Alternative Paths after Graduation

Chelsea Weaver, MEd Intern

Figuring out what you want to do with the “rest of your life” can be life’s biggest and most difficult decision for many people.  If you are nearing the end of your degree and still have no idea what your next step is, you are not alone.  To the students who have no idea what their next move is, it can seem like all of their peers have a set path, but this is not the case.  Even for those students who do know what they want to do, this is not set in stone and may change.  According to a 2008 School of Life survey, over half of 20s-somethings regret their career choice, and would choose an alternative path if they could go back and do it all over. (Source:

If you do not know what field you want to enter or if you are not ready to jump into a 9-5, Monday through Friday job, there are a multitude of options you can pursue.  Alternative paths can allow you time to build your skillset after graduation and can allow you to clear your mind and take time to figure out what career you want to pursue, or to recover from academic burnout in order to ready yourself to begin your career (especially after stressful exams).

According to a study conducted by Haigler and Nelson (2005), 60% of graduates who took a gap year said the experience either “set me on my current career path” or “confirmed my choice of career”, and 88% said that it added to their employability.  As an added benefit, Haigler and Nelson (2005) found that students who have taken a gap year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs, which was found to be related to a less-selfish approach to working with people and careers. (Sources: &

The most popular alternative path/gap year options are travelling, working abroad, volunteering locally or abroad and obtaining a low-stress job that focuses on your interests.  Read below for more details and more ideas.



Many graduates know what career they want to pursue but simply do not have enough experience to get their ‘foot in the door’.  Other graduates may have multiple interests and a difficult time deciding on which career path to follow.  Internships are a fantastic option for all graduates, but especially those in these two situations.  There is an abundance of internship positions that are unpaid, which is of course not particularly attractive, but paid internship opportunities do exist, depending on the field.  If you find yourself in one of the two situations mentioned above and can only find unpaid internships, it is highly recommended to consider these because the experience and skills you will gain are priceless for your CV and your future.

Search for internships at CAS (keep in mind you can only search if you are a student at Trinity)



Volunteering experience looks wonderful on your CV and can be done concurrently with a job or on its own.  If you are trying to build skills for a potential future career, it is recommended to volunteer in your career field of interest.  If you choose to volunteer in your field of interest, this is an excellent way to make connections and get your foot in the door for possible future job opportunities (Source:  Alternatively, volunteering for an organisation unrelated to your field can demonstrate commitment and character. Read more from Third Sector Jobs about how to choose a volunteer organisation to build your CV.

Further local volunteer resources:

For more information about volunteering abroad: Eilireland


WWOOF (organic farming)

If you have an interest in organic farming, WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Working Weekends On Organic Farms) is a great opportunity to volunteer abroad because your host will provide you with free accommodation and food in exchange for your work.  You can expect to be doing one or more of these activities:  sowing seed, making compost, gardening, planting, cutting wood, weeding, harvesting, packing, milking, feeding, fencing, making mud-bricks, wine making, cheese making and bread making.  Each “contract” can last anywhere from a couple days to six months, but most last one to two weeks.  There are opportunities to WWOOF in most countries around the world.

See WWOOF International and WWOOF in Other Countries for more information:



When most people think of taking a gap year or time off to travel, they become concerned and wonder what that gap will look like to future employers on their CV.  The truth is, travelling is not a gap at all.  In fact, you should include this on your CV because the majority of employers view travel as a positive thing.  Travel allows you to gain new perspectives and allows you to build certain skills such as organisation, independence (if you are travelling alone), teamwork (if you are travelling with others), communication skills, interpersonal skills and it really allows you to become more open-minded and is a different way to learn about the world than sitting in a classroom or lecture hall.


Teach English abroad

As a college graduate, it is possible to teach English in Asia without any initial teaching qualifications, though it is strongly recommended to complete a TEFL course (see more at TeacherPort) in order to obtain a job with a reliable employer.  The most popular countries are South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.  Thailand is another popular option, but keep in mind Irish citizens must complete TOEIC tests in order to teach English here.  If you have a TEFL certificate, you are also eligible to teach English in Europe and Latin America.

Please read more from Embassy of Ireland about teaching English in South Korea.

Spain is another popular country to gain language teaching experience (English, German or French) and Meddeas is a popular organisation that offers language assistant programs in Spanish private schools.  Meddeas provides training, visas and support throughout the process, in addition to helping you find a hostfamily if you wish.  They really take care of all of the stressful required planning before moving to Spain.  You can expect to work 20 hours per week and no prior teaching experience is required.  Additionally, you do not need to know Spanish; however, it would help to have some basic Spanish language skills.  Laura, a 2015 graduate of Trinity, became a language assistant through Meddeas and recently published this blog post about her experience and advice.


Au pair

Au pairing is another popular option for college graduates (often female, though there are opportunities for males, too) wanting to work abroad.  This is a great option for those who have childcare experience (basic babysitting is often enough!) and enjoy being around and minding children.  Housework (cleaning and cooking) is often also part of the job description, but it varies among different families.  This is a great way to live abroad because your room and board is free.  A popular website to find a host-family is AuPairWorld.


Working holiday

Working holidays are usually 12 month visas (though sometimes 6 or 24) that allow young people to live abroad and pursue casual work in order to encourage the experience of living amongst a different culture while building your skillset.  Irish citizens are potentially eligible for a working holiday visa to the following countries:  Argentina, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan and other EEA countries.  Please keep in mind the requirements differ for each country.

Read more at and this Irish Times Blog.


Obtain a Low-Stress Job (part-time or full-time)

If you do not want to work abroad but cannot afford to work for free, this is another option that can give you the opportunity to recover from academic burnout and clear your mind.  Try to focus on your interests and passions when job hunting so it does not become a job you dislike and one that causes you too much unnecessary stress.  For example, if you like sports, look into working as an assistant coach or at a sports shop and if you like gardening, try working at a garden shop or florist.  Remember, even though work is not always fun, it does not always have to be unenjoyable!


Become a research assistant

If you are interested in working in the competitive field of the sciences (physical, biological or psychological/social), gaining experience as a research assistant is an option, especially if you have a passion for learning and are interested in research.  This role allows you to work in private industry, government, or a university.  This is a good role to pursue if you do not feel postgraduate study or medical school is right for you, or if you would like to gain experience in the field before furthering your studies.  This position will allow you to make a contribution to science, which can be very rewarding, but keep in mind it does require dedication and hard work (Source: Journal of Young Investigators).


Intern Work and Travel Programme (IWT)

This programme allows Irish citizens to stay in the United States for up to 12 months.  You must apply through an approved sponsoring organisation.  Please also keep in mind, you can only apply for this visa if you graduated from college in the previous 12 months.

See more from and the US Embassy in Ireland



This is not a prescriptive list because there are lots of different alternative paths out there.  Don’t be afraid to be creative!  Remember, if you are finishing college soon and do not know what your next step is, you are not alone.  Take some time for yourself and pursue your passions, preferably while simultaneously building your skillset – the rest will follow in due time.


If you would like to work or volunteer abroad, visa requirements differ depending on where you are from.  Please make sure to research these important facts before deciding to move abroad.


For more options, see the Take a Year Out resources at the Careers Advisory Service.


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