Life After Undergrad

two people talking
Several career fairs are offered each year at UW. Above: Student Sage Walton speaks with Christine Felke of the accounting firm Forvis during the College of Business’ spring career fair.

Students and administrators share their advice for entering the workforce or continuing on to graduate school. 

By Micaela Myers 

Career Prep From Day One

Chrissy Renfro, the associate director of career development in the Advising, Career and Exploratory Studies Center, is a licensed career counselor. Renfro and her fellow career counselors help students early in their college careers to develop a clearer awareness of their interests, values and life goals, all of which contribute to confidently choosing a major. About half of all freshmen change their majors at least once, so this kind of intentional self-exploration is critical as you move through your early academic career. 

“We welcome students to utilize our services at any point in their college career,” she says. “We help students find jobs, even part-time student jobs on campus, which is a great way to start developing some of those skills you will need. We help you identify and apply for internships, which is another great way to get that real-world experience as an undergraduate. We also help with resume writing, preparing for job interviews and negotiating a salary. We have career fairs where you can connect with employers and start having those conversations.”

It’s never too early to start these explorations. Attending career fairs in your first year will help you see what options are available. You may learn about jobs or internships you have never considered before. Renfro’s office also works with the UW Alumni Association, which connects students with alumni in various fields to learn more about those career options.

For students ready to enter the working world, they can help with all types of preparation.

“We coach students to think about the job interview as a two-way street,” Renfro says. “Instead of the employer deciding whether or not you get in, you’re also deciding if you want to work at that place. Is it a good fit for your goals and values? Think through those things ahead of time to ask questions.”

In addition to the Advising Career and Exploratory Studies Center, there are a number of college-level student success centers that offer career guidance and preparation, including the Susan McCormack Center for Student Success in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the Peter M. and Paula Green Johnson Student Success Center in the College of Business.

“I speak with my career adviser and the faculty in the College of Business student success center quite frequently about what life looks like after college and what opportunities I should be taking at this point in my college career,” says Cowboy Coach Avery O’Brien, who is majoring in finance (blockchain and real estate minors). “Finance is a very broad business topic. I have always been interested in entrepreneurship, economics and everything that comes with running a business. I felt as if finance was a great mix of each of these things.”

Learn more about the Advising Career and Exploratory Studies Center at

man standing outside in front of a river
Gareth Flowers (Courtesy photo)

From Graduation to Career

Gareth Flowers of Powell, Wyo., graduated in spring 2022 with his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. Upon graduation, he took a job as a controls and automation engineer with Patterson-UTI Drilling Co. LLC in Texas.

“I ended up doing something very different than my degree,” Flowers says. “My specialty is software development on land-based drilling rigs. One thing that drives me is learning. Going to school for chemical engineering and developing software don’t go hand in hand. I started at ground zero and had to pick all this stuff up.”

Based on his experience, he advises students to keep an open mind as they job search.

You never know where you’re going to end up. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply for different things, and you don’t have to take the first offer you get, says Gareth Flowers.

While Flowers’s job is different than his degree, many of the things he learned in college still apply, such as working collaboratively and thinking logically.

Patterson wasn’t the first place to offer him a job, but Flowers felt that the company’s interview process was more thorough and proved it was serious. Interviewing takes practice, which UW career services can help with. Flowers recommends paying attention to the questions interviewers ask, and don’t be shy about asking your own questions as well.

During his time as a UW student, Flowers did a number of things to prepare himself for the working world, including taking part in undergraduate research, going to job fairs and utilizing the Susan McCormack Center for Student Success in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences for resume help and job searches, including using the Handshake platform. Handshake is available to all UW students and lets you view and apply for jobs and internships, as well as find career fairs and other resources.

Flowers loves the company he’s working for and all the new things he’s learning but hopes to one day return to his home state of Wyoming.

Considering Graduate School

While many students go from undergrad straight into the working world, others choose graduate school. In addition, many in the working world return to university to earn a graduate degree. While graduate school isn’t for everyone, those with graduate degrees earn, on average, more than those without and experience lower unemployment.

“Given the job market, graduate education is increasingly the best course of action,” says Vice Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Education Jim Ahern. “There are a wide variety of options in graduate education.”

The options include professional tracks — such as speech-language pathology, social work, counseling, accounting, finance and MBA programs — and more traditional academic programs that will take you into academia, research or technology. Students interested in a particular graduate program should begin by speaking to the faculty. If you’re not sure which graduate school path is right for you, you can visit with folks from the School of Graduate Education.

There’s also a lot you can do while you’re an undergraduate to prepare for graduate school, including getting involved in research and gaining work, internship and volunteer experiences.

The Advising, Career and Exploratory Studies Center can help you think through your personal statement for graduate school applications, while the Writing Center can provide feedback on the written statement.

UW makes graduate education affordable by offering graduate assistantships, including many teaching assistantships.

For many of our programs, 100 percent of their students are fully funded, says Jim Ahern.

