30 alternative career paths for recent college grads

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January 14, 2019
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30 alternative career paths for recent college grads

In the first half of 2018, the number of college-educated employees in the workforce decreased by about 489,000 people. As more college graduates enter the workforce, it appears they're finding fewer job prospects straight out of school. Many of these new graduates are therefore turning to alternate employment—whether that means dipping into the gig economy, prioritizing travel opportunities, or making a pivot to a burgeoning industry.

If you're one of those new graduates without a salary to call your own, you might be looking for an alternative source of income. Stacker compiled a list of 30 alternative career paths for recent college graduates, all of which help build professional and life experience should you ever want to become a 9-to-5er. Whether your talents lie in organic farming or you feel the call to help others discover their own passions, the world of alternative work is full of possibilities. What will you choose to do?

Read on to discover 30 alternative career paths. 

RELATED: College majors that go on to earn the most money

Start your own business

If working for someone else doesn't seem like fun, try turning a hobby into a career—like becoming a professional crafter, photographer, or digital artist. You'll be able to set your own hours, manage your own money and clients, and learn first-hand how to run a business in an efficient and reliable way. Entrepreneur's 12-step method can help you get started.

Become an adventure guide

New grads who are young and athletic are ideal candidates to become adventure guides, and many companies are seeking English-speaking guides to cater to American tourists traveling abroad. You may need some technical skills depending on the adventure—for instance, you'll need to know how to rock climb if you want to lead mountaineering expeditions—but overall, new grads looking to capitalize on a pre-existing skill should have an easy time. Outward Bound can help you prepare with training courses in everything from backpacking to dog sledding.

Join the Peace Corps

Getting into the Peace Corps is competitive—but once you're accepted, the opportunity to effect change in underserved communities is a great way to build a variety of skills. Volunteers often report that their time in the Corps was transformative and gave them a solid base for future jobs. Peace Corps volunteers train for three months and are then assigned to a two-year post, while Peace Corps Response volunteers take on short-term, yet no less impactful, assignments.

Get into politics

Politics could end up being a career in itself, but if you're looking for a way to make a change in laws and processes after college, this is a great path to take. Not only will you learn the ins and outs of campaigning, but you'll also gain valuable negotiating and compromise skills. It's tricky, though—you'll need to advocate for yourself hard, and that includes raising donor money and competing with others who could try to smear you.

Work as a nanny

You can go two routes with this: live-in or not. Live-in nannies are given free room and board at the family's home and generally get further pay on top of that. You'll need to be responsible and good with kids, and prepared to be in it for the long-haul—that way you can garner excellent references when you decide to make the leap to a regular 9-to-5 job.

Become an influencer

Influencers are quickly becoming the people we look to when we want advice or recommendations on everything from travel destinations to what clothes and products to use. Anyone can do it, as long as they have a flair for the creative and good business sense—which you'll definitely learn on the job.

Work for a start-up

Starting your own business can be excruciatingly hard—so let someone else do it. Working for a start-up comes with some excellent perks, like one-on-one mentorship, more responsibility, fewer co-workers, and even potential equity in the business. You can use that experience to leverage a higher-level job somewhere else if you decide to pursue an opportunity at a larger company.

Volunteer worldwide

Take some time after school to volunteer around the world—you usually don't need specialized experience, and you can do everything from house-sitting to building schools for underserved kids. Depending on what volunteer gig you take, you'll be learning useful skills for later; for example, working the marketing channels for a nonprofit will offer you valuable marketing and social media experience. Idealist has a searchable database of nearly 9,500 volunteer opportunities.

Take time to travel

Post-graduation is the perfect time to travel. You don't have a class schedule to stick to, and you may have some time to kill before you start working. It doesn't have to be expensive, either. You can couch surf to save money on hotels and pick up small gigs here and there, like waiting tables, to keep some money in your pocket. The biggest challenge here is explaining to future potential employers why there's a gap in your resume.

Take a gap year

Gap years were traditionally meant for students transitioning from high school to college, but now college graduates are getting into it with a twist—instead of taking time off, they're taking time to make a difference. Volunteer programs each have different requirements—City Year, for example, accepts 18 to 25 year olds and puts participants on posts in schools located in areas of high poverty. No matter where you volunteer, you'll gain communication, business, and social skills for later in life. Check out some of the varied programs available at USA Gap Year Fairs.

Become an apprentice

Back in the day, apprenticeships were the norm. You'd get a job learning from an expert in a field—usually a technical skill like mechanics or even blacksmithing—and in exchange for your work, you'd receive extensive training. Many states run modern apprenticeship programs to make it easier to find a mentor; here's an example from California.

Join the military

A college degree opens you up to more opportunities in the military than if you sign up right out of high school. You'll have to go through boot camp and training in your respective branch, but you'll potentially come out the other side as an officer—and veterans often have special consideration when looking for jobs later.

Go back to school

If you truly can't find a job, or at least one that you want, why not go back to school? You can enter a master's or doctoral program and potentially find a higher level job afterward. To boost your earning power, select a field that's proven to pay post-graduates more.

Work at your college

You're already familiar with the layout and the faculty, so why leave? Deciding to work at your college can mean easier access to a job since you're an alumnus, and you know the intricacies of at least one program. There's also the potential access to free classes if you choose to keep learning while you're there. Available jobs include everything from teaching assistantships and tutoring to clerical work and administration positions.

Venture for America

If you're looking to start a company, the two-year fellowship program with Venture for America will help you get started. You'll go through five weeks of training, then apply for jobs within the Venture for America network, and work full-time for two years. Afterward, you'll be able to use Venture for America resources to start your own company.

Become a consultant

Don't work for other companies—advise them on what to do with their own. Consultants are experts in a particular field—like the one you just got a degree in—and can charge high hourly rates to work with companies who need help with their operations. Some industries, like accounting, require a certification to be a consultant, so be sure to obtain the necessary requirements before launching your consultancy.

Teach English abroad

Many college graduates are taking some time off after to school to teach English abroad. It's a win-win—they get to immerse themselves in a new culture, spend time with locals, and help students learn a new and potentially valuable skill. These jobs are available virtually all over the world, though they're most popular throughout Asia thanks to a lower cost of living. Do your research: Every program has different requirements. Some require special certifications, while others require specific visas.

Become an air traffic controller

The process to become an air traffic controller is intense, with training courses, tests, and security clearances. But the trade-off to a rigorous application process is more than fair. Entry-level workers are trained on the job, and the median salary in 2016 was more than $125,000.

Start a nonprofit

If you want to make a difference in the world in an area you're passionate about, forgo a traditional job and start a nonprofit. You'll learn how to manage a business and work through the red tape. The skills you'll build in nonprofit work tend to translate to the for-profit sector as well, in case you decide to make a pivot. The National Council of Nonprofits has a guide to help you along.

Start a blog

These days, blogs can be a major source of information—luminaries like Seth Godin have made much of their career on the back of a blog. You'll need to be dedicated and diligent with setting a publishing schedule and specializing in a particular topic, like travel, fashion, business, or food. Once your blog grows big enough, you can monetize it with advertising.

Go into real estate

With a real estate job, you'll learn the intricacies of negotiating a deal and working together with all types of personalities. The hours are flexible and you'll get to help people get in or out of a home when they need it most. In order to get started, you'll need to get licensed.

Report for America

If you went to journalism school but aren't ready to be part of the corporate media machine, Report for America offers newsroom jobs for those looking to report on under-covered issues across the country. Once your application is accepted, you'll be placed in a local newsroom somewhere in the United States and work to keep journalism honest and unbiased.


World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) helps people looking to get away from traditional jobs connect with local food chains through sustainable and organic farming initiatives. You'll learn the philosophies and values of hard work, complete with connections to other members in the program from more than 60 countries.

Assist with scientific research

This doesn't necessarily mean becoming a test subject—though that could potentially be a way to earn money after college—but rather working with scientists and other researchers as an assistant for all their needs. The best bet for finding one of these gigs is to look close to a college or university. Indeed.com is a good place to start.

Start commercial diving

Professional scuba divers are responsible for all sorts of things, including underwater welding, leading expeditions, inspecting and repairing underwater structures, and photographing marine life. You'll need a scuba certification and skills based on the particular job you want to do. The Association of Commercial Diving Educators accredits diving schools that offer hands-on experience, and the training normally only takes a few months.

Go to technical school

Further your education after college by learning a specialized trade at a technical school. You can take classes on everything from culinary arts to legal assisting, and once you're done, you'll be prepared to get a great job doing something you're passionate about. As another plus, people who have specialized trades are more likely to get a job.

Spearhead activism

You can be a full-time activist either in the U.S. or abroad—just go wherever your soul tells you to help out. Depending on how much money you're hoping to make, you can start a full-fledged campaign with crowdsourced funding or hit the streets with protest signs.

Become a life coach

Naturally empathetic people can thrive as a life coach, helping others through tough times and finding solutions to various problems. You'll need to go through a training and certification program to obtain credentials, but it can be a much more fulfilling job than any corporate work for some.

Start a podcast

No experience required—all you need is a topic, a decent recording setup, and a voice. Podcasts are all the rage right now, and could potentially lead to a full-time career in and of itself thanks to advertising, or a broadcast career down the line. This comprehensive guide will help you get started.

Teach for America

Graduates with a background in education who want to reach underserved students should apply for Teach for America, a program where teachers work to equal out disparities in education throughout the system. Prerequisites are not especially strict: Applicants need only a bachelor's degree, a minimum GPA of 2.5, and to reside in the U.S.

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