02/12/2013 06:28 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2013

Strategies for Answering the Question "What Are You Going to Do When You Graduate?"

If you're in college, you're graduating very soon. If you've already graduated, I'm sorry you couldn't read this in time.

Your senior year comes swiftly and silently, like a thief in the night who robs you of all childish naivety, slaps you awake from your airy dream and yells, "Get dressed! Life's at your door and It doesn't like to wait!"

With this impending doom come questions from friends and family, classmates and advisors and mentors and neighbors from back home and third cousins who haven't spoken to you since that fourth cousin was born. These questions are weighty, tough, unavoidable. But there's one that instills more fear than the rest.

"What are you going to do when you graduate?"

You got anxiety just from reading that? Well I had to type it, and I was shaking by the word "when."

Easy now. Let's breathe together. The good news is that I've devised some strategies for you to use. They will allow you to answer that dreaded question without sweating, convulsing, crying, or getting violent with the heartless soul that asked it.

Before we get started, it's important to note that there's one line that cannot ever be used, under any circumstances. That line is, "I don't know."

Don't ever say it, no matter how true it is.

1) Tell the person you and your business friend have decided to start a website together. You can be vague about the content. Say things like, "Our content is such that it will attract a wide audience, giving us a more stable long-term financial outlook, which in turn will allow us more freedom to evolve and meet our consumer's needs." Next question.

2) Solemnly tell the person that you've been in touch with your philanthropic side of late, and you plan to move to Washington D.C. to tackle a growing social problem that touches every home either directly or indirectly: poverty. Say this, "Our country isn't the greatest in the world anymore. In order to compete on a global scale, we must meet the needs of our own citizens. Social equality cannot be realized until we eliminate discrimination in all its ugly forms."

3) Laugh and say you don't graduate college for four more years because you're still in high school. This typically doesn't work with college friends, parents, or really anyone under the age of 80.

4) Say you have three promising interviews lined up with well-respected organizations in your field. That should at least buy you enough time to line up one unpromising interview with a small organization in your field.

Desperate but effective strategies:


-Say it's going to take you another year to graduate. No shame in that, just don't mention it's not true.

-Say you're going to be a professional writer (you did publish two posts to that blog of yours), or you're going to try your hand in health services (by working at McDonald's), or you'll get a job in education (namely crying in front of kids at the local park to teach them how not to be successful).

I just got off the phone with my grandma, and she asked the dreaded question. I froze and told her the truth, that I don't know yet. She said, "Oh, that's okay. You can do anything you want to."

The truth worked this time, which is a very rare occurrence. I'd advise not taking the risk and using one of my proven strategies above.

By Max Londberg, University of Oregon