Rachel is a third-year nutrition student at Birmingham City University, She also has 10 years of experience as a chef. Rachel is passionate about nutrition and interested in how we can all live longer, healthier lives through little lifestyle changes.

By Rachel Davis

Student of Nutrition, Birmingham City University

After three or four years of studying for your degree, you are probably looking forward to finishing. However, it can also be a daunting time trying to work out what to do once you finish and where you want to start your career. Although some of you may be certain on the career path you want to take, some people may still not be sure where they want to focus their career, which can make it even more difficult to decide on your next steps after university. (1)

This is probably the most common and popular choice for a lot of graduates. After spending years studying, you are probably keen to start your career and earn a proper salary. However, gaining employment in the area you are interested in can be difficult. There will be a lot of competition for roles, as most undergraduates finish around a similar time each year, so you need to stand out. It can be really tempting just to apply for the roles that you know you want or are particularly interested in. However, this really narrows your opportunities. Be open to applying to different roles within your field. For example, if you have studied a nutrition or dietetics degree, there will be opportunities not only in healthcare settings such as the NHS but also food production, food quality, public health, health writing and much more.

Your university will be able to help you with applications and CVs and this should be available for you for a certain time after you graduate. There may be roles where they won’t take you on until you have graduated; however, some employers may allow you to start after graduation or on a part-time basis whilst finishing your studies, or they may also offer graduate jobs specifically tailored to those just finishing their studies. (2,4) 

 If you are sure you want to head straight into employment then it would be beneficial to start applying for roles a few months before you graduate.

Start your job search early!


It may be worth trying to build your experience once you’ve finished studying by trying to get an internship or a place on a graduate scheme. This is something you need to be thinking about before graduating as it can be very competitive. (3) Although these schemes often pay less than an equivalent full-time position, they can give you valuable experience and may lead to an offer of a full-time permanent position after you’ve finished. It’s also a great way to test-run your potential future career path. Volunteering can also help you gain valuable work experience in the field you want to pursue a career in. These positions can help add to your CV and make you stand out when applying for jobs in the future.

Many universities will advertise work for research assistants, for research projects they will be running and are always keen on taking on graduates who have studied in the field where they are researching. These tend to be fixed-term contracts (for the duration of the study) and your roles will include things such as conducting literature reviews, data management and maintaining files. This is a great way of getting some paid employment, whilst also gaining more knowledge in your field. (3) It might be worth speaking to your lecturers before you graduate regarding any upcoming research projects and whether they will be looking for research assistants – they might be more keen to take you on, if you are an alumni of the university.

You can continue to study once you’ve finished your undergrad and completing a master’s degree can help further develop your knowledge, which may improve your employability and earning potential. (2,3) 

It’s worth starting to think about whether a postgraduate would be right for you and your career in your last year of study as you need to have applied to a lot of them by the summer that you finish your undergrad. This option can be very demanding and expensive, so it won’t be for everybody and it's important to know if it's going to help you on your career path.


Gap year
After a few years of studies, you may also feel that you need some well-deserved time off and a great way to do this is by taking a gap year before jumping into your new career. This not only gives you a brilliant opportunity to see the world and experience different cultures, but some employers also value this ‘life’ experience and what this can bring to the workplace. (2) You may also be able to complete work abroad or volunteering which will help develop your skills and boost your CV. (3) Taking this time away can help you weigh up your options and make more informed decisions about what to do next.

Working for yourself
You may have entrepreneurship in your bones or are just thinking outside the box – but working for yourself could be a smart move. (2) You need to be sure that there is a gap in the market for what you want to do and a rough plan on how you’re going to transition to self-employed once your graduate. This can be in many forms, such as starting your own business or freelancing. There may be benefits to working for yourself, but it can be hard work and you don’t have the job security you would have if you were employed by a company – so make sure it’s right for you. (3) Lots of universities will have support to help get you started.

After spending years investing in your future, it can be difficult and frustrating when deciding what to do next. However, don’t put pressure on yourself. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do when you graduate and having some time off can help you re-evaluate, gain some experience and try different paths before deciding on the direction you want to go in. 

You should feel proud of your achievements so far and excited for what is in store for your future.