Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How to Answer the Question “So, What Are Your Plans After Undergrad?”

I’m not a full-fledged scientist or anything, but after some acute observations, it seems that being in one’s final year of undergrad affects people in different ways. There are those who return for their last year all bright-eyed and whatnot, marveling at the new found beauty of the U of A campus, constantly exclaiming, “Oh golly gosh! I can’t believe I won’t be here next year.” Of course, the things they are floored by aren’t limited to the view here, but actually extend to the most minuscule of things, like “Oh, wow! Was that trash can always there? I mean, what a convenient location for a trash can! I’m going to miss the U of A and how people are just so considerate here.” Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture. 

There are those who go nuts trying to make as many friends as possible (which is great!), and those who start checking things off a hastily made bucket list. And then, there are the rest of us: those who could not care less... but that isn’t because we haven’t enjoyed our time here. We’ve just got bigger problems - actually, to be frank, a singular problem. It’s likely been a recurring one, and has now become a giant, anxious elephant looming in the darkest corner of the room, dressed in a pink tutu and refusing to be ignored… and that is: how to answer the loaded (but now, sadly, very familiar) question, “So, what are your plans after undergrad?” 

We’ve all heard it before – from professors, co-workers, parents, aunts, uncles, sister’s husband’s, friend’s distant cousin twice removed…. it seems like everyone’s managed to ask this question. Has answering it gotten any easier? Probably not. To the rare few who know exactly what they want to do (career-wise), and have known for quite some time, TEACH ME THY WAYS! And to those who have no idea what they’re doing, I have some suggestions that might help. 

Firstly, (and I hate to state the obvious but…) you should probably figure out what it is that you want to do, in the most general sense. “Sigh,” you say, “wasn’t the very point of this post for her to answer this question for me, solving the giant question mark that is my life at this point?” Nope, I won’t be doing that. But by the end of this, I will hopefully have steered you in the right direction… and maybe, you’ll realize that it’s actually quite okay and normal to be a little confused. 

Contrary to popular belief, no one actually expects you to have everything figured out right away. Seriously. Applying yourself, though? Yes. Working towards some goal? Yes. How do you go about doing this? That totally depends on you – but being honest with yourself, and asking the right questions, will be key. 

“But what are the right questions?” you ask. Well, are you thinking long-term or short-term? To put it plainly: long-term goals are usually of the ‘permanent’ variety, and are much easier to make for students who are graduating from professional degrees (where their study area relates directly to a specific market); they’ve most likely got a specific direction they want to head in. Short-term goals are easier to make for those who have degrees that offer a wider variety of career paths (namely, general Arts/Science degrees and the like), allowing them to explore more options.  

Deciding on a time frame is crucial, as it determines what kind of goal you will be working towards. Thinking a year ahead (i.e. what you’ll be doing your first year after undergrad) is ideal for those who want to take some time off to travel, experience new things, and take a break from school (or work) for a bit. It’s also ideal for those who plan to begin graduate school or any number of professional programs right after their undergrad, but need some time to bulk up their resumes and CVs. Thinking ten years ahead is most likely ideal for those who are able to start working on building their careers right away - particularly if they don’t want to take a ‘break’ or do not necessarily need or want to apply for another degree. For example, you might be a fourth year Business student who has already secured a job after graduation; in that case, there’s a good chance that you have an idea of what kind of company you’d like to work for, and what job title you’d like to aim for in the long-run (and not necessarily with the company that you’ve secured a job with). 

Now that you’ve decided how far ahead you’d like to think (depending on the type of undergraduate degree you’re about to graduate from, and whether or not you’ll be taking a break/going back to school/starting your career right away), there’s one more thing you need to know… and that is this: it’s not really about what you decide to do, but what you want to gain from it. Whatever you decide to do, try to make it as constructive as possible; anything can be turned into a useful experience, and this is the key to eliminating that wishy-washy, frantic look in your eyes as you attempt to answer every undergrad’s not-so-favorite question.

How so you ask? Well, what makes it so painful to answer that loaded question is pretending that you know what you’re going to be doing… when you don’t. But, managing to find a purpose in whatever you decide to do, temporary or long-term, can definitely make it easier to answer this question

So, here are a few things to keep in mind once you decide on what you want to do, and how to get the most out of it

-- “Oh, I’m taking some time off to…”- this section is for people who decide that they’ve had enough of school, work, life in general, etc. 

Okay, so you want to take a break. Scratch that, you need a break, something completely different than what you normally do (i.e. SCHOOL) and there’s nothing wrong with that! Here’s how you can make the most out of it.

“... do a summer internship abroad, where I can further myself both personally and professionally, in the midst of rich languages and cultures.”

Not only does Education Abroad offer ways to take courses overseas, but also provide opportunities to do internships and work experience abroad (which are crucial for those who’ve just graduated and seeking experience that a typical graduate will not have).

Important dates/Timeline: 

September 25, 2014 - Go Abroad Fair (10:00a.m. - 4:00p.m, Lister Centre): If this idea seems appealing to you in any way, you should definitely attend the Go Abroad Fair, as you’ll likely have all your questions answered.

“... try my hand at teaching English overseas.”

A number of organizations allow you to do this, of which the biggest is Study and Go Abroad (Education Abroad provides a lot of the same opportunities). They offer a lot of variety in terms of what you can do (study/travel/work/volunteer), and who you can carry out the specified activity with! Check out the Attending Exhibitors list to see if there are any organizations you’d like to work with (in any capacity). If you attend, you’ll have your questions answered from representatives of the different organizations!

