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5.2: Life After Graduation

  • Page ID
    146833
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    Photo of sunset
    Figure 23.1 Life after graduation. Image by Tristan Hargreaves used under CC-BY-NC licence.

    Introduction

    Academic success is achieved through a culmination of many things. This book has shown how managing your adjustment to tertiary study and connecting with resources and supportive people creates a successful beginning to a university experience. The book then discussed the fundamental concepts in English language, maths, technology and working with information that provide a solid knowledge base for study in every field. Next, it elaborated on the essential study skills you need to thrive and how to display them with academic integrity. It then explained how those skills can be applied to the assessment tasks you encounter throughout your studies, ultimately preparing you for a successful future.

    This final chapter of Academic Success offers a glimpse into what happens after university study is complete. It begins by discussing the graduation process and the advantages of being active in your alumni. It then explores different directions you may consider, as you step into your future, and outlines some of the challenges you may face. It concludes with a reminder that learning remains part of your lifelong journey.

    Graduation

    Stdents wearing graduation gowns and mrtatboards
    Figure 23.2 The graduation ceremony is your big moment. Enjoy it. Image by Southeastern Seminary used under CC BY 2.0 licence.

    With hard work and resilience, and hopefully some fun along the way, the day will arrive when your study is complete and your final exams and assignments have been marked. Your university will check that you have met all the requirements of your degree and confirm that you are eligible to graduate. Now the celebrations can begin. You will likely receive an invitation to attend your graduation ceremony. Many readers will be familiar with movie scenes of graduations – students wearing robes with strange looking hats known as mortarboards, filing across a stage to receive a rolled piece of paper. This is all part of the graduation ceremony that universities traditionally hold to acknowledge your hard work and achievement. You usually don’t have to attend the ceremony in order to be awarded with your degree but most students find it a rewarding, positive and memorable experience. Quote in speech bubble, “One reason I chose to study was because I’m the first one on both sides of my family to go to university. I want to be that person to walk across the graduation stage and have my family in the audience to see that. I want to be that role model for my nieces and nephews. I just want to get dressed up, really!” Quote from Will, Aboriginal Student.Family and friends who have supported you during your study can share the celebration with you. The graduation ceremony is your big moment. Enjoy it.

    Different universities conduct their graduation ceremonies at different times of the day and year. If you’re planning to attend, make sure you reserve the date in your calendar well in advance. You may need to hire an academic gown for the occasion. Your university will inform you of all the important information you need to take part in the event.

    Alumni

    Middle aged aboriginal man sitting at desk
    Figure 23.3 Wherever your journey takes you after graduation, there is no doubt that learning will be part of it. Image of Sam Conway by Wendy Hargreaves used under CC-BY-NC licence.

    Once you have graduated, the university automatically regards you as a member of their alumni. This term simply means you are a past student. Being alumni doesn’t require you to do anything but you may find there are some interesting privileges available to you. For example, alumni may have access to resources or special membership rates at the library. You may also receive membership discounts with professional or commercial organisations. There may be opportunities to network with other graduates in the same field, eligibility for alumni awards and invitations to special alumni events. There could even be opportunities to take an active role at your university to encourage or mentor new students. Overall, being an active member of your alumni gives you a way to stay connected with your university and its networks, which may in turn lead to further study or job opportunities. Search your university website for information on your alumni and the opportunities membership provides.

    Choosing Your Direction

    By the time you graduate you may already have a firm idea of the next direction you would like to take. For those who do not, here are five options to consider.

    1. Finding Employment

    Many graduates hope to transition quickly from study into a paid job in their field. You may have already started this process using some of the strategies provided in the chapter Preparing for Employment. It can be advantageous to use the momentum of tertiary study and the recency of your training to immediately apply for relevant jobs. Remember however that not all new graduates will walk straight into a job that matches their qualification perfectly. You may be competing against other applicants who have a degree and work experience on their resume. You could consider whether it is advantageous to accept work that is outside your field initially with a view to gradually moving into your preferred profession.

    2. Creating Employment

    Being entrepreneurial is an alternative to job seeking. Self-employment allows you to tailor-make a job that uses your specific skills. For example, if you have a film and television degree you could develop a business as a free-lance photographer. If you have studied education, you could investigate working privately as a tutor. One advantage of being self-employed is you can control the kind of work you do and when you do it. It can be immensely satisfying.

