Should I Take a One-Year Dream Fellowship, Or a Great Job Offer From a Private Company?

I graduate from college in May, and I need to choose between a really good job offer from a private company and a fun, barely-paid one-year research fellowship abroad. This fellowship has been my dream for three years, and while I don’t want to work in academia as a career, it would basically be a post-graduation working vacation on the university’s dime. As I go through that application process, I’ve been interviewing around for management/HR type jobs, and got a really great offer from a company—almost too great. The benefits are amazing: profit-sharing, health care, tuition reimbursement for grad school, and a salary that is basically double what I expected to make right out of school, allowing me to aggressively pay down my $25K in student loans. It’s the kind of job I want to have when I’m looking to settle down and start a family, but right now seems like leaping too quickly into Proper Adult Life.

My heart says fellowship, but my brain says job; I’m afraid that when I come back from the year abroad, my resume will seem out of date and I’ll have to settle for underpaid admin work instead of this foothold into corporate management. What do I do? Should I follow my dream? Bite the bullet and start repaying my loans? Am I immature for feeling stifled by this offer? Can I ask to defer my offer so I can do the fellowship and have a job waiting for me when I return? – Cold & Confused in NYC

This question very much relates to my post from earlier today about Time vs. Money. Should you take the practical, well-paid job, or the less practical three-years-in-the-making dream fellowship abroad that will end in a year and leave you job-hunting again?

First off, yes, you should definitely ask the company if they can defer the job offer for a year. If you can finagle a want to keep your job offer and do your fellowship abroad, this will be the ideal solution.

So, what if the company is unable to hold the job offer for you? Or what if the company says they’ll defer the job for you and then scraps the position while you’re off on your fellowship? Is a one-year dream fellowship worth giving up a steady job with great benefits?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. And I can’t say that one choice is more right for you than the other. Besides the $25K student debt, I don’t know what your specific circumstances are.

What I can tell you is that when I was in my twenties, so many of the things I thought I wanted turned out to be things I actually didn’t want at all. I thought I wanted a big salaried job in the business or law or pharmaceutical fields, when it turned out that I wanted to make a living doing journalism. I thought I wanted a comfortable, quiet life in the suburbs, until I found myself in the city. I spent my early twenties doing a lot of moving from city to city, figuring out what I wanted to be doing, and where I wanted to be doing it. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my mother, who questioned every decision I made, and a lot of time sitting in living rooms with friends drinking cheap beer while we second-guessed our life choices.

I’m 30 now, and if I could write a letter to my 21-year-old self, I would say, “Have faith in your abilities.” I would say, “On your darkest, hardest days, remember how resilient you are.” I would say, “You have yet to learn this yet, but don’t dwell on lost opportunities—there will always be more.” I would say, “When you can, take chances.” I would say, “You have time on your side.”

I did have time on my side. If I, at 24, listened to everyone who told me how difficult it would be to make a career out of writing and to give up and go to pharmacy school (which is what my mother wanted me to do), I would not not be where I am today.

Here is something you don’t have to do: Take a job right after college because you don’t think you’ll ever get a job offer like that again. Here is what you do have to do: Figure out how you’re going to pay your bills and build the life you want to have if you don’t take that job.

This job offer? There will be other jobs like it. This dream fellowship abroad? I don’t know what it entails, but if it’s swimming with sea turtles on the Greek island of Zakynthos, you can figure out a way to replicate that too.

Would taking the dream fellowship and then having to hustle a little bit in some underpaid admin work while you search for a better job be the worst thing in the world? If you really think so, take the job. Some people like having a sure thing, and that’s okay. Figure out how to replicate that fellowship later.

If it’s not, if you can see yourself doing the fellowship and then hustling your way into a job after, go do that dream fellowship. Take advantage of your youth while you still can.

Have faith in your abilities. On your darkest, hardest days, remember how resilient you are. You have yet to learn this yet, but don’t dwell on lost opportunities—there will always be more. When you can, take chances. You have time on your side.


Photo: Amanda


12 Comments / Post A Comment

madrassoup (#929)

My personal (and I guess professional) biases make it impossible to imagine NOT taking the fellowship. But I will say that the writer seems to presume that other than fun times, the fellowship year won’t offer anything in the way of skill-building experiences (hence the fear of coming back with an “out of date” resume that will only get “underpaid admin work”). But if it’s in a country where the language is something other than English, becoming fluent (assuming you commit to it) will open a surprising number of doors. As will developing cross-cultural communication skills.

And, perhaps you can find a way to keep a foot in the management-sector world while you’re abroad. I don’t know enough about it to go about suggesting how, but you sound resourceful enough to figure it out. You did get these two amazing opportunities after all.

