You have finally got your college degree – now what?
From further study to voluntary work, there are plenty of options after university
Students are advised to seek out advice from career guidance centres, graduate offices and careers fairs before considering their options. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times
College may have been a blast but thoughts must turn now to what you hope, or plan, to be doing by the time you return your graduation gown and frame your degree parchment.
A lucky few will have a very clearly defined path in mind for what they’re going to do when they leave college, while others will be racked with indecision, never mind have anything resembling a strategy.
Others will be somewhere in between, either with vague notions about what they might do or quite open-minded about the options that may be available.
The good news is that specialists who are highly familiar with all the possible career dilemmas facing many soon-to-be graduates are ready and waiting to help you.
They run the career guidance centres, graduate offices and careers fairs, whether they are based on campus or off it.
The information, advice and contacts they have are invaluable to you, so you should take the time to talk to them.
As well as that, the options are broader than you might think; to boil down your choices to either work or further study is to overlook a changing reality about careers, which is that they can take a long and winding road.
Sarah Brown, a careers adviser at the Dublin Institute of Technology’s Career Development Centre, said: “I’d reinforce the idea that careers in the 21st century are fluid and evolving, so our first jobs after college are often a springboard to other opportunities. The key thing is to do something.”
She says that if you are still in the cohort of final-year students agonising about their next move, the way to make the best choice is to pick “what feels right for you at the moment”.
“Look at all your options and think about what excites you, what you will learn and the skills you will have the opportunity to develop.”
She adds that now is the time to go and talk to lots of different people about where they work and what they do; to go to events to learn about developments within particular industries and to build your network; and keep an open mind about different possibilities as you encounter them.
Graduate trainee schemes
Many large firms will seek to employ college-leavers through their graduate training schemes, which usually last one to two years.
It used to be the preserve of banks, insurance companies and financial institutions, but they have become more popular across all sectors, including technology, pharmaceuticals, IT and retailing.
In fact, careers advisors report that there’s been a bit of a boom in such schemes, with some firms organising time on various campuses across the country to recruit, ready to battle for the brightest and best.
Registering with all the main employment agencies may also help alert you to graduate schemes that perhaps are not so well advertised.
Getting a place on a Big Four graduate trainee scheme is sure to bring all kinds of perks and opportunities, but don’t overlook SMEs.
Enterprise Ireland has a website called Gradhub.ie, which is specifically aimed at helping to steer graduates to working with a smaller firm.
There’s also the public sector to think about, too.
Information on graduate opportunities for this year has just been published on Publicjobs.ie, with three separate campaigns accepting applications until October 13: administrative officer grade, trainee economist in IGEES (Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service), and trainee auditor in the C&AG (Comptroller and Auditor General).
Returning to college to pursue a postgraduate qualification is, of course, a very popular option, but it would be wrong to view it as a means of postponing your transition to the big bad world of employment.
Instead, view it as a continuation of the journey to your chosen career, and preferably to entry at a higher level than as an undergraduate.
You have the basic choice of doing a taught masters course or a research-based masters, while there are also professional masters courses that are focused on professional practice, such as special needs education.
Lisa Looney, dean of graduate studies at Dublin City University (DCU), says most students who pursue postgraduate studies will have completed a general degree course but are looking to build on that and point them more firmly in the direction of a particular industry sector.
She says research masters programmes have been somewhat overshadowed by the huge growth in doctorates over the last 10 years.
“We’ve reached the stage now were only about 10 per cent of research degrees are masters,” she said, often because students started out making a two-year commitment of a research masters, only to decide after 18 months or so to upgrade it to a PhD, which ten years ago were much rarer than they are now.
“Since then, there has been a huge increase in the number of PhD students in the system.”
But she says it’s rare that students would make a choice based mainly on whether the programme is taught or research-based.
“Students who are choosing a research masters are thinking either a stepping stone to doing a doctorate and make their PhD-ship their career path, based on that, or in a particular environment, such as a pharmaceutical company or something where research competence is valued and they see a research masters as a better thing for them to do because that is what is valued within the culture of their company.”
