I recently graduated from Stony Brook University—earning my Bachelor of Arts in English and Writing—and I’m still basking in the biggest accomplishment in my life thus far. But, at the back of my mind, there’s been that little (and, sometimes, not so little) voice: what next? For me (and many of my fellow graduates), I didn’t have an immediate answer. It felt like the Real World was finally upon us, but I was not fully ready to be Miss Independent. I wanted to understand how it all worked—how I personally worked. So, during my time off, I decided to plan for my next step forward. Take time to fulfill yourself.
Get a Short-Term Job
I wasn’t ready to jump into a career, but I did need to keep maintain independence by earning some money. I was lucky enough to find jobs that I enjoy while I made plans for the longer term. And so can you!
Ask yourself: are there any businesses or organizations that you’ve enjoyed helping in the past? I always remembered the help I received as I navigated my college experience, and my first thought was to try to give back by helping other students find their path.
I started looking for part-time jobs at the schools I had attended. Even if you don’t get your “dream job” right off the bat—my first job at Suffolk County Community College involves fetching students their printouts for eight hours a day—the experience will keep you firmly centered in a community that you appreciate, and it will put you in close proximity to future opportunities.
Even former hobbies can be a good source for short-term employment. Another of my early jobs was as a receptionist for an equestrian center. As an equestrian myself, I already knew many of the details of how a stable operates, and it made the interview process smooth and enjoyable.
So, think of how you can use your interests to find an appropriate position. Love exercise? See if the local yoga studios or gyms need help. Love working with kids? Try nannying or working with kids in an after school or weekend program, at your local YMCA. Love fashion? Check if your favorite retail stores are hiring. Love to read? A library or bookstore could be a good match for you.
Get In Touch With Yourself
Some people have a clear next step when they graduate; they know what they want to accomplish for their masters, or they graduate with full-time employment right out the gate. But, today, it’s rare that a college graduate will find full-time employment right before graduation. It’s normal to take more time to figure out what you really want for your future.
After eight years of going to school, I wanted to take “time off” (working, but not yet committing to a long-term job or graduate program) for six months to a year. With school and assignments no longer being a priority, I can use my free time to be more in tune with my creative self. I wanted to get back into photography and take another voice lesson with a teacher in New York City.
So, while it’s important to find enough work to stay independent, don’t feel pressure to make an immediate commitment. Is there something that you have always wanted to do or try? Go for it! You can also meet new people and make new friends this way too—sometimes, these “random” experiences can even lead to career connections you never expected.
Before graduation, college was my biggest priority, and it was a reasonable excuse to put other personal endeavors aside. Taking time off, however, has given me space for self-discovery. In this space, you begin discovering and confirming your likes and dislikes. For instance, I am certain that I do not want a job where I must stare at a computer screen for eight hours a day, five days a week.
Also, while I love writing, I am learning that I don’t need to make writing a full-time career. If I can, great. If not, I can still enjoy it as a part-time occupation. I want to be in a social environment where I can feel useful and serve others, but also work independently too. Without the past few months of exploration, I might not have learned these important truths about myself.
Get Ready to Make a Commitment
It’s not necessary to decide your entire future right after graduating, but it’s not proactive to put off that decision forever. This time allows you to think clearly without the loud buzzing noise of assignments and due dates. You can listen to where you are being called to next. For me, I felt called to pursue a higher degree. I knew graduate school would help me continue to expand my capabilities as well as open more doors for the careers I found interesting.
So, I put in the hours needed to research for graduate programs that caught my attention. I created a document and began to list schools that I was interested in. I marked open-houses and application due dates on my calendar. Once I had taken the time to understand what I wanted next, I made a full and enthusiastic commitment—and it wasn’t hard to do!
Get Out and Live
This is your time. Do what is best for you—preparing for graduate school or trying new hobbies. Take a modern dance class. Go back to ballet if you always wanted to go back to ballet. Take a cooking class or some type of art class—pottery, photography, painting, drawing. See what the world has to teach you, because, believe me, you will learn and see a lot in a very short amount of time. Try not to worry during this time of transition, because it’s only temporary. Life will fall into place one step at a time.1
Also published on Medium.