What to Do After Graduating College: 20 Things to Do

Worried about your next steps? We got you covered!

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

What to do after graduating college with graduation hats thrown in air

If you’re on the cusp of college graduation or have recently donned the cap and gown, you’re likely asking yourself what comes next. The phase of life after university is a complex mix of excitement, potential and, yes, a bit of anxiety. But don’t sweat it — you’re far from alone.

This article serves as your roadmap, offering concrete ideas and tips to navigate your life post-campus, and covers various ways to enter the job market. Whether you’re set on a career plan or still sketching out your next steps, this guide aims to steer you in the right direction.

But first:

How to decide what to do

Alright, let’s get the ball rolling. Here are some crucial steps to help guide you as you navigate the maze of life after graduating college.

  • Understand your “what” and “why”. Figure out your main motivators. Is it the pursuit of wealth, fulfilling a passion, or achieving a particular lifestyle? Knowing this helps set your direction.
  • Assess your skills. Create an inventory of your talents and shortcomings. Being aware of your skills helps you make smart choices tailored to what you excel at.
  • Do your research. Look into all the options available to you. Whether it’s the job market, further education or globetrotting, being well-informed will steer you right.
  • Talk to mentors. Connect with people who’ve already been where you’re thinking of heading. Learn from their experience; it can save you time.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush into making a decision. Taking a step back allows you to fully evaluate your options, ensuring you make a choice you won’t regret.

Things to do after college graduation

So, you’ve finished college, and now you’re worried about the “What’s next?” part. But fret not — we’ve compiled a list of 20 things you could consider for some inspiration on what to do after graduating.

1. Take a gap year

A gap year is more than a time-out; it’s a time to invest in yourself. Use this period to travel, volunteer or dive into personal projects that you’ve been putting off. Researching structured gap year programs can offer a framework, or you can go the independent route and build your own itinerary.

Either way, think of it as a sabbatical for personal growth that will broaden your perspective and potentially guide your next steps.

2. Get an entry-level job

Starting with an entry-level job can serve as the cornerstone of your career. Invest time in customizing your résumé and cover letter to the job to make a solid first impression.

Utilize your college network — reach out to alumni and mentors who can give you referrals or job leads. Embrace every opportunity to learn and don’t avoid challenges. They’re not obstacles; they’re steppingstones that teach you the ropes and propel you further in your career.

3. Travel the world

When wanderlust calls, it’s worth listening. Budget your journey carefully, ensuring a blend of adventure and rest in your itinerary. You could even immerse yourself in different cultures by taking language classes or doing some volunteer work.

Traveling expands more than your passport; it enlarges your world view and deepens your understanding of global communities. It’s not just vacationing; it’s a form of education that enriches your character.

4. Start your own business

If you have an entrepreneurial spark, now may be the time to ignite it.

Start by doing comprehensive market research to validate your business idea. Draft a business plan and consider starting small, perhaps with a pilot project to test the market. Networking is key, as is seeking advice from seasoned entrepreneurs. Starting a business is a high-risk, high-reward game, but it’s one that could bring both financial and personal rewards.

5. Go to graduate school

If you feel a strong pull towards academia, look into graduate programs and degrees that align with your academic and career goals. Dig into research topics, investigate potential professors you’d like to work with, and consider your funding options. Chat with current students to get a feel for the program’s culture and workload.

Remember: graduate school is not just an extension of your undergraduate studies; it's a substantial commitment that should mesh with your long-term objectives.

6. Teach abroad

If you’re intrigued by the idea of teaching English abroad, your first step is to research. Look for programs or schools abroad that align with your personal and career values. Start your application and prepare for any required certifications, like TEFL or TESOL.

This isn’t just a job; it’s a multifaceted experience that lets you earn money, positively affect students, and immerse yourself in a new culture. Consider this route for a blend of career development, adventure and social impact.

7. Freelance your services

To embark on a freelancing career, first identify your marketable skills and niche. Sign up on freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, and start with smaller, manageable projects to build your portfolio.

Remember: networking is essential. Reach out to professional contacts and ask satisfied clients to refer you to others. Freelancing offers more than just a paycheck; it provides the freedom to select projects that resonate with you, allowing you to build a personalized career path.

8. Complete an internship

Interested in an internship? Research companies in your field and apply to positions that excite you.

Use your time as an intern to absorb as much knowledge as possible and make valuable connections in the industry. Engage actively with team projects and tasks to showcase your skills. Even if the internship doesn’t pay, the experience and networking opportunities can serve as important steppingstones for your future career.

9. Join the military

If discipline and structure appeal to you, think about a military career. Start by visiting local recruitment offices to get a full understanding of what’s involved, from commitments to benefits.

The military offers not just discipline and training, but also education benefits and career advancement opportunities. Before making this life-altering choice, take time to weigh the pros and cons carefully, and consult with those who’ve been in your shoes.

