Switching to the bachelor's degree as a first qualifying university degree has caused quite a stir in many continental European countries over the past few years. In countries such as the UK and the United States it is common to enter the workforce with an undergraduate degree. In continental Europe, however, students, universities and employers are still adapting to this brave new world of education. The decision about what comes after a bachelor's degree is a very personal one - however, we can offer you a couple of pro and con arguments on the most obvious choices that you may want to take into consideration: internships, full-time jobs, master programmes and travelling.
Pros and cons of an internship
- It combines the best of two worlds. By doing an internship after your bachelor's degree you get some valuable professional experience, while committing yourself only for a limited period of time. Meaning: It is a good opportunity to match your imagination of work life to the reality of it.
- You have to start somewhere. If you love the job, that is great - and chances are that your employer will notice and reward your enthusiasm as well. If you realize early on that the career you’ve been dreaming about is not for you after all, the internship has kept you from spending a lot of time and effort on a career path that will not make you happy - and that may be just as valuable.
- New labour laws. Many countries have taken regulatory steps that make it harder for university graduates to get hired for intern positions, the rationale being that with a university degree you should be qualified for a full-time position. This concern is not completely foolish. There is the risk of becoming the “eternal intern” - a person who will bounce from one internship to another, providing cheap work for companies without ever turning all that experience into a real career choice.
Our tips: There is almost always something to gain from an internship - as long as you do your research beforehand and are aware of how it will fit into the mosaic that is your CV. In our internship guide you can find plenty of information on how to go about researching and applying for positions that interest you.
Pros and cons of a full-time job
- Getting some return on investment for your undergraduate degree. By going directly for a full-time position, you can start a career at an early age, gather experience quickly and earn your own money (and start paying off you student loans). Especially in Anglo-Saxon education systems such as the UK and the USA it is very common to get a couple of years of work experience after finishing your bachelor's and before getting started on another degree.
- The chance to develop on the job. Finding a full-time job after your bachelor's degree is especially desirable for people who want to see how all the theory they have been taught at university plays out in practice. In a job you might also develop a clearer idea of the things that you still want to learn - and later on find a master programme that will fit your needs because you know what to look for. By that time, you may even be able to convince your employer to pay for a part of your studies.
- It’s a competitive job market. Some employers in continental Europe are still unsure about how to best integrate undergraduates into their HR programmes and prefer hiring employees with a master’s degree.
- You might get too comfortable too soon. Once in a job, you may find yourself not wanting to revert to being a student ever again. So, if you are really set on still getting another degree, keep an exit strategy in the back of your mind.
Our tips: Regarding the competition in the job market, the situation may not be as dire as some students are led to believe: in engineering and information technology companies undergraduates stand good chances according to employer associations, and in some of the biggest European banks roughly one third of their newly hired employees only have a bachelor’s degree. Startups usually pay less attention to degrees than to attitude. So to those really set on finding a job, there are definitely opportunities available.
Pros and cons of enrolling into a master programme
- Additional education is never a bad idea. If you are passionate about a subject, studying it in depth will always provide you with a value that goes far beyond the ability to earn money from it. Choosing to move on to your master’s degree gives you the opportunity to specialize in a certain field and to learn a little more about yourself. It exposes you to a great variety of subjects and diverse opinions that can rarely be found in any particular job description. If you are aiming for a career in the academia, continuing with a master’s degree is a necessity.
- It's an opportunity for a change of scenery. Taking a master’s degree can also be a good opportunity to move to another country and get some international experience.
- The risks of the default option. As hard as it is to argue against taking an additional degree, you should still make sure you are in it for the right reasons. Arguments like “all my friends are doing it”, “I have no idea what else to do” or “it’s what employers expect to see on your CV” may be valid, but should not be your only reasons for pursuing a master’s degree. A master programme should inspire you to look at things you have already learned and connect them in new and more advanced ways - and that gets that much harder if it is just a default option.
Our tips: Knowledge is power, so do not let yourself be put off a master’s degree simply because it costs time (and often money). Just make sure that this investment will pay off by and inform yourself about the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
Pros and cons of travelling the world
- It's a good way to broaden your horizon (yeah, it's a cliché, but sometimes those are true). A change in location may also give you a new perspective and focus, especially after a long and strenuous exam time. A longer vacation of several weeks will be much harder to make time for once you are in a regular job - so it may be worth spending some of that saved up money from your student job.
- Money is a very real constraint here - obviously. Therefore, you will probably have to return to the pros and cons above at some point.
- Fun vs. resume. A three months trip through South East Asia may be a little harder to turn into a job opportunity than an internship.
Our tips: In a globalised world employers know about the value of having employees who are eager to understand and explore other cultures. Even though the vacation may not improve your Excel skills, there are several other ways to sell your time spent travelling in a job interview. If you really do not want to miss out career-wise, you could always try and combine traveling and working - for example, by looking for a master programme or internship abroad.
The decision about what to do after your bachelor's degree is not easily made - still, all options offer an opportunity to learn and develop yourself as a person. So, no matter what camp you end up in, there are plenty of ways to make the most of it!