What after undergraduate degree?

Deciding what to do upon completion of your undergraduate degree can be a very daunting task considering the lack of authentic information out there regarding various career paths, what to expect and more importantly, what not to expect from each of the options you have in front of you. One of the best ways to go about making an informed decision about your next career move is to research extensively on all the options you have in order to find out which path will best suit your needs, goals and abilities. Following are some Q&A that hopes to bring some clarity to the various questions, doubts, misgivings and thoughts that is plaguing your mind about your next step after college.

What are the various career paths that I can choose upon completion of my undergraduate degree?

Most Indian students choose one of the following career paths once they are done with their undergraduate degree. They are as follows

Master’s degree abroad: This is a very common career path that most Indian students take. A master’s degree from a good institution in the United States or any other country will add value to your profile provided you work hard and develop a strong profile. Getting a master’s degree is not easy and requires a lot of hard work, not just in academics but also in other aspects considering that you will be away from your family for the first time in your life. One of the main caveats with a master’s degree is the expense. Yes, it is very expensive but if done wisely can be considered as a great investment. Most students who go for a master’s degree do it for the following reasons:

  • They want to work abroad. Getting a master’s degree is one of the best ways to go about if you want to work in the United States or any other foreign country. However, in certain places such as the United Kingdom, work visa permits are difficult to come by and many students return upon completion of their postgraduate studies. Therefore, before you decide which country to pursue your further studies in, make sure you understand their work visa rules and find out whether students get the opportunity to stay back and work in the country after completing their studies.

  • They want to experience the education system abroad. The education system in countries such as the United States are very different from the Indian education system. First of all, the kind of research work being done there is groundbreaking and students get the opportunities to work with professors and publish papers in leading journals and conference papers. Apart from that, students get a lot of exposure and freedom. They can take whatever courses they want to take (provided the courses are relevant to your field), they can even take courses from different departments, not just from their own departments. Most professors are friendly, approachable and are very encouraging of student’s ideas and work.

  • They want to work on groundbreaking research work. If you want to be a part of highly innovative projects that are changing the face of today’s world, then a degree from a top institution abroad is the way to go as countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Singapore, Canada etc. are home to some of the best universities and research institutions in the world and are known for their high quality research output, innovative developments in technology, medicine, science, healthcare and many more.

  • Now that you know why most students choose to pursue a master’s degree, it is also important to realize that many students pursue a degree abroad for reasons like herd mentality, peer pressure, family pressure etc. Therefore, it is very important that you ask yourself the following questions before you decide to pursue a master’s degree.

  • Will it add value to my current profile?
  • Will I be able to manage without my family near me?
  • Can I take care of the expenses all by myself?
  • Will I be able to handle all the challenges that come with pursuing higher studies abroad?

MBA: A management degree is another very popular choice among students, specifically among engineering graduates. An MBA degree has many specializations such as finance, marketing, human resources, strategy and many more. While many students do an MBA right out of college some decide to work for a few years, gather experience and then proceed to do their MBA. Irrespective of how you decide to do your MBA, what matters most is that you know what you are getting into. Plenty of students do an MBA just because everyone else is doing it. What is also important to understand is that an MBA from a random college will not really add that much value to your profile when compared with an MBA from an IIM or a SP Jain. So, make sure you are doing an MBA from a respectable and reputed institution. Following are a few questions that you should ask yourself before taking the plunge into the world of management

  • What is MBA all about?
  • Does an MBA degree align with my long term career goals?
  • Do I have the aptitude for a career in management?
  • Will it add value to my present qualifications?
  • Which area would I like to specialize in during my MBA studies?
  • Will working for a few years and then doing an MBA serve me better than doing an MBA straight out of college?

Work experience: Many students take up jobs right out of their undergraduate degree. Some decide to work for a few years and then do their master’s or MBA while some are happy working and prefer to continue working along the same line instead of studying further. If you wish to study further after working for a couple of years, you need to make sure your work experience aligns with your future goals. Many students work for a few years before pursuing further studies and realize that their work experience did not really count much. One other issue with work experience is that some IT companies hire thousands of students and put them on benches (term used for employees who do not have any projects assigned to them) due to lack of projects availability. Sometimes within a given year, you will be working on a project for 2 months and then be on bench for the next 10 months. Due to this, many students change jobs and move to companies where they are given good work. So, if you are planning to work for a while and then study further, it is imperative that you find a job that enhances your learning and knowledge and helps you build impressive skillsets that proves to be useful for your higher studies or to further your career.

Direct PhD: Quite a number of students apply and get into PhD programs right out of their undergraduate degrees. Now, PhD is not exactly a bed of roses. You will be spending an average of 6 years working on a project and that is a huge commitment. Many students apply for PhD programs without even realizing what it is that they are getting into. Many a times students apply for PhD because they want funding as all doctoral students get funded throughout their studies. What they don’t realize is that PhD is all about perseverance and commitment. If you are contemplating on applying for PhD programs, accept the fact that there will be ups and downs such as issues with professors, failed experiments, rejected papers etc. but you must be prepared to not be bogged down by all challenges and stand your ground. Eventually, things will work out great and you will be on your way to a sparkling career in research like many other doctoral candidates.

M.Tech in India: India is also a great place for higher studies, especially if you do it from reputed institutions such as IITs, IIITs, IISc and TIFR, to name a few. However, there is one major caveat when it comes to admissions requirements and that is the mighty GATE exam. GATE is a very rigorous exam, the syllabus is vast and students must have in-depth knowledge and a very strong understanding of their field if they want to crack the exam. Students usually start preparing for this exam from their second or third year of undergraduate years. If you work persistently and diligently, then by all means you can crack this exam and be on your way towards studying in the hallowed campuses of top notch Indian institutions.

Transition: Shifting from one field to another is something that plenty of Indian students do. If you are thinking of shifting your field and moving to a new area, then by all means go ahead and do it. Due to societal or parental pressure, there are many students who take up engineering or medicine for their undergraduate degrees and upon completion of the same, they venture out and start working on something they are really passionate about, be it dance, music, art, journalism etc. and many even turn out to be very successful in their endeavours. So, if you have any idea along those lines, go ahead and live your dreams

Entrepreneurship: Upon hearing the word entrepreneurship many students tend to balk as it sounds like quite a challenge but just look around you and see how many smart young people your age are starting their own business, be it an angel funded startup or a boutique. If you believe you have the skillsets and tools required to succeed in your area, then go ahead and strike out on your own. The initial path will be difficult but if you are persistent, flexible, open minded and ready to learn from your mistakes, then you will very well be on your way to a fulfilling and prosperous career as an entrepreneur.

Break: This is something that is very uncommon among Indian students considering we are initiated into the rat race right from our pre-LKG days. Taking a break and figuring out what you want to do is actually highly popular and common in western nations. In fact, in the United Kingdom, students have something called a gap year where after completing high school, they take a year off to figure out what they want to do and then start college the following year. During this one year period, they volunteer, travel, work etc. in order to discover their interests. You can do the same upon completion of your undergraduate studies. You can volunteer in any area that you have been wanting to work in, you can do extensive travelling and hiking, you can volunteer with underprivileged children or do anything that you have always wanted to do but never got the time to do. Taking a break for a year will not reflect badly on your resume or ruin your chances of finding a job in the future as long as you indulge in activities that sounds like a worthwhile thing to do.