How Do You Know What to Do Next?

How Do You Know What to Do Next?

“What are your plans after graduation…?” As a senior in college, this dreaded question is almost impossible to avoid. Conversations with classmates, fellow interns, and family members all seem to lead to an interrogation about the future. With one semester left in my undergraduate career, panic has finally set in. For many, the thought of graduating a semester early brings excitement and the feeling of accomplishment. But for someone who has no idea what to do next, it’s terrifying. While I still have nearly five months to figure out my plans, the ticking clock seems to be accelerating.


I came to Washington, D.C. this summer to gain valuable work experience, develop professionally, and make vital connections to propel me through my future career (whatever that may be), but in my first few weeks I’ve learned so much more about my future than I ever would have expected. The international affairs field is extremely competitive, and in order to succeed, one needs graduate level education and extensive international and work experience. But what is the first step after graduation?


Pondering post-grad life with friends


For years I assumed I would pursue graduate school immediately following my undergraduate career to further delay becoming a real adult and to figure out what I actually want to do in life; however, after attending a graduate school panel organized by The Washington Center, I realized that this is the exact reason not to go to graduate school. Higher-level education is for people who truly understand their interests, passions and career goals, and use that advanced degree to further their professional agenda. Graduate school is a huge investment! Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a master’s degree when you’re still unsure of the right career path. For me, pursuing this path would be a misstep in the scope of my long-term goals.  All I know now is that graduate school is not for me… at least not yet.


So if not graduate school immediately after graduation, then what?


Work experience is crucial when it comes to pursing mid-level career positions. Sometimes it is even required for entry-level work (which doesn’t make any sense to me). All through life I’ve been naïve to think that after I walk across the stage at graduation and receive my diploma, employers will line up to offer me a great full-time position. However, this is not the case. Finding an entry-level role in this field is much more difficult than I ever expected. Internship experience and networking are imperative in finding that first entry-level position.


After looking online at international affairs entry-level positions, almost every position strongly recommends international experience.  I’ve spoken to a number of young professionals at my internship who are also pursing a career in international affairs, and every single one of them stresses the importance of international experience, whether through service work, internship, study, or even just extensive travel. International experience really sets an individual apart when applying for a position. With that being said, do I join the Peace Corp, teach English abroad, apply for a fellowship, or backpack through Europe?  It’s a little overwhelming to think of all the opportunities available.


If you don’t know what to do after graduation, it’s okay! There are so many other students (and professionals) who still don’t know what to do in life. We’re all in this together. The most important thing now is to ask lots of questions: to advisors, peers, professionals in the field, and admissions counselors. Everyone is willing to give advice and share his or her own experiences with you, just don’t be afraid to ask!  With that being said, I am always looking for post-grad advice, so if you have ideas, please contact me – ASAP!


Ciao for now,
Emily Pingleton


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