Also, if you’re still uncertain, I suggest you take some time to reach out to past recipients of your fellowship. What did they do when they got back? How did they package their fellowship year? I think you’ll find that you’re hardly stuck between a rock and a hard place in this situation.

Mike Dang gives really lovely advice.

franklina (#3,924)

The way the question is written, the fellowship doesn’t sound like a sure thing yet. If there’s any remote chance of *not* getting the fellowship (i.e., super competitive year, funding being cut, …) TAKE THE JOB. A bird in the hand, etc.

lemons! (#384)

This is the best advice I’ve read in awhile.

aesir (#5,963)

Take a serious look at the prestige of your school, grades and your previous work experiences. If they were sufficient to get such a great private firm offer in the first place then taking a year off for a fellowship shouldn’t really impact your chances in the future for a “real” job, especially if you can spin it to sound somewhat productive. And if it’s a university-affiliated research fellowship, then it shouldn’t be difficult to make it sound worthwhile.

More generally though, there are only so many opportunities you have in your twenties to have fun, get paid for it, AND have it look somewhat good on your resume. Don’t pass them up. You have the rest of your life to be a responsible corporate management-type.

jennonthego (#5,366)

I feel hacky giving my two cents after Mike Dang gave such great advice, especially when it’s so cliche, but I’ve regretted the things I didn’t do WAY more than the things I did. (Like, I wish I had taken the internship at Wheel of Fortune rather than the one at the small production company where I thought I’d get more experience.)

But every move I’ve made good ones (moving to California) and bad ones (going to grad school) have led me to my current career choice, which is about the fifth one I’ve had my heart set on.

Take the fellowship and enjoy your “year off.” I have a hard time believing you won’t get anything resume worthy out of it and even if you don’t, you’ll have the experience that you will carry with for the rest of your life. I may not have gotten “anything” out of my internship at a late night talk show in LA, but that experience gave me friends and experiences that I wouldn’t have had any other way and I wouldn’t trade it.

Lily Rowan (#70)

As an older person who has hired plenty of people, one year in a fellowship after getting a bachelor’s degree will not make your resume out of date in any way. Assuming you’re still willing to take an entry level job (and can’t defer the other one), having an additional year in the world will make you more appealing to a lot of employers, not less. Even when I’m hiring for entry-level, someone who has some kind of experiences outside of being a student is generally a better bet.

Good luck!

Julie the T (#1,022)

Mike, this advice is so wonderful – I wish every recent college graduate could read it. I think a lot of young twenty-somethings feel panicky about taking a job, because it’s there, right now, and another job may never come along (believe me, I know this feeling). But so many of those unique opportunities really are only feasible when you’re young (before significant others, kids, mortgages, etc.) and it gets harder to peel yourself away as you get older. Go swim with turtles! Or not. :)

francesfrances (#1,522)


Adulthood is long. After bouncing around different full-time jobs, at 26 I finally work at a company I’d love to be at for a long, long time, and I wish I had done more fun stuff before landing.

There aren’t that many times in life when it’s so simple to just GO, so just go!

nell (#4,295)

Another vote for fellowship. Like Mike says obviously this is something the LW needs to figure out for him/herself but I know I often regret diving directly into 9-5 work, actually even before I had finished my bachelor’s. I’ve been out of college 3 years and I have a job I like a lot, but it definitely gets harder to extricate yourself and go do something like a fellowship abroad the longer you settle into the daily grind. (Not impossible, of course! But there’s never going to be a *better* time than right after college, IMO.)

My senior year of college, I ended up needing surgery, and as night follows day, medical bills followed said surgery, so as soon as I graduated, I lucked into a decent job with decent benefits. Our situations are hardly parallel, but even eight or so years after, I resent not being able to travel on a fellowship which may or may not have been productive. I would go for it.

gyip (#4,192)

Fellowship. Another 9-5er here, straight out of university. Lucky in a way, and others, not so much. If you have the opportunity, take it.

I didn’t really have one. I regret *that*, but I don’t regret having this job now — at 28, I’m the only one in my family with a full-time job. My mom’s semi-retired, my dad got unfairly fired in March after 35 years of service (yep), my brother’s still trying to land a full-time job, and my youngest brother is still in high school. I’m the breadwinner? (oh noooo)

You sound like a pretty bright, capable person, and there’s a reason you got this job offer. You’re already starting off fine, and you’ll only get better. You’ll find more jobs, but you probably won’t get any more fellowships. I don’t think it’s a “year off” if you’re making something that’ll be part of your foundation for the rest of your life.

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