“So…do you know what you’re doing next year?”
Sound familiar? If you’re about to graduate from college, I have no doubt that it does. That question and I became intimately acquainted last year around this time when I was preparing to graduate from Notre Dame. And did I have an answer? Hell no. Still, it’s easy to feel like if you’re not walking off that stage with a diploma in one hand and a job offer in the other, you’re behind. But diving right into the world of full-time employment is not for everyone, so I spoke to several successful Millennial women who had different ideas about what to do after college and are very happy they did.
After receiving her Masters in 2010 from NYU, Shauna Nep chose to volunteer instead of looking to get a “real job” (ha, what is that?) immediately after graduation. She decided to choose what her dream job would be, reach out to the organization, and volunteer there. After moving out to L.A. and volunteering for a few months at her dream company, Shauna landed a full-time position. “I know not everyone has the luxury of being able to volunteer,” Shauna says, “but if you can’t afford it for a few months, it is an investment worth making.”
[Learn: Find Your Purpose]
2. Work Part-Time or Freelance
After graduation, 2014 Notre Dame graduate Claire Spears returned home to Tulsa without a full-time gig, and that’s exactly how she wanted it. “I had one thing in place—I would go back to This Land Press (where I had interned) and continue working on books in some capacity. I also wanted to apply for some fellowships and graduate programs. Then I just starting following interests—I like yoga; I should see if Lululemon is hiring. I like yoga; I should teach. That kind of thing,” she says. One year later, she continues to do book production and design for This Land, works at Lululemon, is a freelance copywriter, and teaches yoga classes regularly. “I’m so glad that I gave myself time and flexibility,” Claire says. “I’m fortunate enough to be in the position that I did not need to immediately have a full-time corporate job upon graduation. I moved home; I let college soak in for a minute. I tapped into interests, and followed passions. I’ve met cool, interesting people that I would not have met. And now, a year out, I have some really exciting opportunities for studies and business ventures.”
2014 James Madison University graduate Isabelle C. Furth watched her friends look for jobs throughout senior year, staying firm in her commitment to take the summer off to travel, even when dubious friends warned her against this. “I went with my gut,” Isabelle says. “I found a part-time position in southern Italy for a month after graduation, then traveled around Europe for another two months.” When she got home this past fall, she immediately began looking for jobs, finding one at a top PR firm, Edelman.
4. Teach Abroad
Upon graduating from the University of Missouri in December of 2013, Emily Giffin decided to move to Costa Rica where she got her TEFL certification (teaching English as a foreign language). Emily says she’s so glad she took the time to do this before getting a full-time job, as the month-long training program gave her a unique experience in her field (communications) and connections from all over the world. “Now, with my TEFL certification,” Emily says, “I have a permanent ‘ticket’ for future world travels and can continue creating opportunities for others by teaching English.” Additionally, it was a friend she met in Costa Rica who connected her with her current job at Scholastic. “Networking happens all the time,” she says, “so I figure, why not on the beach?“ Amen to that.
5. Pursue Higher Education
If you reconsider your career path and want to pivot in a completely new direction, going back to school may be your best option. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 2012 with a BA in economics and psychology, Kelly Roberts made the bold decision to pursue a Masters in International Fashion Business in the UK. She had always wanted to live in England and was interested in a career in fashion, so she went for it. Her Masters complete and still living in England, Kelly now owns her own clothing business called Bitter Lollipop. “It has been incredibly challenging,” she says. “But I’ve learned so much more in the last year from running a business than I have from my undergraduate and Masters degrees combined.”
6. Start a Company
I know—this section headline makes me laugh, too. Sure, just start my own business. Great advice, Kelsey! It’s certainly not easy, but so many college grads are doing it successfully. In addition to Kelly, I spoke with three other Millennial women who graduated without a full-time job and took the entrepreneurial path instead. Avonda Turner graduated from Old Dominion University in 2010, the peak of the recession. “Following no after no after no,” she says, “I decided to turn my passion into profit.” A self-taught graphic designer, Avonda founded TurnerHill, a brand identity firm she ran successfully for four years. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, Avonda also founded a “desk to dinner” jewelry company called ERIN/ANDERSON.
“CEO and Lead Publicist” right out of college suited 2012 Jackson State University graduate Lindsey Walker just fine. Finding that her hometown had limited opportunities in her field, Lindsey decided to create her own by founding PR Mentality. “Starting my own business at 21 years old has been the greatest experience of my life,” Lindsey says. “I am grateful and so blessed to be a full-time entrepreneur. Working for myself has shown me that I can create my own opportunities and finances. I don’t have to wait on anyone.”
Kayley Reed, founder of Wear Your Label, a clothing line designed to create conversations about mental health, echoed that sentiment. “Starting a business is the most rewarding and most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” Kayley says. “It’s not stable. It’s scary. It’s risky. But it’s also completely freeing, and seeing the direct impact you can make (and the success you can build for yourself) is totally worth it.”
7. Do Something That’s Straight-Up Crazy
I’m willing to bet that many people looked at UC Berkeley graduate Melissa Mesku like she was crazy when she told them her post-grad plans. After graduation, she bought a fixer-upper house with 17 other people, built it into a housing co-operative, and started a nonprofit to run it. Many years and many jobs later for Melissa, that co-op is still going strong. “I called it a ‘reverse retirement,'” she says. “Having fun and doing random things while I was still young, expecting to pay it off later. It worked really well and I wouldn’t change it for a thing.” Melissa went on to become a national speaker on social justice, a language student in Guatemala, a high school teacher, a developer and content strategist, an entrepreneur, and a magazine editor.
The takeaway from all this? Don’t feel trapped when people ask, “What are you doing next year?” The possibilities are infinite.
Photo: Tony Anderson / Getty Images