Just like attending college right after high school, joining the workforce — especially going straight into a 9-to-5 job — right after graduating college isn't for everyone. Making long-term commitments right after you finalize an important, meaningful part of your life isn't mandatory, and taking the time to decide what your next step will be may end up saving you a lifetime of trouble or even unhappiness. From traveling to working on personal projects to going to grad school, we've compiled a list of alternatives to taking that job you're expected to once you graduate. The list will also hopefully help you feel validated when things don't go exactly the way you anticipated or you simply want something different right now.
The truth is, you have infinite options when it comes to what to do after college. It's a new chapter of your life that only you can shape, and no one can tell you what the best thing is for you. It can feel like a monumental decision to take a first step, but it's helpful not to think of whatever choice you make as right or wrong and to recognize that this is only the beginning.
Here are some things you can do after college instead of getting a traditional, full-time job.
1. Go to grad school.
You can go to grad school at any point in your life — three years after college, 15 years after or right after you graduate. Maybe you've found a program that you really love and you know exactly what you want to do. In that case, going straight into graduate school might be the right thing for you. Some people like to do this if they know they want a graduate degree for their field and want to get on with it as soon as possible or simply aren't ready to enter the post-grad world just yet.
After college, before you get a job, is a great time to travel. You aren't tied to an office schedule or a place, and your life is being somewhat uprooted anyway after coming out of 12 straight years of structure. Traveling during this time often feels right, and it can be a chance to see places you've never seen and try things you've never done. Of course, you can travel anytime in your life, but people tend to look to this time as a prime opportunity to get out and see the world.
3. Get a part-time job doing something you love.
If you have a passion outside of your field of study, it's possible you can turn it into a part-time job that will occupy and fulfill you while you take a break after school, apply for jobs that will advance your career and just live in the "real world" a little. If you love animals, look for work at a zoo or a pet store. If you're crazy about crafting or sports, look into becoming a teacher at an after-school program or day camp. These kinds of opportunities are always around, and as far as teaching goes, you can turn pretty much any interest in which you have experience into a part-time teaching job in that subject.
4. Focus on your creative craft(s).
If you went to school to be in a creative field — or even if you didn't — you may have a creative craft that falls outside of the conventional world of employment. If you're an actor, a creative writer or a musician, you have your own creative goals that will help you discover the professional future you want. Working on your craft is a personal thing, and unless you're in an MFA program, it's up to you to create a schedule for developing it. After college is a good time to focus on the creative things that make you happy and that you want to build a future out of if you can. Get a side job that pays for your living expenses, and work on your art in your spare time.
5. Become a nanny or au pair.
Nannying is a great way to make money and can even be a means of exploring a new place or learning a new language. If you're in your home country, you can become a full- or part-time nanny and have some great experiences while paying your bills. You can even be a live-in nanny and forgo having to pay rent. If you want to travel, you can become an au pair — people all over the world need nannies and often hire people looking to come to a new country. As an au pair, your lodging and even some of your meals are often covered, and you may get weekends or certain days of the week off to do your own thing. You can learn the language of a new country, explore the area and soak up the excitement of living somewhere that's not your home country.
Volunteering is always fulfilling in many different ways. You can contribute to a cause you believe in, see a new place and meet new people who share your interests and your desire to create positive change. You can find volunteer opportunities near you, look for those that will allow you to travel within the country, or search for international opportunities.
7. Spend time with your family.
If you've been away for college or for longer, you may want some time before moving to a new place and entering the workforce to reconnect with your family and have some time at home. This is a time of transition that can be very bittersweet. It's understandable to feel like you need some time with your parents or friends from home before you begin this next stage of your life, which may mean moving away for the foreseeable future.
8. Continue your education in a training or certificate program.
If grad school's not for you, but you want to continue your education, try researching specified programs that you may be interested in. For example, you could get doula-, CPR- or EMS-certified if those skills interest you or intersect with what you want to accomplish. This is a great time to complete that training. You could also get certified as a yoga instructor or complete a similar training program.
9. Work a seasonal job.
Seasonal jobs offer short-term work commitment with an element of excitement — they often entail seasonal activities that add a layer of adventure to your short-term employment. Helping out at a ski lodge in the winter, joining the staff on a cruise ship and working at the docks on private boats somewhere tropical are some of the most exciting seasonal jobs that will always be available to you. These types of jobs allow you to go somewhere new, do something exciting and be able to pay your way there by working. A lot of more conventional jobs hire seasonal staff, too. You could work at a holiday attraction or a store that's increasing its staff numbers for the holiday season, getting some work experience and extra cash without the commitment pressure of longer-term employment.