UW is, in many ways, the perfect-sized school — offering big-school opportunities and small school attention. 

people in a white room with plants
UW offers the chance to take part in cutting-edge research. Molecular biology graduate students Seungmee Jung and Jesse Kalekuuse use microscopy, biochemical and molecular experiments to study the molecular and cellular interaction between plant and fungal pathogens.

“We have faculty conducting cutting-edge research,” Ahern says. “It’s top-notch research done in an environment where you’re not one of 150 in the program but one of 15 to 20. It’s a much more personalized approach Wyoming is able to offer.”

For Cowboy Coach Sarah Griner, the decision to go to graduate school was a no-brainer: She wants to become a doctor.

“As a freshman, I attended many of the career fairs put on by the university, which greatly aided me in making this decision,” she says. Griner also conducts undergraduate research in preparation for medical school.

Cowboy Coach Grant Dillivan, a psychology and criminal justice major (honors and sociology minors), also conducts undergraduate research in preparation for graduate school. “This experience has been very beneficial, as research experience is highly sought after by graduate programs,” he says. “If any students want to get involved, you can simply ask professors in your major field.”

Senior Toby Covill participates in the McNair Scholars Program, which helps students from traditionally underrepresented groups in graduate education gain research experiences and prepare for graduate school. “I have extensively contacted a myriad of mentors from various institutions, as well as applied to potential funding opportunities and conducted research in the relevant field,” he says. “McNair Scholars has been crucial in my search, identifying schools, taking me through the application process and providing resources to visit schools.”

Cowboy Coaches Abigail Fry and Peyton O’Dougherty both utilized their advisers for help on the road to graduate school.

“I leaned on my undergraduate adviser a lot for help with applying to pharmacy school,” Fry says. “She helped me complete all of my national paperwork and schedule dates for my entrance exams and interviews.”

O’Dougherty says: “I relied heavily on my adviser and mother to discuss my plans after my undergrad. We decided that, for my specific degree and goals post-grad, obtaining my English as a second language certificate at the graduate level and a master’s degree makes the most sense.”

woman in a cap and gown holding a diploma
Alexandra Quinn-Parmely. (Photo by Yesenia Perez)

Grad student profile: Q&A With Graduate Student Alexandra Quinn-Parmely

Alexandra Quinn-Parmely earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW in 2022 and will graduate this year with her master’s degree in mental health counseling. She serves as a graduate assistant in UW’s School of Graduate Education and plans to pursue her Ph.D.

What made you decide to pursue graduate school? I originally chose to pursue graduate school because I wanted the skills to work with a diverse population of humans navigating their mental health. The work I want to do with people requires continuing my education to become a mental health counselor. On top of this, even during the times school has been challenging, I have always felt nourished and alive in the learning environment. The decision to continue my education past my master’s degree is partly due to my love for learning, to support future counselors in training and to continue growing in the profession of mental health.

What are your tips for students when considering graduate school vs. workforce? Keep an open mind, be flexible and trust the universe’s timing. Your plans for meeting your goals may not work out right away, and that is OK, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. Entering the workforce after graduating with my bachelor’s degree was not my original plan, but it proved to be exactly what I needed at that time in my life and helped me clarify my own goals for future education.

What UW programs and resources were helpful to you as you prepared for graduate school?

As a first-generation college student, I worked closely with Student Success Services and the McNair Scholars Program during my undergraduate studies. Student Success Services offered me advice and support throughout my undergraduate degree, whether through educational resources or personal connections. McNair Scholars was instrumental in gaining the knowledge to apply to graduate school and navigate what it means to be a graduate student.

During my undergraduate degree, I worked with the University Counseling Center as a work-study. The kind humans I had the chance to work with often supported me in providing so many personal development opportunities that I continue to be thankful for.

What did you do to prepare for graduate school? Beyond the application materials, I would recommend identifying your passion and how graduate school would support following that passion. Graduate school can be incredibly taxing at times, but reflecting on your passion can be supportive in the application process and throughout your degree.

What programs and resources are helpful to you as a graduate student? Being connected to my cohort has been incredibly supportive, as I have navigated becoming a counselor. The connection and kindness offered by all members of the counseling program have dramatically impacted my ability to succeed in my graduate degree. I imagine that many graduate programs can sometimes feel isolating, but building a community outside of my program has been equally beneficial. Without a variety of kind humans by my side, I would struggle greatly. Do what you can to build connections in and out of your program.

How does UW make grad school affordable? I feel incredibly fortunate to have had access to a graduate administrative assistantship to help me fund my master’s degree. My assistantship has been incredibly supportive in navigating graduate education and finances and allowing me the time to focus on my studies and work with clients.

What are your future career plans? At this time, I am applying for the mental health counseling Ph.D. program. I am excited to continue working with individuals and groups to provide counseling services to the community. At this time, I am inclined to continue working with adolescents and families at Cathedral Home. I feel especially connected to working with those navigating the complex effects of experiencing trauma.

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