep and your sanity, other than constantly being rejected.
Help Out at Home
If you're living at home like I am, help out. Has your dad always wanted a new fire pit? Help him build it. Does you mom clean the house on Sunday afternoons? Offer to do some of the vacuuming/dusting/scrubbing. Does your mom still not know how to use iTunes? You finally have the time to sit down and teach her how to use it! Try cooking dinner for your parents—they did it for you for a few years. This will both keep you busy and make things easier between you and your parents.
Get a Hobby
Remember before college when you had hobbies other than napping and cramming for exams? Like reading? How about walking the dog? Knitting? Whatever it was that you used to do, pick it up again.
If you didn't have hobbies in high school or can't remember what they were, pick up something new. Have you heard of Pinterest? Join it here: Pinterest.com. It can teach you anything you need to know. Start working out, read (or re-read) the entire Harry Potter series, or teach yourself how to play the piano on your old Yamaha keyboard. Just do something to keep from going crazy.
When I was 13 my mother was worried about my social exposure and said I had to start volunteering somewhere. I chose the humane society. I cleaned the cat cages and walked dogs for four hours a week, and I met some pretty cool animals (and people, too). It's a rewarding experience to feel like you're doing something meaningful.
This site can help you find a cause you want to help in your city, and whether it's animals, kids, or something else, they can point you in the right direction. It's also a great way to pad your resume and even network.
Risks, Benefits, and Solutions
Grads usually have a six month grace period, but eventually student loans will come due. Forbes has a great article about saving money for grads.
Another option is to apply for grad school. Many people do this before graduating college, but that doesn't rule it out if you've already graduated. Getting a master's degree in your chosen field or a bachelor's degree in another subject can make you more marketable once you start looking for a job.
If you're between jobs or without a full-time job, you may not have health insurance. At 26 you age out of your parents plan, but they may ask you to get your own insurance before then to lower their costs. Short-term medical is an affordable option for recent college grads that need protection.
There are advantages to this situation as well. Now that you're an adult, you might find that your parents are actually interesting people outside of being your parents, and it's a great time to connect with them. Or you can try to reconnect with your high school friends, who may even be in the same boat as you are.
No matter what your situation is, know you are not alone, and that the situation is not as bleak as you think. In fact, if you graduated in or after 2014, things are looking brighter for you than they have for many graduates since 2008.