10. Take a gap year.
Take a gap year — or two or three. Again, there's no required template for this part of your life (or any other part of your life). Go where your whims take you. Taking a gap year or gap period — whether it's through a program like the Peace Corps or something you've planned yourself — is a great way to spend this time. You've just spent the majority of your life going to school. An educational structure and schedule are all you've known for an overwhelming period of time. Explore the world of opportunities outside of this, and see where it takes you.
11. Be an intern.
There are plenty of internship opportunities open to recent graduates, and they're often easier to get than entry-level jobs. Plus, no one should expect you to have work experience right out of school, so getting your foot in the door through an internship is a totally fine and logical way to enter the workforce more gradually. It can also lead to employment opportunities afterward.
12. Teach English abroad.
If you're a native English speaker, you're qualified to teach English abroad. Ok, yes, there is some training you need to go through, but most programs cover that training and will teach you how to teach effectively on the job. Teaching English is a great way to see the world and make connections with international communities while using the skills you already have.
13. Work on an organic farm.
Organic farming is on the rise, and there are many opportunities to live and work on them, both in and outside of the U.S. If you love the outdoors and believe in sustainability and agriculture, this might be the way to go for you. You can sift through a database of all registered organic farms looking for work and apply, often working there for as long or as little as you want.
14. Start a project, and finish it.
If you have personal or creative projects you've been wanting to complete but haven't had the time outside of your school schedule to get to them, now is the time to commit yourself to a project and see it through. If you're working on a short story, a poem collection, a novel, a film, a construction project or even your five-year plan, devote time daily to seeing your project to completion while your days aren't filled with a full-time job.
15. Experience your college town or city as a non-student.
You've already lived for several years in the place where you went to college, but unless you grew up there, you've experienced it mostly as a student. A lot of people use the time after graduation to stick around for a bit and continue living in the place they went to school to experience it as a post-graduate. Whether you see yourself staying there for a while or just want an extra year or so to take up a part-time job, renew your lease and keep living there, you shouldn't feel rushed to move away.
What every graduate needs to hear.
• Be patient with yourself.
Things rarely happen as quickly or perfectly as we want them to, and this transition period of your life is no different. Be patient with yourself and your life, and try to let go of the pressure to figure everything out right away. Give yourself time.
• No one else's path will be your path.
Post-grad life can feel like a competition. It's easy to feel like you're doing life "wrong" while someone else is doing it "right." Let go of unhealthy comparison. If you see something someone else does that you want to do, that's great. Mentally thank them for bringing it to your attention. Don't beat yourself up for not having thought of it sooner.
• You have time.
Your life is not ending. It's only beginning. You have time.
• You don't need to grow up immediately.
Transitioning out of the identity of "student" is scary. Does this mean I have to be a real adult now? What does that mean? How do I learn how to do it? Let go of the pressure of growing up — whatever that means — and just continue being yourself and going down your path.
• Don't be afraid to waste time.
I have so much anxiety about wasting my time because every decision at this stage of life feels monumental. But wasting time is a harmful notion that our highly capitalistic society has haunted us with — it's not a real thing. Often, the activities that would be considered a waste of time end up being what shapes a person's path or career ‚ like joining a band, beginning a passion project or getting a part-time job you don't think you care about.
• There is no right and wrong.
Your decisions don't fall into binary categories of right and wrong. They will all affect your life, and whether you believe everything happens for a reason or not, all decisions will have effects that change you in ways that will make sense for your life.
• Get a therapist.
This is, again, a time of transition, and it can be really stressful and even melancholic. Everyone adjusts differently, and everyone needs help. Therapists often specify expertise with life transitions, and if you need some guidance or someone to talk to during this time, don't hesitate to pursue help.
• Everyone else feels this way, too.
Your 20s are a crazy time. It's a not-so-secret fact of life. Soak up the chaos, and know you're not alone. Everyone feels this way — even if they're in finance.
• The best years of your life are not past.
I don't know how many times older people told me while I was in college that college would be the "best years of your life." That rhetoric is so harmful and can create so much anxiety for graduates who are turning to the rest of their lives and wondering if things will only be downhill from here. This isn't true. People often say things to young people based only on their own experience, and this doesn't mean they're a universal fact. Your life is just beginning. You'll have ups and downs for the rest of it. The best years of your life — however you measure that — are likely yet to come.
How do I decide where to work after college?
You can find the job that's best for you in a ton of different ways. Maybe it will come from someone you met at a volunteer program or a connection made while solo traveling. Maybe your internship will lead to a full-time job, or your organic farming adventures will lead you to discover your passion for agriculture and seek out opportunities there. The decision is up to you and can happen in any number of ways.
The only mistake you can make is discounting any job that isn't your dream job. Your dream job likely will not be the first job you have after school. Look within fields that interest you, connect with contacts you have who are in or adjacent to those fields and reach out. Also, scour the internet for jobs that interest you and organizations you want to work for. The first job you have after school doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be right for you in some way or another.