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How to Create a Five-Year Plan

How often is it that when you come home from school, it seems like every adult you speak to has only one question on their mind: “So… uh, what’r’ye planning to do when ya graduate, kiddo?”— or something along those lines. Every time I hear that question I think I lose a year off of my life. Entering my junior year in college, I knew that it was time that I start really narrowing down a career path. Do I want to continue higher education? Do I want to work abroad? Do I want to disappear into a dark forest at the edge of town and mix potions in a giant, black cauldron? Listen, if that last option could pay my phone bill then I’d be all over it, and I’m definitely considering it as a retirement plan. But for now, most of us are at that point where we’re starting the rough, exciting-yet-terrifying transition into adulthood. And with exciting-yet-terrifying transitions such as this, it’s worth preparing for, even just a little bit. I’m here to give you some tips on how to make a rough five-year career plan: Because the fact of the matter is, you can become exactly the person you want to be in five years. It just takes a little bit of planning a whole lot of determination.

Create Multiple Rough Drafts for Different Paths

At this point, you might have no idea what direction you want to go in regarding your career. If that’s the case, take out a pencil and paper and create a couple of rough sketches of possible career paths. This can include proper schooling, possible companies to work for, and maybe even people you can reach out to. After writing a few ideas down, figure out which path(s) looks the most appealing at this point. If you end up choosing a path that you aren’t too sure about later on, you always have a backup plan to fall back on. Not only that, but you could even take up two different paths at the same time to set yourself up for more choices in the future! Don’t stress yourself out too much, though. Eye on the prize.

To Grad School or Not to Grad School, That Is the Question.

Let me try and ease your mind a bit by saying that there is a reason you are (or are about to be) at school paying ridiculous sums of money to study your major. Most likely, you want a career that somehow ties into the major that you’re studying. Good job! You’re in exactly the right place. If you like what you’re studying and want to stay in that field when you graduate, I recommend doing some research online to see what kind of jobs that your major prepares you for. This can also mean looking up the career paths of alumni from your school. If you’re feeling extra bold, shoot them an email introducing yourself to establish contact once you graduate! Oftentimes, depending on the field, the career you might be thinking about requires additional schooling. In that case, there are at least 1-3 years off of your five-year plan already covered! Exactly how to get from Point A (undergrad) to Point B (grad) is a slightly trickier business. Most programs require you to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations), GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), or finally the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Those are the main exams, but there are also others worth looking up. If you’re like me and you want to continue higher education right out of undergrad, I would recommend taking one of these tests the summer between junior and senior year so that you’re ready to begin the application process your senior year. 

For those who are looking to gain some work experience first and perhaps some financial assistance, there are companies who will hire you out of undergrad and eventually pay for you to get a master’s degree– it just takes a bit of research. In this case, you should find a job within or as close to your field as possible and figure out if you’re happy where you are. If opportunities for higher ed. come your way, make your decision then.

Find a Professional Who’s Living the Dream

Have you ever had an employer, a teacher, mentor, or even friend who seems like they have the dream job? Okay, I get that not everyone can be the girl who gets paid $30k a month to eat food on camera. I’m talking more about people in your desired field. Reaching out to someone who has a job that you could see yourself having in the future is a really good starting point. Sometimes you might hear things about the job that you don’t like at all— which could totally save you years of hard work! As college students, we have this incredible opportunity to learn from professors who most likely have a lot of experience working in their field before moving onto academia. Scheduling a meeting with one of them and just learning from them about their career path starting in undergraduate is a great way to reflect on your own goals and objectives. Sometimes they can even be a resource for connecting you with contacts in the field! Just as long as you buy them a coffee as thanks (getting a good grade in the class also doesn’t hurt). 

In some cases, you might not even know the person in real life, and that’s okay! All it takes is a simple Google search, and oftentimes professionals will have their LinkedIn on the first page of results. Study closely! People’s LinkedIn paths can truly be the window to the soul in terms of career paths. Obviously your own path towards a career like that won’t be the same, and may be entirely different because that’s just life! But knowing how someone (or multiple people) got to that Point B you could really see yourself in is invaluable.

If Opportunities Aren’t Coming Your Way, Make Them Yourself.

At this point in my college career, I couldn’t count on my fingers (or maybe even toes) how many rejections I’ve gotten from internships, fellowships, academic opportunities, and the like. It’s all a part of the process, and every failure sets you up for future success. But there will be times when you feel like you’re just idly sitting by waiting for a new opportunity to drop onto your lap. If this is the case, take that time you have to forge your own path! Pick up some marketable skills that those seemingly impossible internships have in their “requirements” section. Start writing about the field you’re trying to break into. Keep writing those brutal cover letters for different positions. Of course, don’t overextend yourself at the expense of your mental well-being, but know that there are things you can work on overtime that your future self will thank you for down the road.

Figure Out Which Parts of Your Plan are Self-Driven, and Which… Aren’t.

There are a lot of moving parts to a five-year plan. It’s easy to sit at a computer and list your different goals and roadmap a way to your dream job. But the thing is, a good chunk of your path may be contingent on exterior forces which you can’t control. For example, grad school is a great jumping point from undergrad, but you can’t 100% ensure that you’re gonna get into that one school you really want to go to. You can’t promise that you’ll get the internship that hires right out of school. You can’t be totally sure that the professional contacts you made will open all the doors you want them to. After all, there’s a reason this whole “adulthood” thing is as scary as everyone makes it out to be. That being said, the amount of work you put into maximizing your possibilities is completely self-motivated. There will be times when you will fail, or get rejected from that thing you really wanted. But if you can say that you know you did everything you could have to get to that place, then you know it just wasn’t meant to be. Not only that, but all the work you did can be put towards an alternative, and as cliché, as the saying goes, one door really does open when another closes.

The most important thing to keep in mind while creating your five-year plan, whether it’s career or lifestyle-based, is that life happens. Things that are unavoidable might happen and you need to put your goals on hold for a while. Maybe you need to take some time to do some personal growth before professionally growing. Maybe halfway through, you realize that this plan just isn’t for you, and it’s time to embark on a completely different path; how exciting! After five years, it’s very possible that you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to, and that is completely fine. Sometimes a five-year plan becomes a ten-year plan, and that’s showbiz, baby! Take some agency by planning ahead, but feel comforted by the absolute chaos that is life. Good luck with your planning, and may you reach and conquer your dreams.

Margaret Engel is a senior triple major B.A. in Drama, Global Studies, and Geography. She loves history, politics, writing, traveling, and the outdoors! Please be nice to her because she is sensitive. She is also a cancer, but that should go without saying.
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