If you’re anything like me, you were always expected to finish high school, do well, and go to a good university to get your undergrad.
I graduated from UBC in 2018, so I managed to meet those expectations. But following graduation, I found myself in a strange predicament—I no longer know what was expected of me.
For the first time in my life, I wouldn’t be reporting to a classroom in September. That felt kind of weird, but I also saw it as a good thing.
What you want and what you need
Once you get your undergrad, your choices about your future become less about expectations and more about needs.
Some people might think of grad school as a natural next step on their checklist, or like the next level in a video game. You’ve gone to school your whole life, why stop now? This is especially true for those of us who aren’t quite sure what comes next.
It’s not quite like that, though. Grad school is a big undertaking. There’s lots to think about, like:
Do you want to go into research?
Does it make sense from a financial perspective?
Would a Masters or PhD help move you forward in your career area of interest?
Do you see grad school as more than a resume booster?
Are you sure you’re not trying to put off making a decision about your future?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, then grad school might not be the right place for you right now.
When you just don’t know
But maybe you’re just not sure about anything. That’s how I felt in my final year of undergrad—I was intrigued by the idea of a Master’s degree, but couldn’t quite figure out exactly what area of study I wanted to be in or where I wanted to go.
If that sounds familiar to you, don’t worry! This is a huge life decision, so not knowing what you want totally makes sense.
Do your research. Browse the websites for possible grad school programs and try to imagine yourself in them. If you know someone who’s in grad school (especially in your field), ask if they have time to have a conversation with you about it. You could even shadow them for a day if they’re willing!
This approach works for possible careers as well—look at job postings, research companies that are doing the kind of work you’re interested in, and see if you can find someone in that field who might be interested in meeting you for an informational interview.
The more information you have, the more likely you’ll begin to feel you know what’s right for you.
Lean into it
After months of trying to figure out what my future looked like, I decided to take a step back. Why was I stressing so much? Why did I feel like this was such a black-and-white decision? Why did I have to decide right then?
If you’ve grown up on expectations, it’s hard to imagine giving yourself time to choose a next step. But I chose to lean into the ambiguity. I didn’t apply for grad school right away, but I also didn’t rule out the possibility. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to report to a classroom...which meant that I had more freedom than I’d ever had.
When you’re in school, you’re always either doing schoolwork or feeling guilty about not doing it. Last year, I didn’t have that burden for the first time, and I felt excited to see what would get me motivated without it.
What would I learn about what kind of career I want? What other types of interests could I develop? What would I do with my time now that I had so much more of it?
If you’re not sure about your future, you don't have to decide yet. Take your time, work for a year, enjoy life, and give yourself some room to grow and change. For now, it’ll be a pay cheque at the very least, but it could end up leading you to where you want to go. Maybe you’ll really love the school-free life and find inspiration at a new job, or maybe you’ll find yourself missing the academic environment and wanting more.
Both of those things are okay. Choose what works the best for you.
If you want to get more information and talk to some people who know what grad school is like, check out the annual Graduate & Professional Schools Fair on September 27.
For more resources for thinking through choices about and entering the workforce, check out our Career Resources page.