So You Have a Degree! Now What?
Updated By Staff Writer on July 8, 2020
At California College San Diego, many of our students don’t follow the simplistic plan that society seems to have mapped out for us. You probably already have work experience. You’ve built your own unique life. And now you want college to improve your opportunities or start you on a new path. If you've earned your degree (or are looking to earn it), we have three major ideas of what you might want to do after college. Our students usually want or need to make money! Read on to learn more about post-college options such as internships, full-time work, and working abroad.
Start Planning Early
As you near graduation, take every possible action toward one of the three paths below. You don’t want to end up graduating and saying, “Okay, I have a degree, now what?” If you’ve already graduated, though, you can still start working on the steps below as soon as possible. No matter what you choose to do, you should write a resume and cover letter. Get feedback on it from a professor who has experience in your future profession or from somebody in your industry, like someone you met in an internship. When you write your resume and cover letter, focus them either on full-time roles or on internships. Be very specific about what you want and who you want to work for. Don’t write in a general way to try to please everyone. Instead, write multiple versions, if necessary. If you want to travel after college, you’ll need to start researching the countries you want to go to. Look up jobs there, along with US programs that could send you abroad for work. Leave plenty of time for the processing of applications for a passport and a travel or work visa, immunizations, and other travel preparations. List out the steps you need to check off before graduation. Put each step on your calendar, and start working on them as soon as you can. Things will move fast near the end of college!
Giving Your All at an Internship
Completing an internship during or right after college can be crucial to getting your new career off the ground. That’s why more than 81% of surveyed graduates1 stated that internships helped their careers! An internship can help you transition quickly to full-time work. Some companies like to hire promising college student interns. Contrary to some cynical opinions, they don’t just want to get free work out of you. They may value you because you are learning the latest ideas on their industry in class and can give them a fresh perspective. You might even help a company come up with a unique and lucrative business idea! When applying for internships, it’s important to write a large percentage of your cover letter and resume so that it’s about the company, not about you. Don’t write about how much you “want to learn” or “want experience in the industry.” Instead, prepare to write your cover letter by first writing down all the benefits that you could bring to a company as a current student or a recent graduate. Brainstorm how you can solve certain problems for them, make their work lives easier, or help them make more money. Write down all these ideas. Then, write your cover letter as if you’re subtly selling a product (you) that will make their professional lives better. Answer their unspoken question of “What’s in it for me?” Also, write a different cover letter for each company. Don’t send generic cover letters! Really research each company, looking for ways that your specific college experiences and classes could help you contribute to their unique needs. You can also tweak your resume for each company. Does all this sound time-consuming? Well, it’s much more time-consuming to spend months or a year at a mediocre internship. So put in the time now to earn a great one.
Beating the Competition for a Full-Time Job
Your industry or profession might not encourage internships. Or you might want to apply to full-time jobs and internships simultaneously and see what happens. Hopefully, you’re what Harvard Business Review calls a “sprinter,” one of the 35% of young adults surveyed2 who start a career quickly after college. When writing your cover letter and resume for a full-time job, the tips from the Internship section above still apply. But it’s even more important not to write about how much you want to develop yourself through this job and so on. You’re competing with many other graduates! And many of them will make the mistake of talking about the benefits they want for themselves. So set yourself apart by showing that you have thought about each specific employer’s needs. Explain how you’ll help them:
- Make money
- Be more efficient
- Find new clients
- Serve patients better
- Improve customer service
- Speed up processes
- Whatever else is appropriate to your profession
When applying to jobs, use an organizational system like a spreadsheet to keep track of all the employers you apply to, such as contact information and open positions, and take notes about your process with each one. Don’t apply just to employers who post on job boards. Those can be good opportunities, but you should also send your customized materials to companies you’d just really like to work for. Even if a company hasn’t posted a job, you can explain to them how you’re a great investment (not an expense) and that you’ll give them outstanding value and energy. Who knows? They might create a role just for you.
Working Abroad: A Year-Long Adventure or a New Life?
Many of our students don’t follow the traditional path of finishing high school and immediately going to college. You might already have a family, a job, and other responsibilities. But if you don’t, you might benefit from working abroad right after college, before you decide how to settle down. Travel is an education in itself. Experiencing different cultures and perspectives can help you understand your place in the world better and what you want to do with your life. It may make you more grateful. And it could lead you to a new profession or calling! Of course, it might not seem financially possible for you to travel. However, you can look for ways to make money out there. You can use major job search engines to search for a position3 in your profession in another country, possibly at a multinational company, or for just any job that you could feasibly perform. It can take some time to get the travel or work visa that you need for certain countries and to line up the employment you want, so start taking steps in this direction as soon as possible. Search for jobs and helpful contacts in English-speaking countries as well as non-English-speaking countries which may highly value English-speaking employees. Look up programs that send US residents abroad for work, often with the government, military, or NGOs (non-governmental organizations), especially if they value college degrees. You could also look up foreign schools that need English teachers. If you don’t know what to do after college, seriously think about working in another country or even another state. It can make you a more well-rounded person