What comes after college—more college?

Although much emphasis is placed on attaining a Bachelor’s Degree during high school, students are often unaware of options open to them, and most often choose to enter the workforce or to attend graduate school.

Jeffrey Lutze, Math Department, began working in the chip industry directly after attending undergraduate school, and was not planning on attending graduate school until he had worked as an engineer for two years. Lutze then studied electronics at Cornell University, and earned a doctorate in that field.  

“It was helpful for me to have work experience before attending graduate school because I could see how the things I was doing in school applied in the real world, giving me a better idea of what I wanted to do. The work experience I got was very helpful, especially during research. In retrospect, I believe that the best option for me was to work, then go to graduate school. The only drawback was that I initially was rusty on math concepts that I had not typically used for work and had to relearn them,” Lutze said.

However, entering the workforce directly after four years of undergraduate school can be difficult, as the percentage of unemployed recent undergraduate students is high. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 16 percent of the 1,791,000 college graduates in the class of 2013 have a job waiting for them, and according to a recent survey conducted by recruitment firm Adecco, the poor economy is only part of the reason students who recently earned their Bachelor’s Degrees are not hired–66 percent of managers feel that recent graduates are unprepared for work. 58 percent do not even consider recent graduates.

A solution for these recent undergraduate students is to take a gap year, or a period in which students can take a break between college and graduate school to pursue activities such as  research, explore a trade, travel extensively, or volunteer in a foreign country. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College, Julie Montgomery, Math Department, decided against entering the workforce or attending graduate school right away, and instead joined the Peace Corps.

Montgomery had wanted to go to Africa ever since she had seen the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, as a child. When she was a senior in college, she was uncertain of what she wanted to do and decided that joining the Peace Corps was the perfect opportunity to fulfill her dream of moving to Africa; Montgomery stayed in the Republic of Benin for three and a half years, which she says gave her an opportunity to grow as a person.

“Though I got sick all the time–I contracted what seemed like every illness possible and got into a bike accident–and I sometimes had a hard time communicating, as I did not speak any French at first, I learned many valuable lessons. I learned about how we are all the same, regardless of the fact that other cultures do things differently, looking at life in a much simpler fashion than I had before I left, understanding the value of family, connections and people over material goods,” Montgomery said.

In addition to the invaluable life lessons learned from the gap year, Peace Corps also offers many incentives to students.

“I would recommend the Peace Corps to recent undergraduate students, as the organization can pay off some of your student loans. Also, right after college is the perfect time to experience another culture, as it helps you develop your philosophy and perspective on life while you are still open and relatively free from responsibility,” Montgomery said.