Life After Undergrad: 10 Steps for Moving Forward after Graduation

Photographed by: Amanda Arneson, University of Toronto
In 2016, I’m going to be a fresh graduate from UofT. And while I should be excited to graduate, the thought of seeking full-time employment is simply terrifying. How do students find work after their undergraduate studies? Do they opt out for more studying? What is the next step in my life? In order to gain some inner peace, I decided to seek out answers.

As the first child in my family to start post-secondary education, I vividly remember my first year at the University of Toronto Mississauga. It was in between meeting deadlines for registration and figuring out how to plan my course timetable on ROSI that it really hit me: I had entered the real world.

I wasted no time in trying to get myself adjusted to my new routine at the University. From knowing how to type out my lecture notes, to figuring out how to get back home via the MiWay transit, I needed to cope with the fact that I was on my own. And it was tough. Really tough.


It was when things finally did start to settle down that I found myself going through intense bursts of inner turmoil. I was constantly plagued by thoughts about my future, about who I really was and what my degree would eventually lead me towards. There were many sleepless nights.

Yet, on one faithful day at the cafeteria, I came across a sign that lead upstairs, down a small corridor to the Career Centre. There, I met Malou Twynam, a certified Career Counsellor at the Career Centre. As a Counsellor, Malou provides career counselling and employment advising to postsecondary students at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

In my meetings with Malou, I had slowly but surely started to learn more and more about myself. Under her guidance, we worked together to explore my career options. By understanding my skills, personality, and interests, we worked together to narrowing down my goals and ideal career. After a few appointments with Malou, I felt more confident, determined, but most importantly, I was at peace.


Now after almost four years at UofT, I find myself back in her office. My undergraduate journey is soon coming to an end and I need answers. I need to move forward. Questions have begun to spiral in my head once more. How do you move on after your undergrad? Should I find a job immediately? Focus on paying back my loans? What about graduate studies?

“ It’s very understandable to feel lost again Marta,” she remarks after I explain to her my inner dilemma.

“ You go through your undergrad, focusing on getting work done and then you graduate. You hit a brick wall and ask yourself: Now what? I went through it myself. But I believe everyone experiences this transition differently. ”

During our light conversation together, Malou had worked her magic once more. I had regained my lost confidence and direction in my life. I felt at peace once more. After our meeting, I wanted to highlight and reflect on some of the key points that I took out of our conversation together.


1. Embrace your Journey

Do you find yourself constantly thinking about the future? While there is nothing wrong with planning your next move, we are often so caught up with the future that we often forget about our little accomplishments.

“Did you survive your midterms?” asks Malou.

Assignment after assignment, everything just spiralled out of control for me during midterm season. Now that things are finally settling down, I realized Malou was right to acknowledge and congratulate me. We each have our own journeys to go through throughout the day. Our journey’s are not always smooth ones. We have our ups and downs, but we have our little victories too. Life is full of these moments. Embrace the now.

2. Don’t give into Fear

It’s easy to fall into the inner spiral of fear and doubt. We all do it. In my case, I realized that it was fear of the unknown that was holding me back.

“It’s normal to be scared of the future. But it should be a driving force for you to move forward, not back.” says Malou.

Every problem has a solution. Together with Malou, we decided to write down a list of my next steps for the future. When we finished the list, everything seemed so much easier. There were only three steps I could take:

  1. Apply to Graduate schools
  2. Job Search
  3. Take a 1 year off
“ You don’t have to decide now.” explains Malou. “Often times, that is the reason people are afraid. They feel like they only have one option. You can still apply to graduate schools and job search in between now and later. Only then can you decide what is best for you. ”

3. Build Relationships

As a teenager, I remember how incredibly shy I used to be. It was so bad that I refused to participate in class and interact with new people. But as soon as I got to university, I was thrust into a world were conversations mattered and were a huge part of life on-campus. I realized that without building relationships in my life, I was truly lost.

“ Building connections with others is the key to reaching your goals,” says Malou. “ Every person you meet will know something that you don’t. Connect with like-minded people, attend events, and start as soon as you can building those relationships that lead you towards your goals. Because if you don’t, others will.”

4. Stand out

Don’t be afraid to stand out. Be proud! Show the world who you are and build what career professionals call: a personal brand. Each and every person has a valuable skill, talent, and a voice to contribute to the world. Share and own who you are. In fact, people who stand out and are not afraid to strut their stuff are often times the ones who get the call back when it comes to job interviews.

“ The very first question any interviewer will ask you is “tell me about yourself?” explains Malou. “ Standing out as an individual is often the difference between those who get hired and those who don’t.

Choose to take control of your story. By standing out, you are moving forward and building your own personal brand.

5. Seize Opportunities

Learn to make the most of what you have and seize the opportunities that are around you to in order to grow and move forward.

After my visits to the Career Centre, I was surprised that my fellow undergrads had no idea where or what the centre was. I even had a few friends express the same doubts as I did, yet they did not take advantage of the very resources that were available to them on-campus.

“ Before and after you graduate, you should always be on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Malou. “ Be active and learn to be constantly in touch with the very communities you are part of.

By becoming familiar with our surroundings and the communities that shape our life, we can find the answers and opportunities we seek.

6. Be Hungry

If you want answers, you need to seek them out! I feel like this is one of the most important lessons I learned as an undergraduate student at my time at UofT. Even as a upcoming graduate, I know that this hunger for answers will help me in the future.

“ You should always be hungry for answers,” says Malou as we continue to discuss my future.“ And strongly believe that this is a very important quality for any young graduate to have today.”

If you want doors to open for you, get curious and get hungry for more.

7. Redefine Success

What does success mean to you? It doesn’t have to be big and elaborate. Success can even be as little as not turning off the snooze button on your alarm clock this morning.

As I sat and talked with Malou, I started to appreciate the little successes I had throughout my four years here at the university.

From finding my first job to starting an internship, I’m no longer the shy teenager from before. I am also sure that many other graduates would agree that university changes all of us for the better. If you want to move forward, start redefining what success means to you.

8. Learning never stops

Learning does not end after you graduate. Period. To be honest, this is a small truth that I really struggled to understand at first. School for me has always been a huge part of my life. Now that I am graduating, it feels like I will be losing a large piece of my identity.

“ But learning never stops,” explains Malou “ Even after I graduated, I remember that I learned so many new things that my studies couldn’t have possibly taught me. Learning should be seen as a life long endeavor.”

9. Keep on dreaming

Everyone has a dream. Some people want to travel the world. Others want to start a business. What are your dreams? Have you lost sight of them?

Right now, my dream is to work at an advertising agency. While I have definitely been stumbling along the way, it is so important to get right back up again and start dreaming all over again. I’ve learned that it was precisely at those moments when I fell and back up again that I was rewarded with with an even better opportunities.

So dream, dream, and dream some more.

10. Take Care of Yourself

Have you been taking care of yourself? Surprisingly, I’ve learned that taking care of yourself doesn’t end with just eating right or exercising.

Taking care of yourself means finding a quiet place to reconnect with yourself. It means taking a step back from your daily obligations and taking the time to pick up that book you have been itching to read or even going out for a cup of coffee with that friend you haven’t seen in a long time.

When you learn to focus and dedicate some time in the day for yourself, not only do you feel refreshed to tackle the world again, but you do it with even more energy and gusto.

Writer: Marta Bielak , Editor: Hiba Traboulsi