4 routes to take after graduation

Darcy Nathan, Editorial assistant
December, 2023

Empowered with the knowledge, skills, and a broadened perspective gained from your undergraduate degree, you are now in a position to showcase your learning and embark on a new, exciting journey after graduating

Whether you get a graduate job, pursue postgraduate study, or become an entrepreneur, the decision is yours. If you're unsure about your direction, consider volunteering, interning, or taking a gap year to explore your options and broaden your horizons.

1. Get a graduate job

'Many students are leaving university in debt, so the key consideration is often earning money,' says Graham Philpott, head of careers consultancy at the University of Reading.

If you choose to look for a job, your university's careers service is a valuable resource that can provide guidance and support throughout the process, including assistance with CVs, cover letters and interviews. Some services extend their support beyond graduation, ensuring you have the tools and guidance necessary to navigate your career journey.

While many graduates seek employment with large organisations, exploring opportunities with smaller and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can offer a rewarding and fulfilling career. These businesses often provide training, development, and advancement opportunities and may also allow you to make a more significant impact, gain valuable hands-on experience, and potentially climb the ranks more quickly.

To explore your career options wisely, Karl Anton, graduate careers consultant at the University of Bristol's Careers Service suggests the following:

  • be open to changing direction
  • assess your values, interests, skills, and strengths
  • research different jobs and sectors
  • talk to people already working in the field
  • evaluate your preferred career ideas.

If you haven't yet decided on the career you want to pursue, take a look at what can I do with my degree? and explore our job sectors for inspiration. Also, remember that your first job doesn't tie you to a particular career forever, so think about widening your search for graduate jobs.

To gain experience and skills to enhance your CV aim to fill your time with internshipsvolunteering, part-time work or a stint of work shadowing if you're struggling to find a job straight after graduation..

Graham advises that you 'make use of the people around you and the connections you can make through social media and LinkedIn in particular. Building a network of relationships not only gives advice, it also leads to opportunities.' You should also consider participating in networking events like careers fairs.

If you leave university with a 2:2 there are plenty of options open to you. While some large employers may require a 2:1 for graduate schemes, many organisations recognise the potential of 2:2 graduates and are open to considering their applications.

Get more advice about applying for jobs.

2. Become self-employed

If you have a business idea or believe your final-year project has potential, seize the opportunity and put your entrepreneurial skills to the test and start up your own company.

For those with the confidence, tenacity, and business acumen to turn their vision into reality, self-employment offers the following advantages:

  • independence and autonomy to make your own decisions
  • control over who you work with and the type of work you do
  • freedom to work when you like on projects that you choose
  • flexibility to fit work commitments in with family and other interests
  • opportunities to build a portfolio of activities funded by different sources and to respond to ideas and proposals as you see fit
  • recognition as you're able to take the credit for everything that you do, create, design or invent.

There's lots of support available for budding entrepreneurs in the wider community, as Graham explains, 'every area of the UK will have government-backed schemes to help entrepreneurs, such as the Berkshire Growth Hub. While most universities have start-up services that graduates can tap into, like the Henley Centre for Entrepreneurship.'

'Both your university's careers team and enterprise-related student societies will have plenty of support on offer,' adds Karl. 'Enterprise events provide an opportunity to meet and learn from established entrepreneurs and develop your network with peers pursuing the same path. Enterprise skills sessions will help you develop your toolkit of entrepreneurial competencies and behaviours,' he notes. Check with your institution for what support is available.

While being your own boss may seem enticing, the reality of running a business involves juggling multiple responsibilities, including providing services, marketing the company, managing finances, and overseeing staff. By the time you graduate, you should have a clear understanding of whether you see yourself operating as a sole trader, freelancer, or perhaps establishing a more formal entity like a limited company.

It's important to be aware that self-employment can also affect your home life if the boundaries between work and leisure become blurred. To weigh up your options, read our guide on whether self-employment is right for you.

3. Pursue postgraduate study

Doing a postgraduate course can be a rewarding next step, providing opportunities for advanced learning, career advancement, and personal growth.

While postgraduate study is required for certain professions, such as law and psychology, it is also an opportunity to advance your knowledge, enhance your expertise, and potentially open doors to a higher salary.

A Masters takes time and money, so make sure you're aligning your goals with the programme's career outcomes. You should avoid pursuing a Masters degree simply to stall for time or enhance general employability. To broaden your experience and cultural horizons, you may also want to consider studying abroad.

'You have many factors to consider before committing to further study, such as - what subject, which institution, which course, what teaching style suits you best, how will you pay the fees, how will you pay for food and rent, and where will you live?' says Graham.

When deciding on postgraduate study, it's crucial to explore the different funding options. Your university can provide valuable guidance, helping you navigate the various financial aid options available. Additionally, engaging in conversations with family members, postgraduate course leaders, and experienced professionals in your chosen field can provide valuable insights into the true value of a Masters degree.

If you'd like to go down this route, search for postgraduate courses.

4. Take a gap year

A gap year is an opportunity to not only explore the world, but also to immerse yourself in diverse cultures, work environments, and perspectives. Employers highly appreciate these experiences and the cultural understanding you can bring to the workplace. In addition, taking time out to travel demonstrates maturity, organisational and planning skills, and a strong sense of self-reliance.

You could consider incorporating work experience into your travels, as this not only enhances your CV but also allows you to showcase qualities that employers value while exploring new cultures.

'Employers want to see what makes you passionate, so talk about the highs and lows of the gap year as that will positively affect every area of your communication and show what's important to you,' explains Graham.

'Talk about failures too - these are important as they show what you learnt and how you bounced back' he adds.

If you're looking to gain valuable insights into the job market and application process, consider pursuing temporary work abroad, allowing you to apply your international experience in a real-world setting. This will not only enhance your employability but also expand your professional network and broaden your career horizons.

Don't assume a job will suddenly materialise upon your return home - it is important to engage in the process of securing employment in the 'real world' by exploring opportunities in your chosen field.

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