Given the cost of postgraduate study and the scarcity of funding, getting corporate sponsorship of your research masters may make all the difference.
Indeed, Looney believes the increased interest of firms in opportunities to sponsor research relevant to their industries might, in turn, spark a revival in masters research programmes, because a two-year timeframe may suit their fiscal cycles better than the often infinitely longer durations of PhDs.
You might assume that conversion courses are aimed at those who have already left college and embarked on a particular career only to find it isn’t for them or because the opportunities to progress are very limited.
However, many final-year students may have already decided that they’ve ultimately chosen the wrong programme, according to Dave Kilmartin, head of DIT’s Career Development Centre.
“Their undergraduate course may have turned out to be quite different to what they anticipated but they decided to stick with it in order to get a degree.”
Others may wish to change career direction to another sector altogether.
“They may not have had the opportunity to pursue this career area at undergraduate level and a conversion course offers a fresh start.”
As well as becoming more popular, there is a greater diversity of them on offer, too.
“They offer a potentially quicker route into a new career area, as most are between one and two years in duration.”
To spend a period of time living and working abroad will undoubtedly be on the bucket lists of many final-year students.
Doing so straight after college is probably one of the most optimal times to do so, rather than holding off until later, but a lot depends on your motivations, not to mention the opportunities available to you.
“In terms of pursuing work overseas straight after college, or waiting a few years, it is really down to the individual and their field of study,” said Darina Carr, marketing manager at USIT.
“They have to ask themselves what it is they want out of working and travelling abroad.
“Some people may want to take time out before they start climbing the career ladder; others want to start straight away. Either way, most people, upon their return, say it’s the best decision they have ever made.”
If you’re in the “it’s now or never” camp, then USIT has a number of graduate visa schemes and programmes that can enable you to take the first steps.
The first is the one-year USA graduate visa which allows you to go and intern in the USA without having arranged any internship before you travel.
However, you must find one within 90 days of arriving in the country.
You can work for more than one employer and in any of the 50 US states – in any industry, including technology, IT, digital market, PR and software development.
It’s a popular visa that’s also open to current students, as well as recent graduates and post-grads, so you’ll need to be quick to be sure of getting one for 2017.
If you have a degree in physical education, sports science or another related qualification, Soccer Academy USA is a soccer coaching programme through which you can be contracted to coach a new generation of soccer players in soccer camps across a number of different states for up to nine months.
Accommodation in the majority of cases is provided and coaches are paid a weekly salary.
Many year-long visas can be approved and issued within two days of application.
Agricultural students might be interested in a programme whereby they can work for a family-owned and operated farm in Canada for up to a year.
Volunteering, whether at home or abroad, is actively encouraged by nearly all colleges when you are a student but in an environment where the cost of living continues to rise, is it still a viable option for after you graduate?
Sarah Brown, of DIT, says her figures suggest that there has been no noticeable drop-off in the numbers volunteering as graduates but she wonders if more of them do so in combination with some kind of part-time paid employment.
“Volunteering is almost a ‘right of passage’ to gaining paid jobs in some industries so I expect that many graduates will choose to volunteer after college, alongside having a part-time job so that they can further enhance their skills and experience, and stand out from the crowd in the market place which is still fiercely competitive.”
If you’re of a more entrepreneurial bent, the support available for graduates who want to set themselves up in self-employment straight out of college may be all the encouragement you need.
These include such initiatives as DIT’s Hothouse, TCD and UCD’s Innovation Alliance, DCU’s Ryan Academy and the Accelerating Campus Entrepreneurship (ACE) scheme that is run at NUI Galway, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, Cork Institute of Technology and Dundalk Institute of Technology.
“There is also a growing emphasis in DIT on the development of an entrepreneurial mindset through problem-based and project-based work, business competitions, as well as specific modules in entrepreneurship,” said Kilmartin.
“Out of this can emerge new entrepreneurs as well as those who have a more natural bent towards self-employment.”