Graduating can be a little like waking up from a very long dream... Suddenly, everything seems different.
All that’s left are the memories of good – and difficult – times past, a fancy degree certificate, and the vague recollection of student debt. The rest of your life starts now.
After years of late nights, hard work, and a single focus, recent graduates can risk feeling a little lost once their bachelor’s degree is over. Though it’s best to plan ahead, exams and deadlines often get in the way.
Whenever you do it, planning your next move isn’t easy – precisely because there are so many opportunities available to new graduates.
Long the norm in the UK and the US, it is now becoming increasingly common in continental Europe to start work straight after completing a bachelor’s degree.
But whether it’s best to start with an internship, or to hold out for a full-time position, is an important decision graduate job seekers must make for themselves.
It might feel right pursuing a master’s degree head on. For others, taking time out and traveling the world may be too hard to resist. Or maybe you feel like you would benefit from a little work experience before you continue on with the master's degree?
All these options are popular and have a lot going for them. We look at the pros and cons of each to help you decide where to take your next step.
Option 1: The Internship
Internships offer the best of two worlds. As an intern, you’ll gain some valuable professional experience without committing yourself for a long period of time. Internships are a great opportunity to find out what working for a specific company, or in a specific industry, really entails.
Everyone has to start somewhere. If you love the job, that’s great - chances are that your employer will notice and reward your enthusiasm with a full-time job. If not, by making a good impression you can expand your network and get advice on how to land a job elsewhere.
Bad internship experiences are not unknown. There will always be a few companies out there who are out to take advantage of free labor, offering very little in exchange. Be careful to choose the right internship opportunity with a respected company.
You have to make the most of it. There is only so long you can afford to go without a full paycheck, and only so many internship positions you can take before you find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of salary sacrifice.
There is almost always something to gain from an internship – as long as you do your research beforehand and are aware of how it will fit into your CV and boost your prospects.
Check out our internship guide for a more detailed look at how to make the most out of being an intern.
Option 2: The Full-time Job
The chance to develop. Finding a full-time job immediately after you get a bachelor's degree is especially good for people who want to see how all the theory they have been taught at university plays out in practice. You will also develop a clearer idea of the things that you still want to learn, and where you’d like to see your career going.
Getting some return on investment. By going directly for a full-time position you can start a career at an early age, gather experience quickly, and earn your own money – yes, to start paying off that student debt.
It’s competitive. You might find it difficult to find a full-time job that matches your expectations right away, especially if you’re competing against others with master’s degrees. If you choose this route, don’t let starting from the bottom put you off.
Getting too comfortable, too soon. Once in a paying job, you may find yourself unwilling to take risks and change course – even if you’re unhappy. Try to sketch out a long-term plan to keep your career on track.
In continental Europe especially, it is becoming more common to enter the workforce without a master’s degree. Employers are looking for more than just a strong academic record, so full-time work is a chance to demonstrate your personal qualities and develop your skill set.
Option 3: The Master’s Programme
It’s better to be over- rather than underqualified. Further study at master’s level exposes you to a great variety of subjects and diverse opinions, aiding your personal development. It's an opportunity for a change of scenery, and a chance to think more seriously about your long-term goals. Taking a master’s degree can also be a good opportunity to move to another country and get some international experience.
You should do what you love. If you are passionate about a subject, studying it in depth will always provide you with value that goes far beyond the ability to earn money from it. (And it will most likely help you make more money in the future.) Choosing a master’s degree gives you the opportunity to specialize in a certain field and to learn a little more about yourself.
More debt; less time. The big difference between further study and entering the job market is the effect it will have on your finances. Tuition fees may well be affordable – or non-existent – but you won’t be getting paid regardless. Only choose further study if it is taking you somewhere you can’t otherwise go.
Giving in to the “default option”. The worst thing you can do is embark on further study without a solid idea of how it fits with your long-term plans. It may be the easiest option but, as we’ve shown you here, it is far from your only one.
Knowledge is power, so don’t let yourself be put off a master’s degree simply because it costs time and money. Just make sure that this investment fits into a long-term plan for your career.
Option 4: The Gap Year
Broaden your horizons. This may be a cliché, but that’s because clichés are all true. A change in location may give you a new perspective and focus, especially after a long and strenuous exam period. You may not get the same chance again once you start full-time work or enter further study.
Money doesn’t grow on trees. Taking a year out might be unaffordable for most people if you don’t plan on working while away. Many simply travel for as long as they can safely afford to. Don’t burn your savings unless you really want to get away from it all.
In a globalized world, employers know about the value of having employees who are eager to understand and explore other cultures. Even though you may not improve your practical skills or bolster your work experience, there are many ways you can grow and develop from seeing the world.
It’s up to you
Choosing what to do with your life after a bachelor’s degree isn’t easy. But, happily, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s up to you what next step you take, and it’s your responsibility to make the most of it.
And, luckily for you, no decision is irreversible. Whatever you do, it’s never too late to change your mind and chart a new course. Just make sure you know where you’re planning to end up.