The basics
THE USA: Career Prospects

Finding a graduate career in the US

Find out your post-study options as an international student in the USA, including the current graduate job market and visa options...

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Affectionately dubbed the ‘land of opportunity,’ thousands of students and professionals immigrate to the US every year in the interest of furthering their careers. But whilst the nation is a global economic and political hub, it can be difficult to get your head around the expanse of sectors and employment opportunities spread before you. Not to worry: thousands of foreign graduates manage to call America home after they finish their studies, so if you keep cool and tackle things pragmatically there’s no reason why you can’t, either. Let our overview of life after graduation in America help you on your way.


What’s the graduate market like?

Whilst the US remains the world’s strongest economy, the job market has definitely seen better days. The number of Americans in the labour force fell by almost half a million from February to March, with the proportion of working adults within the labour force dropping by 63.3% in May of the same year. However, there's hope for fresh graduates yet: 2014 is predicted to produce the strongest growth since the end of the recession in 2009, with a marked growth of 3.2% seen in the final quarter of 2013.

Opportunities, employment rates and specific markets for jobs in your field are likely to change state-by-state, and so you should be sure to research your options thoroughly well before you graduate so that you have time to devise a strategy. For example, Washington D.C has roughly one advertised job opening for every unemployed worker in the region, including sections of Maryland and Virginia, whilst graduates in Las Vegas face a harsh 14.3% unemployment rate.

Very broadly speaking though, the US has incredibly strong economic, finance and banking and media industries, with 35% of employers in financial services reported to be adding new positions in 2014. Of jobs in this field, graduates seeking positions in credit or financial analysis, financial advising, accounting and auditing are facing particularly bright prospects. Media students can also be heartened by the projected 6.1% of annual growth in the sector from 2009-2014.


Can I stay in the US?

Graduates wanting to stay on in the US after completing their studies will generally have one of two options: enrol in an Optional Practical Training Programme (OPT) or apply for a work visa. After your student visa expires, you will have what is called a ‘grace period’ to leave the US,  extend your visa or secure a new one. The length of time you’re able to stay will depend on the type of student visa you’re on: F-1 students are allowed 60 days, whilst M-1 and J-1 students have 30.



If you are in the US on an F-1 student visa then you will be allowed to complete up to one year of temporary employment in a position directly related to your field of study. Under this programme, you are allowed one year of temporary employment for every study level you’ve completed. For example, you would receive one year of OPT after you’ve completed your Bachelors, and another after you’ve done your Masters

You will first need to submit an OPT I-20 request form to the international office at your host university to be considered for OPT, and if your appeal is successful then your host will put you forward to the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS). You will then receive new immigration documents you will need to include in your complete OPT application that you'll submit to US Immigration.

You can learn more about the specific application procedures for OPT in our guide to working after graduation in the US.


Work Visa

There are many different types of working visas in the US. As an international graduate, you are most likely to be eligible for a Temporary Working Visa (H-1B). Under this visa, you’ll be able to stay in the US for up to three years, with the potential for extension to six. You can find a full list of all US Temporary Worker Visas on the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Graduates are NOT able to apply for this visa themselves: rather, once they have been offered a job in the US their employer will lodge the application on their behalf. You must hold a qualification at degree level (Bachelor) or higher to be eligible. Read our guide on post-study visa options in the US to learn more about the H-1B visa.

If you would like to stay in the US permanently then you will need what is called a ‘Green Card’. You will be able to apply for a Green Card whilst employed in the US on your temporary worker’s visa.  Again, your employer will need to sponsor you, and complete paperwork on your behalf. Specifics of the application process can be quite complicated, and you should double check your eligibility, application and employment requirements on the US Department of Homeland Security website.


How can I find a job?

You will need to first have a job offer from a US employer to be eligible for a work visa. Broadly speaking, jobs in the US are available in one of two markets: the ‘hidden’ market, and the ‘open’ market.

Jobs in the hidden market are not publicly advertised and generally found through a connection, such as your university, for example, or a professional met at a career fair. These opportunities are typically more difficult to uncover, and so it’s best you keep an ear to the ground and ask around for any links that any of your peers, teachers or career advisors might be able to give you. It’s also a good idea to research companies you might want to work for and follow their social media profiles, or sign up for their newsletters. These positions are often advertised privately, and will require you to take initiative to hunt down. You can also join associations and organisations in your field that might help you along in the right direction.

The open market is for positions that are publicly advertised. You can find these sorts of jobs anywhere in the public domain, namely via general search engines such as IdeaList, USA Jobs or American Job Centre. America is a huge place, and so depending on where you’re living you might want to try state-specific resources such as local papers or classified boards. For example, students in LA might consult the Los Angeles Times job board, whilst those in Boston may scour Boston Jobs Today.


Can my university help?

For the most part, American universities are exceptionally helpful in supporting international students and helping them dodge the perils of US bureaucracy.  It is an unfortunate reality that international students will typically have a more difficult time in finding a job than local graduates, but don’t let that deter you: if thousands of young professionals manage to do it every year, then what’s stopping you?

Every US university that accepts international students is bound by law to have at least one Designated School Official (DSO) that manages overseas students. Making an appointment with them, or other counsellors at the international office will help you lay out your options, prepare you for US business culture and hopefully give you some leads on where to start. For example, Cornell University has a downloadable booklet designed to walk you through the job search and application process as an international student, including resources, interview tips, immigration information and US business etiquette.

American universities are very much geared towards preparing their graduates for employment, and often run many faculty-specific careers events each year. During these events you will have the chance to make connections and meet professionals in your field, and ideally pave way for future employment. Don’t be afraid to be direct and confident: American business etiquette is quite up-front and strongly favours initiative. Whilst to some cultures this might feel as if you are ‘forcing’ yourself onto your audience, so long as you remain courteous and appear ambitious then you’re likely to make a good impression. Ask for business cards, contact details and if there’s likely to be any sort of graduate positions available in the near future. Your employer will most likely respect your tenacity and dedication to your field.



Now that you’ve got an idea of your post-study options, why not browse courses in the US now and start planning your study abroad adventure?



Read more:

'Post-study visa options in the US' 

'3 Fields to study in the USA'

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About Author

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Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.


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