College Guide - The afterlife

Finding yourself after graduation

Figuring out what to do after college graduation is absolutely terrifying. No one wants to face reality: that the denouement of life when you really didn't have a care in the world has arrived and the angst of not knowing what the future holds rapidly sets in. Perhaps it's your grand expectations, lack of grand expectations, pressure from parents or competition with colleagues that makes postgraduation so unknown.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 51 percent of students who graduated in 2007 had jobs lined up by commencement. So here's a list of nontraditional opportunities that might help you find yourself and, perhaps, stave off that mundane desk job where a Miltonesque co-worker covets his stapler.

Peace Corps: For more than 40 years, the Peace Corps has sent thousands of people across the world to volunteer. Adam Cohen, a 2004 Georgia Tech graduate who returned in July, spent two years as a math and science teacher in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa. "I was applying to grad schools like everyone else," he recalls, "but then I realized I wasn't really ready to go." While in Burkina Faso, Cohen learned how to adapt to strenuous living situations and figured out what he wanted to do. He'll follow his dream in the fall at a graduate program in medical physics at Duke.

Teach for America: In May, Business Week ranked Teach for America No. 10 on its top 25 places for college grads to work. The 17-year-old program has helped close the education gap in some of the nation's underprivileged school districts while launching the careers of nearly 20,000 college graduates. "It has defined my life," says Katie Wcislo, a Teach for America participant and Emory graduate. "It's amazing how so many individual children have impacted me." Her advice for college grads: "You can always go and be a doctor, get your MBA or start out at that amazing dream job, but an opportunity to affect the change in the classrooms of children now is a once-in-a-lifetime experience — and one you won't regret."

Wanderlust: Attention, all adventurous spirits: It's time for you to pack your bags and indulge in a year of travel. Work can wait while you scale the ruins in Machu Picchu, walk along the Great Wall of China and bunk up in a dingy hostel in Paris. There's no better way to clear your head and learn than to try to find out where a restroom is when you can't speak a lick of a country's predominant language. It'll give you a refreshing perspective on life.

Fellowships, fellowships, fellowships: One of the best ways to figure out what the hell you want to do on someone else's nickel and help people in the process is to apply for a fellowship. There are hundreds available. Choose from the prestigious government-funded Fulbright program, which offers recipients the chance to hone in on a specific research project outside of the United States, to niche opportunities in religion, politics, environmentalism and health care both here or as far away as New Zealand. Be sure to plan early, because there's usually an application process that can take several months. For a list of fellowships, visit www.idealist.org.

Join a political campaign: Barack or Hillary, Mitt or Rudy. Whatever your political affiliations, this is the year to join the political bandwagons of '08 candidates. Daniel Rosenthal, a 2004 Emory graduate who will start law school this fall at the University of Virginia, says he learned how to work with different personalities and manage stress when he landed an internship as the assistant to the national field director for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. "It allows you to be idealistic and passionate," he says. "You work for a cause you believe in instead of just working for a boss."

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