Once you graduate the world's your oyster but figuring out what to do next can be a daunting prospect. Take a look at some of your post-university options
After spending three or four years studying, adjusting to life after university can be tough. Your graduation ceremony signifies the end of an era and the start of something new but you may be left wondering, 'what next?'
There are a number of different routes to take as you contemplate what to do after university - and everyone's journey will be different. You can search for a graduate job, enrol on a postgraduate course, set up your own business, volunteer or travel the world.
Whichever path you choose the competitive nature of the jobs market means that it's important to take full advantage of any free time you have to make plans and start putting them into action.
1. Get a graduate job
The majority of new graduates will be looking for a job. Your first port of call should be your university careers service, advises Kate Douglas, director of employability at Middlesex University London. 'Most universities provide support post-graduation; at Middlesex our recruitment support for graduates is life-long.'
Philippa Hardie, a careers consultant at the University of Chester, suggests looking for graduate roles with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 'Being a small fish in a big pond isn't right for everyone and you can still get good training and future prospects in smaller companies.'
You should also check out the getting a job section of the Prospects website for more guidance.
If you haven't yet decided on the precise career you want to pursue, take a look at what can I do with my degree?, Job Match and explore job sectors of interest for some ideas. Also, remember that your first job doesn't tie you to a particular career forever, so don't be too cautious about widening your search for graduate jobs.
You need to put yourself out there to get noticed so work on building contacts with industry professionals. This can be done through work experience, attending networking events such as careers fairs and through your social media channels. 'LinkedIn has developed into a recruitment, as well as a networking platform, so if you're not on it, you could be missing out,' adds Philippa.
Finding a job can take a while. But you should be careful not to allow a gap to develop on your CV, as potential employers may question it later at interviews. If you're struggling to find a job straight after graduation fill your time with internships, volunteering, part-time work or a stint of work shadowing.
Don't be downhearted if you leave university with a 2:2. 'Research has shown that 87% of businesses look first and foremost for graduates with the right attitudes and aptitudes to enable them to be effective in the workplace, while only 55% of employers consider the degree result to be important,' says Kate (CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2016, July 2016.)
However, while some large employers do accept 2:2s on their graduate schemes, many insist on a 2:1. Therefore, you may need to look beyond these and consider starting your career at a smaller organisation where the entry requirements are often more flexible, then working your way up to where you want to be.
In job applications, don't try to hide your result. Instead, highlight your strengths, ensuring that you emphasise work experience or other extra-curricular activities that demonstrate you have the right skills and motivation for the role. If there are genuine mitigating circumstances that led to your grades being lower than expected, don't be afraid of explaining these to employers.
You can find more advice about applying for jobs on Prospects. Make an effort to improve your CV and cover letters so that they show off your qualities and experience as fully as possible. And then, when your applications begin to pay off, ensure that you are prepared for interviews.
2. Become self-employed
Sometimes you need to think outside the box a little. If you're struggling to find your dream job why not create it yourself by setting up your own company? Perhaps you have a great business idea or believe that your final-year project has commercial potential. If so putting your entrepreneurial skills to the test could be a smart move.
Philippa explains that careers services at many universities can help you to turn your idea into a reality. 'Here at Chester we run the 'Venture' programme, designed to equip students and graduates with the skills and knowledge to start a business. We bring in experts to run training sessions for budding entrepreneurs.'
If you have the confidence, tenacity and business acumen to get your organisation off the ground, Kate explains that the advantages to self-employment can include:
- 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 make your heart sing
- 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 - you're able to take the credit for everything that you do, create, design or invent.
However, you need to be sure that self-employment is right for you. Being your own boss might sound like fun but as the owner of a business you'll need to juggle a number of responsibilities such as providing a service, marketing the business and financial and staff management. You'll also have to work to bring in customers and deal with the uncertainty surrounding the availability of work. Self-employment can also affect your home life when the boundaries between work and leisure become blurred.
3. Pursue postgraduate study
An alternative option is to return to university to study at postgraduate level, a route that many have found incredibly rewarding. However, you'll need to make sure you are doing this for the right reasons.
'If you have a real desire to study a particular aspect of your undergraduate course in more depth, then postgraduate study is the answer. Some career areas, such as law and psychology, require further study at postgraduate level in order to qualify,' says Philippa.
Don't take on a Masters degree to stall for time or to boost general employability. Courses are expensive and unnecessary for certain jobs. Before committing to postgraduate study make sure you have valid reasons for doing so and research course and institution options thoroughly. Speak to your careers service to weigh up your postgraduate options and talk to family members, postgraduate course leaders and people already in the jobs you'd like to do to ask if a Masters is worthwhile.
4. Take a gap year
If you want to see more of the world, learn languages, experience different cultures and meet new people before settling down to a work routine you could take a gap year. Back-packing makes you a much more interesting job candidate and can make you more employable in the long run. Taking time out to travel demonstrates maturity, good organisation and planning skills and self-sufficiency.
Working while travelling is also a great way to boost your CV and develop a range of skills. Taking a year out to weigh up your options, decide where your professional interests lie, travel and gain life experience also helps you to make more informed career decisions in the future.
If this sounds like something you'd like to do you’ll need to have an action plan in place for when your return. Don't expect a job to be waiting for you when you get back to reality. To find out what it's like to get a job in another country, explore working abroad.
Discover how to make yourself more attractive to employers while at university and ease the pressure after graduation with our job hunting advice.