    Running your own business can be exciting but it is not necessarily an easy pathway. Business owners often talk about their long work hours, the difficulty of taking unpaid holidays, considerable amounts of administrative tasks and financial stress. There are also many legal aspects of business management that will require attention. Make sure you are well prepared and well informed. You may find it helpful to enrol in courses designed specifically to teach you the skills needed for running a small business. Government agencies often provide free access to business development resources and to advice through workshops. Overall, make sure you are prepared for the challenges of self-employment before investing in the venture.

    3. Taking a Break

    Some graduates take the opportunity between earning a degree and committing to full-time work to take a break or a “gap year”. This can be an opportunity to rejuvenate after years of study and to explore other aspects of life and the world. A gap year can be particularly appealing to young graduates with little or no financial or family commitments that impact on their priorities. Traditionally, a gap year has been regarded as a prime opportunity to travel. There may be world or even country specific events including natural disasters, disease or border closures that stop you travelling but hopefully they are short-lived.

    Scenery of One tree Hill Australia
    Figure 23.4 Traditionally, a gap year has been regarded as a prime opportunity to travel. Image by Lenny K Photography is licenced under CC BY 2.0

    While taking a break can be a positive experience, it should be managed carefully to avoid impacting negatively on your future employment opportunities. Make sure you are aware of any time limits placed on converting any newly gained provisional professional registrations from your degree into full registrations. For example, your eligibility for teaching appointments or positions in health services may be compromised if you do not begin practising in your field within a certain time limit. Taking a “gap year” does not need to be a full year. Instead, consider when is the best time to return to the search for employment. Investigate when any provisional registrations may expire and if there are any seasonal fluctuations in demand for employees in your field. Some countries have military service requirements, too, that you might need to fulfil ahead of taking a “gap year”. Keep all these things in mind when you prepare.

    4. Further Study

    Another direction you may consider is further study. Graduation opens the new world of postgraduate study to you. Postgraduate study offers the chance to extend your knowledge and expertise even further. A range of options exist such as postgraduate certificates, diplomas, masters, professional doctorates and PhDs. Explore the available options on tertiary websites. You may consider changing university if you find an appealing course at another institution or perhaps you are drawn to living in another city, state or overseas. Postgraduate study is also a popular option for those who have had several years in the workforce. It can be enjoyable to return to the role of student and to delve deeper into your field of interest.

    5. Life Events

    Kagaroo with joey in pouch
    Figure 23.5 There will likely come a time when life events play a part in your journey. Image by Wendy Hargreaves used under CC-BY-NC licence.

    There will likely come a time when life events play a part in your journey, whether it is by choice or not. Parenting children, personal health concerns and becoming a carer for an impaired or elderly person may steer you away from the pathways of work, travel and study. For some, the new direction is welcome, while for others it can be a frustrating change. Whether life events are planned or unplanned, welcome or not, you may find it helpful to regard them as a season – they will pass. The doors to a career, travel or further study may not be closed permanently. The good news is that your university degree is yours for life. When circumstances allow, you will likely be able to re-open those doors and progress in the direction you desire.

    Flexible Options

    There is a lot of flexibility in the five directions discussed above. You may experience all of these alternatives at different times in your life. The other possibility is pursuing two or more options simultaneously. For example, a full-time worker may benefit from undertaking some part-time postgraduate study at night to advance their career opportunities. Parents of young children may opt to balance family responsibilities with part-time work to generate some income and stay active in the professional world. Someone caring for an elderly relative may find self-employment offers the most manageable combination for maintaining a career while being able to work from home with flexible hours.

    Challenges

    Life after graduation can appear like an exciting horizon you are travelling towards. However, when you finally it reach it, it may hold some unexpected challenges.

    Feeling Lost or Overwhelmed

    It’s not uncommon to experience difficulty when transitioning from university to the next part of your journey. Lectures, assignments, placements and exams provided a clear structure and expectations on your time and priorities. Moving beyond the rhythm of the university timetable and semesters to a total absence of boundaries can be surprisingly disconcerting. The initial freedom can feel exhilarating but soon after some graduates struggle with feeling lost or overwhelmed by an unknown future. If you are experiencing this, you may benefit from staying actively in communication with your peers who studied with you at university so you can support each other. Your university alumni organisation may also have resources and suggestions for managing these challenges. Staying connected with family and friends can be another supportive network you can utilise. Take steps to minimise any social isolation you may feel now that your regular contact with people at university has ceased. Most importantly, if you notice that your struggle is impacting negatively on your mental health or interfering with your ability to function, seek help from health professionals.