10. Take online courses

Don’t halt your education; there is always room to grow. Explore online platforms that offer courses in your area of interest, be it coding, marketing or even cooking. Sign up for courses that offer certifications, as these can be valuable resume boosters.

Continual learning not only enhances your skills but also makes you more marketable in your career. Keep an eye out for new courses to stay updated and competitive.

11. Move back home

Moving back home offers a unique blend of financial relief and time to refocus on your career and personal aspirations. Use this phase as a strategic pit stop to advance your life’s objectives.

Whether it’s job searching, honing your skills or kickstarting a side project, this period can be a launchpad for your next chapter. It’s an opportunity to reset, recalibrate and move forward with a clearer, more defined pathway.

12. Network

Building a robust network can be a game-changer for your career. Attend industry events, join professional organizations, and participate in online forums relevant to your field.

Connect with people on LinkedIn but go beyond just clicking “connect”. Offer something of value in your interactions, whether it’s insights or a helpful introduction. A strong network doesn’t just provide job opportunities; it also gives you access to advice, resources and mentorship.

13. Work abroad

If you’re looking to differentiate yourself, consider working abroad. Research countries and industries that align with your career path, and familiarize yourself with visa requirements as well as the job market in your chosen destination.

Adapting to a new work culture not only enhances your résumé but it also gives you skills, like cross-cultural communication and adaptability, that last a lifetime.

14. Try different jobs

If you’re uncertain about your career direction, don’t hesitate to try out various jobs. This could be part-time gigs, short-term contracts or even volunteer work related to your interests.

Each role provides a different perspective, helping you understand what activities or tasks you find rewarding. This exploratory phase can be invaluable, guiding you toward a job or field where you’ll not only succeed but also enjoy your work.

15. Consider public service

If you’re drawn to a career that makes a societal impact, consider public service.

Explore job openings in government agencies, nonprofits or community organizations. These roles often give you a unique sense of purpose in life, knowing your work directly benefits society. Plus, public sector jobs can offer stable employment and attractive benefits, like health insurance and retirement plans. So, if you're looking for meaningful work coupled with job security, public service might be your ideal path.

16. Teach adventure sports

If adrenaline rushes are your thing, think about a career as an adventure sports instructor. Look into certification programs for activities you’re passionate about, whether it’s skydiving, scuba diving or rock climbing. Earning these credentials allows you to turn your hobby into a source of income.

Plus, you get the satisfaction of helping others break their boundaries and experience the excitement you love. This career path blends passion with profession, making work feel less like a job.

17. Write a book

If you have a unique story or specialized knowledge, consider writing a book. Start by outlining your ideas and then dive into the writing process. You have a few options for publishing: self-publish for control or seek out traditional publishers for broader distribution.

Completing a book not only satisfies your creative itch but it also positions you as an authority in your domain. It’s a multifaceted endeavor that can enrich you both personally and professionally.

18. Become an artist

If creativity fuels you, don’t sideline it. Create a dedicated workspace and commit time to your art, whether it’s painting, making music or writing. You can monetize your passion too.

Consider selling your creations online through platforms like Etsy and eBay, or at local art fairs. This approach allows you to nurture your creative soul while also exploring a potential avenue for extra income. It’s a win-win that respects both your passion and your pocket.

19. Become a local tourist

No need to cross oceans for a fresh outlook. Allocate a weekend to play tourist in your own town.

From local landmarks to museums, and even events you’ve never attended, give them a visit. Take that walking tour or dine at that local eatery you’ve always bypassed. Not only is this a low-cost way to recharge, but you’ll also gain a new appreciation for your surroundings. It’s surprising how much you can discover right in your own backyard.

20. Attend workshops

Participating in workshops is an easy, low-commitment way to pick up new skills or hone the ones you already have. Browse for workshops that align with either your professional goals or personal interests.

You’ll walk away with hands-on experience and practical knowledge. Plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity to network with people who share your interests or work in your field. This blend of education and connection makes workshops an invaluable experience.

Key takeaways

Navigating life after college can feel like stepping into the unknown. But as we’ve explored, you have a myriad of options and fun things to shape your path and prepare for life after college:

  • Taking a gap year or working abroad can provide invaluable life and cultural experiences.
  • Entry-level jobs and internships are great steppingstones to a long-term career plan.
  • Freelancing and starting your own business offer the flexibility to work on your terms.
  • Further education, public service or even joining the military can offer unique skill sets and a sense of purpose in life.
  • Creative outlets like writing a book or becoming an artist can be both fulfilling and potentially lucrative.

Don’t worry if you still have no idea what to do. The point is to explore, experiment and learn. Whether you’re networking, diving into different jobs or committing to short-term workshops, each experience adds a piece to the puzzle of your life. It's okay to take your time and weigh all your options carefully. After all, it’s not about finding the perfect route but about carving your own.

Feel free to share your journey or thoughts in the comments below!

Originally published on December 14, 2017.