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Options After Graduation

Graduates have a wide range of career decisions to make

Your final year of higher education is usually a frantic blur of lectures, essays, exams, and pressure from everyone around you - and maybe even yourself - to decide what you'll be doing next. This is a brief synopsis of the various options that you have, with a quick look at their various advantages. Hopefully, by considering them each in turn, you'll find some direction and be able to concentrate on a single goal.

After you graduate, your choices are essentially to study further by taking a postgraduate degree, begin a career or business, or take a gap year. Your university or college will have a careers service which exists specifically to help with this kind of decision. Take advantage of their knowledge, and actively seek out their advice. Depending on the field you'll be entering and the job you want, there may be a clear advantage to having a postgraduate degree – or there may be much more to be gained by having some work experience in that industry, or a related one. Subject staff may also be able to provide you with practical insight into these questions.

Postgraduate Study

If you're considering continuing your studies, you should engage with the relevant department as early as possible. Some postgraduate courses have limited intake numbers, mandatory waiting periods, or other special requirements (like specific results or subject combinations) which could result in unavoidable delays. Knowing this beforehand will allow you to plan accordingly. Ideally, you should begin the process of finding these details out about 18 months before you complete your studies. This will give you enough time to adjust your strategy to meet the qualifying criteria.

Postgraduate studies are also available in different forms, and you may need to choose between them. Once again, knowing what the implications of each option are ahead of time can be very helpful. In some cases there is a choice between lectured studies and research-based learning. The research option could be under guidance on campus, or in a commercial or institutional job, reporting back to (or being examined by) academic staff at regular intervals. Whichever way, the duration, costs, and practical implications are so varied that advanced knowledge is extremely important to any decision-making process.

Career Options

For those who are considering going straight into the job market, timing can also be critical. You'll be competing against your fellow students as well as graduates from other institutions for the most desirable of these opportunities. As a result, application deadlines can often be well in advance of completing your course. You'll also avoid the panic rush as time runs out; allowing you to get more individualised attention and advice on how to best plan and strategise your job search, and how to make effective applications to prospective employers.

Register with your institution's career service as early as possible. The more organised and informed you are, the less pressure you'll feel. Remember that your local Jobcentre Plus will also have plenty of guidance available for you.

Career Testing While You Study

There are plenty of opportunities to gain insight into your possible career options while you're still studying. Student societies, university or college newspapers, radio stations and sports teams, as well as “taster courses” offering an introductory level of knowledge about subjects outside of your field, can all help you to get a picture of what working in a particular career might be like. They'll also fill out your CV with a diversity of skills and experience that will be attractive to prospective employers.

Starting a Business

Most higher education institutions offer support programmes to students and graduates who want to start their own business. In some cases this could mean building some form of entrepreneurial skills development into your course, or it could be an extra-curricular series of advice sessions or study that will give you the skills and knowledge to approach launching your own enterprise. You may even be able to become part of an 'incubator programme' where mentors will be made available to you throughout the start-up process until your business is off the ground.

The National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship also runs the FlyingStart service. Their website (http://www.flyingstartonline.com) has a host of resources that you'll find incredibly useful. There are notices of free one-day events that you can attend, as well as details on short-term, or even sustained, mentorship programmes. You can use the online facility to network with other entrepreneurially-minded graduates, and access a database of grants and other available funding. There are also case studies to learn from, and advice available from successful entrepreneurs who use or have used the service.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)

Sometimes you can enter into a collaboration with your college or university, or an associated research institution, and an independent external organisation. These third parties can be businesses of varying sizes, public-sector bodies, or charitable institutions. You'll be tasked with managing a specific strategic project that will last from 10 weeks to 3 years; depending on a number of factors, including your preferences. Most commonly these last more than a year and, after completion, the graduate taking part in the KTP enjoys an excellent chance of being asked to work for the company or organisation involved.

Volunteering

Volunteering is offering your time and abilities to some organisation for free. There are vast numbers of organisations looking for volunteers. From walking dogs for the elderly to being a special constable helping the police to keep your community safe, there are a myriad ways that your skills and aptitude can be put to use. Outside of a sense of satisfaction that you'll derive from making a contribution, volunteering can be an excellent addition to your CV.

You can gain valuable and useful skills that you would otherwise not acquire, or simply appear to be a more rounded person. Certainly the fact that you're prepared to contribute to society without expecting a reward speaks very highly of your sense of responsibility, your initiative, and most importantly, your ability to be part of a group that's working to achieve a greater goal. All of these are desirable character traits in almost all career paths.

Take a Gap Year

There are organised placement opportunities for young people taking a gap year. Many of these are work opportunities in the UK where you can get paid and gain work experience that will boost your CV when you apply for a formal job. A work and travel combination, or even just travelling abroad, can be valuable for you as an individual and as an employment prospect. The world is a highly interconnected place, and a broad perspective is considered a valuable attribute in an employee. Choosing more unusual and challenging destinations can even feed you ideas that could be relevant (or even revolutionary!) to your chosen career.