You finally graduated college and have stepped into the real world. You’re looking forward to a life with less stress, no homework, and taking steps toward your future. But what does life after college actually look like? What should you be expecting? I’ve found that the time span after college can sometimes feel more confusing and stressful simply because no one really prepares you for it.
You might feel lost
“What am I doing?” is going to be a question you ask yourself a lot. For most of your life, you have been told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. You may have gained some freedom as you grew up, but you still had to adhere to a schedule that wasn’t completely yours. Now that you’ve graduated, you are no longer bound by those confines.
You have all this free time…but what do you fill it with? For the last four years, school has been your main focus. You have crammed your mind with facts about citing your sources, cyclohexanes, and analyses of books you probably don’t care about. There is so much space in your brain for new information.
You are no longer confined to your college campus, but where will you go? Will you stay in your college town, go back home, or go to an entirely new place?
You have this degree that should give you a leg-up in your field, but what positions should you be applying for? What company should you be part of?
All of these questions can make you to feel lost, and that’s okay. There are a lot of decisions to be made so it’s normal if you feel stressed out. It’s equally overwhelming, yet exciting knowing that your life can go anywhere from here. It’s time for you to start making your own decisions; as you take things one step at a time, you’ll find your way and end up exactly where you need to be.
Finding a job doesn’t always happen quickly
In your head, it seems like immediately after you graduate, companies should be banging down your door to have you work for them. (If people are begging you to work for them, congratulations—ignore this whole bullet point). But for many recent graduates this is not the case. They may not have any idea of where they want to work or what they want to be. Or maybe you’re like me and know exactly where you want to work…but you aren’t finding any open positions yet.
After graduating college, I walked right into my first real job doing something I actually enjoyed. But, the position was based on a five month contract, so it only lasted me until May. I do have connections with the company I want to work for, but I am still waiting for positions to become available. All of that to say, I am currently searching for a job for this period of waiting.
At times, it’s very discouraging to be out of work. Applying for jobs takes a lot of time, and you don’t always get accepted to the positions you wanted. But, don’t give up! Every closed door is clearing the way for the open door that’s coming.
You will have to explain your major, career goals, and how you feel about graduating many many times
If I had a dollar for every time I had to answer “What was your major again?” “What do you plan on doing with your degree?” “Do you already have a job lined up?” “What’s your end goal?” “How does it feel to be done with school?” “So what are you doing now?” I would be RICH.
I recommend coming up with easy-to-understand explanations, and maybe even give them some answers to the questions they didn’t ask. For example, in my previous position:
I used to tell people “I am a science communications technician for a professor at UNLV who does ecology research…” but apparently no one knew what that meant because then I would get a bunch of follow up questions. So over time, I figured out how to properly explain my role so that people smile and say “woah, that sounds right up your alley.”
I revised the script and came up with: “I actually work at UNLV for a professor who does research with plants and native vegetation (ecology stuff). He writes papers about his findings and summarizes them. Then I take those summaries and make infographics, reports, and visual presentations. It involves a lot of graphic design, but also uses my ecology knowledge.
But the job is based on a grant and will be done in May, so I will be applying for jobs with the US Fish and Wildlife Service since I have connections through that internship I did last summer.”
You spend the first few weeks questioning everything
As you begin your job search, you may find that there aren’t as many jobs in your field as you thought, which may lead you to wonder if you chose the right major.
You may even have an identity crisis because instead of being a “student,” you’re a “recent graduate who might have a job soon, but you don’t really know who you are.”
I’d recommend spending any time you have exploring things you couldn’t while you were in school. You could resume or pick up a new hobby like going to the gym, playing an instrument, reading, or literally anything else. Carve out some time to spend with your friends, catch up with ones you haven’t seen in a while, or go somewhere to meet someone new.
Think about who you want to be and the lifestyle you want to live, and then make little steps to become that.
Being “done” with school feels like a cruel joke at first
For the first few weeks or even months, you may feel like you still aren’t done with school. I often had the feeling like I was forgetting to do an assignment or needed to study for some test. Being “done” with school seems like such far off fantasy that when it actually does happen, it takes some time to get used to.
If live in your hometown, you’ll start seeing more people from high school, middle school, and even elementary school resurface
If you’re graduating, that means other people your age are probably graduating too. And they’ll all be figuring out what to do next, which may mean coming back home for a while. So when you’re running errands, you’ll probably start seeing old friends from various stages of life. Depending on the type of person you are, this can be a good thing, or a bad thing. I personally enjoy seeing people from the past.
Contrary to popular belief, there are some jobs that actually check for your diploma
A lot of people say that going to college is a waste because most jobs don’t even check to make sure you have a degree. But, depending on which field you are in, you may actually need to turn in your college transcript along with your other application materials.
One major thing I learned when preparing my resume for federal government positions was that I needed a “conferred transcript.” This is just a transcript with the official end date of your schooling; it explicitly states that you completed all of the requirements of your major and have earned your degree. While you can request your official transcript at any time, your official transcript will not be conferred until after you graduate, around the same time your diploma gets sent in the mail.
You will enter into a world where everyone else is also confused and winging it
I think one of the best things I have learned since graduating is that no one else knows what they’re doing. That person you think has it all together, they don’t. I promise you, everyone is just taking things one step at a time. Even if you do have a five year plan, there’s no guarantee that everything will go according to your timeline. Take it from me, give yourself a real loose timeline, and don’t be too upset when things don’t go as planned. Learn to improvise and be flexible.
In the “real world,” I’ve experienced that everything is made up. People make random decisions and adjust based on the outcome. It’s all based on trial and error. You test one thing out and if it works, keep doing it, if not, try again.
Bottom line, no one is expecting you to have it all together. If we’re being honest, you’re still a “baby-adult.” There is always room for you to improve; give yourself some grace.