As a junior or senior, your timeline, next steps and search strategies will vary based on your interests and timeline for securing opportunities.
Using this guide to start planning your next steps can alleviate stress. Talking to somebody about how you feel and developing coping and career search strategies can also be helpful. You can meet with Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) for broader confidential counseling and psychological support and/or a Center for Career Development adviser for career strategy and planning support. Both CPS and career advising are dedicated resources that welcome conversation about these topics.
Juniors and seniors are balancing many factors - keeping up with classes and/or independent work, thinking ahead to future classes, planning for the future, family considerations and more - which can all be stressful. Preparing, exploring and connecting with others about careers is a practice you will continue throughout your life, and it doesn’t all have to be done before you graduate.
- Update your Career Interests in Handshake. This provides more personalized recommendations for internships, jobs and events.
- Make an appointment with a career adviser. Advisers are glad to meet with you at any point in your journey to help you figure out what’s best for you. It’s never too early or too late to meet with an adviser - we can also talk with you about your career ideas and questions, explore options and share tools and resources to help you explore your options
- Participate in workshops, career fairs, information sessions, cohort groups and networking with alumni to uncover possibilities. Two large recurring events in the fall include the HireTigers Career Fair (Sept. 15) and the Science and Technology Job Fair (Oct. 6).
It’s important to be intentional about career choice rather than just: pursuing a career you think you are supposed to pursue that doesn’t interest you; finding the easiest "default path" given what you’ve already done; or following what you think other people are doing.
To get started, ask yourself reflective questions like:
- What tasks or projects am I both good at doing and also enjoy? Consider independent work, academics, extracurriculars, jobs/internships, and other experiences.
- What have I learned about myself through successes and setbacks during my time at Princeton?
- What am I good at doing that also brings me joy and satisfaction?
- How might my independent work or skills I gain connect to my future career possibilities? If possible, you may want to think and work ahead with your senior thesis topic because it could also inform your career decision-making.
Your search will probably be less straightforward than you expect.
There isn’t one “right” next step for you. It is likely that there are many roles that help you grow professionally and personally. Your junior summer internship and first job after college may align well with some of the things you want in a longer-term role, but probably not all of them. You can use what you learn from these roles to seek out future professional opportunities in a variety of directions when the time is right.
You could try one thing after junior summer and then move a completely different direction after graduation. Your goal is to reach a decision that is consistent with who you are and what you value, that also aligns with your logistical and practical considerations.
Regardless of the first step that you take after graduation, it probably won’t be as clear-cut as the undergraduate admission processes.
The search process
When starting any search, you’ll want to go through three steps:
There are several forms of post-graduation work that provide a good opportunity to reflect and deepen your self-knowledge that will assist you in considering future career possibilities including:
- Full-time paid work: This can be roles in a variety of settings. Some employers also offer diversity recruitment programs, which aim to address gaps in the workforce and would be good to consider if applicable.
- Programs for recent graduates or work-based fellowships: These opportunities for recent graduates are designed to be short-term and exploratory, and may give you a different perspective and experience before you consider longer-range career possibilities. These can be rotational or leadership development programs, which give participants in-depth experience by rotating through multiple roles and functional areas within an organization as part of a structured program. They could also be paid or unpaid opportunities. See Programs for Recent Graduates guide for more information and ideas.
- Post-grad internships: Some professional roles require related internships to build experience before securing a more permanent full-time role, and can be found using strategies mentioned on this page. In other cases, post-grad internships can be a way to gain relevant experience while you discover whether the organization and role are a good match for you.
- Freelancing, part-time, or temporary work: This is a common way to build experience and earn money in creative fields or other fields that require building a portfolio and references. Some alumni put multiple projects together to secure income and others do small projects along with a different full-time role to build experience.
Investigate common career fields and learn about their recruiting timelines and roles that alumni pursue. This will help you start thinking about possibilities that interest you, and we also encourage you to make an appointment with a career adviser to reflect together. You can find more than 60 career fields and subfields on Career Compass including:
There's no one way to conduct a successful search. Princeton students and alumni secure opportunities in many ways, through many sources and during various timeframes.
If you are considering graduate school — even if you are thinking about this several years into the future — it is helpful to study something you enjoy for independent work and build a strong relationship with professors who know you personally and can speak to the quality of your work.
Before you begin the application process, consider why you are considering a specific graduate degree, program and/or school. Some students feel academic achievement and a university setting is familiar to them, but deeper reflection is usually helpful before deciding whether, when and where to apply. Think through what you are hoping to do after graduate school and how your graduate study may align with your long-range career plans.
Considering programs and schools
Start by understanding the broader context relating to program and degree types that might interest you, application process and timeline details, and skills and experience successful applicants often bring when they apply.
When you make a list of possible schools and programs, consider factors such as the type of research the professors conduct and specialty within a particular degree that most interests you, as well as overall rankings of the school and program.
Not all universities and graduate programs provide financial assistance. Funding for master’s level study is limited in particular. You may want to consider financial implications up-front.
Exploring and applying to programs
If you are considering applying to graduate school within the next year or two, start by reflecting on the questions included in this guide, familiarizing yourself with basic information about the programs that interest you (including timelines and requirements) and discussing the idea with professors who know you well to seek their guidance. We also encourage you to make an appointment with us at any time during this process.
Refer to these Princeton resources if you are considering graduate study:
It is helpful to think holistically about your time as a Princeton student, reflecting on your unique experience and what you have learned, both for your personal development and to help you secure a job or admission to graduate school.
Your application materials, digital profiles and interview conversations all work together to build a holistic narrative. Most Princeton students need to prepare their career reflections and accomplishment stories for interviews and are often underprepared for the first ones they do.
Interviewing is a skill to develop over time that requires preparation and practice. Start by identifying your five to seven favorite go-to stories. Then, we can help you integrate these into your application materials and prepare for interviews.
Decide on an opportunity
As opportunities arise for internships, campus leadership roles or full-time post-graduate commitments, you will want to take time to carefully consider each decision.
Consider both alignment with your reflections and your emotional response to the decision. It’s OK to trust your gut feeling and to pause and be curious before committing to something if the next step you are considering feels like it may not be a good fit.
The following resources can help you evaluate if an opportunity is right for you:
- For junior year internships and other work experiences: Planning your Full-Time Job Search Guide
- For graduate programs: Graduate School and Pre-law guides
Connect with alumni for help
Whether you are making decisions about academics, life at Princeton or potential careers, alumni are often eager to offer advice and referrals.
For tips on how to contact and prepare for conversations with alumni, review our Five-Step Guide to Networking.