    Starting Out with a Debt

    Australian money - $50 note and two coins
    Figure 23.6 Seek help to construct a plan for managing study debt and ongoing expenses. Image used under CC-NY-NC licence.

    In many countries, university study requires that you take a loan to pay for courses. For example, Australian students can elect to pay some or all of their university tuition fees using the government Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). In effect, HECS is a loan from the government taken while studying which students begin to repay after graduation once their income reaches a specified threshold. It may feel discouraging when you are earning your first pay packet to have a student loan looming over you, particularly if you have other expenses to meet such as transport, accommodation and food. There may also be costs associated with a new job such as purchasing equipment, uniforms and professional registrations. Remember to do some research or seek help from financial advisors or budgeting experts to construct a plan for managing any study debt and ongoing expenses.

    Unemployment

    A significant obstacle you may face after graduation is unemployment. The job market can be unpredictable and fragile, particularly when there has been a global crisis. Some professions may have a high demand for new workers, allowing graduates to move straight from study into paid employment. Other graduates may be faced with an unwanted period of unemployment. Aside from financial stress, unemployment can impact negatively on your self-esteem and your sense of identity. This may make you anxious. Make use of your student and university networks to keep connected to new opportunities that arise suddenly. Review the chapter Preparing for Employment for positive steps you can take to prepare for work. Communicate with your family and friends about the difficulties you are experiencing. If you notice your mental health is declining or your ability to function is affected, seek help from health professionals.

    Balancing Life

    Rocks balancing on one another
    Figure 23.7 Stay tuned to those moments when you have successfully managed the balance. Image by Tatters is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Those who fill multiple roles simultaneously will likely face challenges in managing time and priorities. Working while parenting, or running a business while studying part-time, can make it difficult to strike the best work-life balance. The more components you juggle, the harder it is to keep all the balls in the air. Recognise that this is not an easy task and do the best you can to make it work for your specific needs and priorities. Remain open to readjusting the balance as things change. As much as possible, stay tuned to those moments when you know you have successfully managed the balance. Consider what worked and try to replicate it. Like before, it may help to view these particular challenges as being only for a season and keep the finish line in sight. Keep in mind that you have the capacity to stop and change your direction if the challenges are proving unworkable or if you feel that you can’t maintain an acceptable balance.

    Conclusion

    A university experience is not a stagnant one. It takes you somewhere. Students begin with a set of beliefs, experiences and skills that are repeatedly challenged, extended and developed while studying. Equipped with the skills for academic success you can enter into life after graduation with the ability to think critically about any information you hear. You will know how to find information from credible sources, synthesise evidence, build an argument supporting your position and can communicate it effectively. Academic success is the passport to continued success in every direction in life.

    Wherever your journey takes you after graduation, there is no doubt that learning will be part of it. Future learning may take place in a formal manner like enrolling in postgraduate study at university, or in attending a training course with a new employer. Conversely, learning can continue informally when watching a documentary at home or having an interesting conversation with friends. Opportunities to further expand your knowledge and challenge your ideas will always exist. Achieving academic success at university ultimately prepares you for successful learning throughout your life. The benefits keep flowing.

    Key points

    • It is common to be invited to attend a graduation ceremony when your university study is complete and you have met all the necessary requirements.
    • Once you have graduated, you automatically become alumni.
    • Being an active member of your alumni may have advantages.
    • There are five directions for your future after graduation that you may consider: Finding employment, creating employment, taking a break, further study and life events.
    • The options are flexible and can be combined.
    • Some of the challenges graduates face are feeling lost or overwhelmed, starting out with a debt, unemployment and balancing life.
    • Learning will continue throughout life, whether it is formal or informal.
    • Achieving academic success at university prepares you for success throughout your life.

    This page titled 5.2: Life After Graduation is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wendy Hargreaves (University of Southern Queensland) .

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