Important dates/Timeline: 

September 30, 2014 - Study and Go Abroad Fair (2:00p.m.-6:00p.m., Shaw Conference Centre)

“... get involved first-hand when it comes to the promotion of disease prevention reforming primary health care policy, whilst providing basic health provisions to areas in need.” 

There are a number of student groups (and larger organizations) that are dedicated to providing basic necessities to under-privileged areas - such as clean water, access to adequate medical care, along with many other things. One example of this is SIHA, Students' International Health Association, where both international and local projects are carried out. If public health interests you at all, you should definitely learn more about this student group!  

Important dates: 

September 26, 2014 - Local Project Volunteer application due

September 30, 2014 - International Project Volunteer application due 

“Oh, I’m planning to attend…”- this section is for the warriors who decide they want to pursue higher studies

“... graduate school. Or [insert name of professional/after-degree program].” 
The first semester of your last year is crucial. Why? Because applications are due anywhere from October-January of the year before you intend to start the program… meaning, that you should start working on your applications well before that date, so you can submit everything on time.

Applications ask for a number of things (and vary depending on what program you apply to): Letter of Intent, References/Recommendation Letters, and Volunteer/Work Experience (along with verification documents). Getting all this together can take some time, especially when it comes to securing references. (We’ll be telling you a little more about finding the perfect references in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!) 

Important dates/Timeline:

September - Find a professor that you’d would like to work with (as a volunteer, or student taking a lab course) 

October to November - Applications for many professional programs are due (Medicine/Dentistry/Optometry etc.)

November to December - Securing referees for graduate school 

January to February - Graduate school applications due 

Note: These are general guidelines, so you must double-check with your specific program so that the process goes as smoothly as possible (and you aren’t left scrambling last minute). 

Visit this link: the grad studies page to find your desired program's deadline and application requirements. 

“Oh, I’ve decided to jump right into the workforce…” - this section is for those who’ve decided to get a head-start on that promising and budding career of theirs.

Securing a job that you not only enjoy, but also relevant to what you studied in undergrad, is a major accomplishment. Getting to that point, however, is an uphill battle. There are a number of resources available on campus to help you get there. In some programs, there is a co-op/internship option available, which means that you’ll receive credit and *usually* get paid for relevant work experience (which you’ll have to do anyway at some point). Plus, students who work hard tend to get hired by that same company/organization once they graduate! But, co-op is usually done during the second or third year, and is only offered in select programs.

“... and CAPS helped me get there!”

CAPS (or the U of A Career Centre) is your one-stop shop for anything career related including effective cover-letter writing, interview skills, or finding a job that relates to your academic background. They have a job search database that you can modify to fit your interests; not only that, but they also have information about different places hiring on-campus, if you’re just looking for a part-time job to fund that summer trip you plan on going on! They even offer a Job Shadowing Week that conveniently occurs during the winter semester’s Reading Week, where you can shadow professionals in their workplace (this is the less serious sister of co-op/internship, so make sure to find out more information if you’re looking for work experience, but unsure of where to begin).

Unsure of what you can do with your undergrad degree? Click here.

Click here for tips on how to get hired/interview skills/all about work experience before you graduate/job search.

There’s a reason you’ve been hearing about CAPS consistently throughout your undergraduate career: it’s because they’re experienced, helpful and resourceful! 

Important Dates/Timeline:

September 24, 2014 - Careers Day (10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Butterdome): There will be over 200 organizations present, so don’t miss this great opportunity! Open to all students, from any faculty/program. You can check out list of organizations that will be in attendance here.

November 20, 2014 - Pharmacy Career Fair (2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m., ECHA)

January 26, 2015 - Education Fair (10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Butterdome)

January 26, 2015 - Summer Job Fair (10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Butterdome)

February, 2015 (Reading Week) - Job Shadowing (You need to sign up for this. Keep on a look-out on the CAPS website for more information)

March 4, 2015 - Science Student & Employer Mixer (11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., CCIS)

March 5, 2015 - Arts Student & Employer Mixer (11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., Riverside Lounge)

And there you have it, folks! There are so many different opportunities out there that we have to take advantage of (some that I didn’t even get a chance to mention). Remember, whatever you choose to do, try to find the silver lining and make it an experience you can benefit from. If you find a purpose in what you plan to do, answering “So, what are your plans after undergrad?” will definitely become that much easier.

And for those who find themselves not doing anything they deem as beneficial… well, did you know that Einstein couldn’t find a job during the first two years after graduation? This was because he received horrible letters of recommendation from professors whose classes he used to skip (because he was too busy figuring out how the universe came to be… duh). Though we’re not all Einsteins, don’t sweat it too much if you don’t have everything figured out right away. Einstein sure didn’t, and look how everything turned out for him! 

Aala - YouAlberta Blogger

Aala is in her final year of the Neuroscience program [insert other random but completely boring things about her that make your eyes glaze over]. Now, onto the real important stuff: any doctors out there reading this? She's got a serious case of wanderlust-itis, and was wondering if there were any immediate cures? Because it’s got her on Pinterest, pinning images of places she’ll likely only visit in her dreams, when she should be paying close attention as her physiology professor goes over the role of CCK in the digestive system. FOR THE THIRD TIME. Sigh. At any point during the day, you can most definitely find her in the lineup for Tim Horton’s (ANY Tim Horton’s really, she's got quite a radar for it) getting her daily Iced Capp fix. 


  1. I am finishing grad school and I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.

    1. You voluntarily went into grad school. That basically sums it all up.

  2. I took a year off and that did wonders for me. I think its better to take some time to figure things out instead of jumping right back in


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