Grad School, Intern, Volunteer or Work? What’s Next For You?

Graduating from undergrad is an exciting accomplishment and something to be very proud of. But the bittersweet ending means it is time to begin a new chapter in your life, often including entering the workforce full time. But as a young 20-something, starting a full-time career might not be the next step for you—at least not right away. College is only four years, after all, and it’s okay to feel like you haven’t had enough time to learn, explore your talents and options, and begin a one-track career.
When I tell people that I was a psychology student, many people respond with “Oh, so you have to go to grad school then.” This is a common conception but is only true to an extent. Sure, certain careers require a master’s or doctorate degree (e.g. psychologist, psychiatrist, lawyer, etc.). And if you’re wanting to change career paths, additional schooling is often necessary in order to get the jobs you are looking for. But many people don’t realize that grad school isn’t necessarily the best option let alone the only option.
In fact, many employers actually look past people who have graduate degrees because they might be “too qualified” for the position. Do your research; it might be better to start working, gain experience, and work your way into the position you are hoping to get.
Even if grad school is the next step for you, financially, it might not be the most sound decision to jump back into the years of tuition expenses right away. You might need to save money first. Some graduate programs actually waive a portion of tuition for the students that have already had some experience in the workforce. If you aren’t going to be graduating from grad school with a high enough paying job to pay off your loans, see if you can accomplish your career goals without the added financial burden.
If you aren’t 100 percent set on a career path, there is no use in jumping into a grad program right away. The GRE lasts for five years, so take your time figuring out what you want to do. You might even want to explore in ways that don’t involve the classic nine-to-five-job-right-out-of-college. Travel, volunteer, intern (yes, even for free—employers like seeing non-paid internship experience). You might not be saving up a lot of money this way... but you’ll be showing future employers and future graduate schools that you are inquisitive, thoughtful, and mature enough to take the time to explore and grow before jumping into the first job you come across before you’re ready.