Life After Graduation: Expanding my Options

Most Princeton students are worried about similar things. We covet internships as gateways to jobs after graduation. We seldom forget that graduate and professional school applications loom. We see post-grad options as neatly divided among four categories: corporate careers, graduate/professional degrees, fellowships, and (for a few) nonprofit work.

After five semesters at Princeton, this mentality has rubbed off on me. But my time studying in New Zealand has changed the way I see my options after graduation.

Two weeks ago, during my Easter break, I embarked on the Milford Walk, arguably New Zealand’s most famous hike. My favorite part of the four-day, three-night walk was the people I met along the way — Their experiences expanded what I saw as possible post-Princeton pathways. I met recent graduates from the United States, Israel, France, and Australia who were working abroad. Two Vanderbilt graduates worked in the hotel industry in Queenstown. A young woman from Pennsylvania took time to pursue art while working in the North Island’s tourism industry. A group of men who had finished serving in the Israeli Defense Force took a break before resuming life at home. Many of them moved to New Zealand without a set plan and used this work-travel time as a respite from college and professional life, where they could start to realize what kinds of careers really excited them.

Here I am with two travel buddies (in green and red) with our new Australian friend on the hike!
Here I am with two travel buddies (in green and red) with our new Australian friend on the hike! 

Almost every hiker’s job lay outside the spectrum I normally heard about on campus. I walked with physical therapists, staff members of environmental non-profits, musicians, and small business owners. It was my first time talking to people who worked in several of these fields, and many were surprised to hear that their occupations would comprise a slim minority of my college’s graduating class.

I had never met so many people who had graduated without a plan — or at least without planning to pursue a corporate career. To me, traveling and working abroad had always seemed dreamy but frivolous. Financial concerns also affected my perspective: I’m responsible for funding my future education, so while I’ve thought about going to law school or graduate school in philosophy, I need to secure a job first. I don’t believe in feeding the stigma against traditional corporate jobs: I think working at consulting firms or pharmaceutical companies are a perfectly legitimate postgraduate options. But before coming to New Zealand, traditional corporate workplaces sometimes seemed like the only options for someone like me.

The people I met on the Milford Track showed me that there are many other paths to follow after graduation. I’ve started to consider working for a small business, starting my own company, joining a nonprofit, or even taking an interim job abroad for a few months while I think about what really excites me. Corporate jobs and fellowships are wonderful, if they fit your goals. But there are dozens of post-grad options that promise to be equally fulfilling, as I learned from my friends on the track.

Pursuing a side interest or taking up a job in a new place will certainly change your perspective, and it might even introduce you to a new lifestyle or career that you never knew you’d love.

— Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent