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It can be tough for college seniors to make a decision about the future, but after winter break, graduation will be right around the corner. If your future plans are still a bit fuzzy, there’s no time like the present to start planning for that next step.

Graduate School
If you are considering attending graduate school, it’s time to begin studying for the GRE or another standardized test. Generally you need to take the test by September, and considering that deadline has passed, you’d better step to it! While you’re waiting to receive your scores, research the schools you would like to attend and start cozying up to your favorite professors to get some strong letters of recommendation. Now is also the time to begin writing admissions essays for your top schools, requesting transcript copies and finishing application forms. Be prepared for admissions interviews! If you have never been formally interviewed, you will need to practice with friends and family.

Attention college seniors!! (Especially liberal arts majors who need work for a portfolio.) Get an internship NOW, before your student loan payments come in the mail.

Unfortunately, many professional careers require experience in order to obtain an entry level position. Sometimes, the best way to gain experience is by participating in internship programs, but this can be problematic for recent graduates because many internship positions are unpaid. Ideally, internships should be taken while a student is still enrolled at a university as a supplemental credit. However, sometimes an internship is a necessary stepping stone in a field. If this is the case, you will need to rely on some sort of financial savings to carry you through the internship period.  You also need to be extremely selective about the company for which you work. Speak candidly about your expectations and concerns before agreeing to an internship and seek strong bonds with mentors and teammates.

Most students approach graduation with the vague intention of getting a job. Well, first you need to begin researching your field to find out if you are even eligible to obtain a job or if you can take more classes to satisfy a developing demand in your field. For example, computer science majors with skills in Java are currently a hot commodity. Doing the research now will put you in a better position once it’s time to begin submitting resumes.

One of the difficulties in finding a job is that growth is limited in many regions and cities, sometimes overall and sometimes in particular fields. This means that you may have to relocate in order to find a job. Some students, however, can’t afford to relocate to areas with higher standards of living. A financial savings will give you more flexibility as to which job you can take, and even though it’s tough to balance school, work and life – taking on a part-time job now could help jump start your career.

Public Service
Working in public service or joining the military may not be the path you envisioned, but it definitely has its perks. Sure, you get holidays and weekends off, and the pensions are awesome; but the real perk is student loan forgiveness. That’s right, after 10 years of full-time public service employment and 120 payments to your federal loan – the government wipes it clean. Please note that this is for federally financed loans ONLY.

If you are one of the lucky students who has zero debt and a few reservations about your future path, volunteering is an excellent option. Volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps or Teach for America can provide great leadership experiences and allow for travel and developing new friendships. Who knows, you might even find inspiration for your future while you’re making the world a better place!

Patricia Garza is a freelance writer who writes primarily about educational topics. She is especially passionate about supporting nationally accredited online colleges and helps inform students how to recognize subpar online universities and scams. If you have questions or comments for Patricia, just leave a comment below!