I’m Graduating! But What’s Next?

Maddie Ballard

With summertime comes graduation: the gowns, the mortarboards, the flowers and the photographs. It’s an exciting time for students, their families and their friends - you’ve reached the end of an era!

But you might be wondering, what's next? Graduation can be stressful for many students, because after the activity of the last three or four years, the next step is uncertain. Luckily there are lots of options for what to do after graduating - let’s take a look.

Entry-level roles and graduate schemes

Entry-level roles

Entry-level roles, or graduate jobs, are jobs that you are eligible for with little or no professional experience behind you. They are the most common route for recent graduates and can be in a range of sectors. Salaries differ depending on the role – we’ve made a guide.

Graduate schemes

Graduate schemes are a popular route for recent graduates and a great way to begin your career. They are essentially work training programmes in which you can gain experience within a particular role or sector, while being paid a full-time salary. They’re usually with larger companies and because they’re so popular, they can be quite competitive to get a place on, generally involving multiple rounds of assessment and interview. Lasting about 1-2 years, they often result in a permanent job offer at the company.

So how do I get one?

Entry-level roles

Entry-level roles pop up continually, so you can easily apply after graduation. They can be at any company - including start-ups and SMEs - and offer more flexibility than graduate schemes. And while graduate schemes seem to dominate careers fairs, in actual fact, 9/10 graduates end up working entry-level jobs at start-ups and SMEs. You’ll find plenty of graduate roles on TalentPool , as well as on most job boards. Filter ‘entry-level roles’ or use graduate-targeted boards like Milkround and Graduateland.

Graduate schemes

Some graduate schemes require you to apply long before you graduate (usually between October and February of your final year). These are advertised by reps from large organisations, who make a ‘milk round’ of university careers fairs in September/October. Especially if you’re interested in competitive sectors like banking and finance or law, we recommend connecting with companies during the ‘milk round’ and applying for schemes as early as possible.

However, if you missed the ‘milk round’ and are still interested in a graduate scheme, don’t panic! Plenty of companies - such as EY, Airbus and Teach First - have rolling deadlines, so you can apply after graduating, although we suggest acting sooner rather than later.

Bright Network has a list of companies’ 2019 graduate scheme deadlines; your university careers centre will also be able to advise you.

For both entry-level roles and graduate schemes, you’ll need a polished CV and a cover letter. You may also need to answer application questions and tackle assessment days and interviews.

Pros of entry-level roles and graduate schemes
  • Degree of stability and security
  • Invaluable introduction to the working world
  • Great experience for your CV, so even if your first role isn’t one you adore, it will make you more employable for your next job
  • You’ll be earning a proper salary - a nice change after your student years!
Cons of entry-level roles and graduate schemes
  • Can be challenging and exhausting, as you’re constantly taking in new information
  • Alternatively, can be dull. You might have to start at the bottom with menial tasks before you are given exciting work and/or responsibility

Internships and work experience

An internship or work experience stint is a fantastic way to try out a job or sector without yet becoming a full employee. It generally lasts a few weeks or months, and can be paid or unpaid. You could be working a very specific or more broadly defined role.

So how do I get one?

There are lots of paid internship opportunities across a range of sectors on TalentPool, mostly based in London. You can also find internships listed on job boards and company websites. If there’s a company you particularly want to intern for, it’s worth contacting them personally to see if they have any unadvertised opportunities.

To apply, you’ll usually need a CV and a cover letter, and you might also have to attend assessment centres (e.g. for consulting or law) or interviews.

Pros of internships and work experience
  • Give you a taste of the working world so you can make more informed decisions when seeking a permanent role
  • Distinguish your CV from the CVs of other applicants
  • May lead to a permanent job at the organisation if you really impress your employer
  • Short-term – so if you don’t enjoy yourself, you know it will end!
Cons of internships and work experience
  • You usually earn a fairly low salary (for internships) or work unpaid (for work experience). Don’t feel like you have to take an unpaid internship, especially if the work is complex or strenuous!
  • Some businesses might give you low-level tasks like fetching coffee rather than actively involving you in their work
  • Less secure than a permanent job

Postgraduate study

Further study is an excellent option if you enjoyed your undergraduate degree, have done reasonably well, and would like to deepen your understanding of a particular subject. It can be a great way to develop skills and knowledge that will help you stand out from the graduate pack when you later seek employment. But don’t treat it as an excuse to delay facing the ‘real world’!

So how do I start?

You can apply for a postgraduate degree anytime, usually from about a year before you’re due to begin studying.

You usually apply directly to the university for postgraduate study, so it’s important to thoroughly research the possibilities. We recommend beginning with your university’s career service website to explore your options. You should also research what schools are reputable in your field of interest and think about where you’d like to live. It’s also wise to talk to a trusted lecturer at your undergraduate university and see what they recommend as a good fit for you.

Keep in mind that postgraduate study can be expensive, particularly if you’re moving cities. Still, there are lots of funding options. Research the options on your preferred institution’s website, find scholarships on lists like Scholarship Portal and The Scholarship Hub, consider fundraising and loans, and don’t discount countries where postgraduate study is free (such as Germany and Norway)!

Pros of postgraduate study
  • Allows you to develop your knowledge and indulge your interests
  • Looks great on your CV
  • If you move cities, you’ll experience personal as well as academic growth!
Cons of postgraduate study
  • You’re delaying your entrance into the working world, particularly if you don’t intend to be an academic
  • Cost

A gap year

If you’re really not sure what you want to do, a gap year may be the answer. Far from being the soft option, it can be an exciting time to pick up new skills, travel, develop your independence, and add some unique experience to your CV - not to mention recovering from the strain of study.

A gap year may take various forms - maybe you want to work on a vineyard, nanny in France, do some unusual work experience, or backpack around Asia. We recommend having fun, but doing your best to pick up some extra skills along the way - anything from learning a language to honing your customer service with a part-time retail job to developing your creativity by starting a photography blog for your travels.

So how do I make it happen?

The options are endless! You can browse the UCAS page or Go Overseas for some ideas, but most importantly, think about what you’ve always wanted to do, or what you don’t think you’ll get the chance to do again.

Remember to think about your finances: where will you be living? How will you be paying for food and rent? Most graduates will need to do some part-time work or fundraising to support themselves.

Pros of a gap year
  • Opportunity to pick up unique new skills for your CV
  • Freedom and self-direction
  • Can involve travel
Cons of a gap year
  • Might stall your career or academic plans
  • Requires time and money

Everything is going to be alright

When you’re planning your next step, it pays to remember four key things:

  • You have plenty of options and lots of support for making your decisions. If you’re feeling uncertain, talk to your parents, teachers, or university careers centre - they’ve all been where you are.
  • Keep positive. Remember that statistically, you probably won’t get the first thing you apply for. However an application goes, you’re gaining valuable experience simply by carrying it out!
  • You can always change your mind if you don’t enjoy the first option you choose. As a new graduate, your future is uniquely flexible!
  • Most importantly, graduation should be a time of joy, not dread. Take a moment to celebrate your achievements - you deserve it!

Wondering what sector is right for you? Check out our guide to different industries.