December 14 marked 4 years since I graduated college. FOUR YEARS!
Part of me can’t believe it – how did three and a half years of my life in college PLUS four years after that fly by so fast? The other part of me can believe it since I’ve progressed in my time after college.
I’m not one for listicles – posts that include “5 best” or “5 things” – but I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you can take away some lessons as an adult, and even prepare for graduation if you’re in that stage of your life.
Note: I took all photos below during my freshman year of college, with the exception of the last photo.
1) You have to find your own opportunities after college.
Depending on who you know and the family you’re raised in, you might be lucky enough to find a job and stability right after college thanks to a friend or family member. They can definitely get you started, but you have to keep the wheels turning in your life.
If you don’t have connections to someone in your industry, then you have to work even harder for that job. Either way, you’re responsible for holding up your end of the bargain. You studied hard to further your education – continue to work hard and pursue the things you’re passionate about.
That goes for work, friendships, relationships, and every other aspect of your life. Maybe you’re busy and don’t have time to call or text someone back. One hour turns into one day. One day turns into one week, which can turn into a few months until, you realize you’ve stopped talking altogether.
If you want to make it happen, then make the effort. Go to a conference (small or large – free or paid, depending on what you’re looking for) or a local meetup to interact with like-minded people.
This will inspire you, and this will hold you accountable. You’ll learn about yourself to see if you like your career, or if you want to move in a different direction.
2) Figure out personal finances.
Everyone’s situation is different, but for many college kids, their main focus is school. Other students might be the opposite – a full-time employee and a part-time student.
I was a full-time student, and I worked a few on-campus jobs as the college newspaper editor-in-chief, a separate newspaper section editor, the newspaper delivery gal, a computer lab assistant, and yearbook editor. It sounds like a lot, but I acquired all of these jobs over the years, and the newspaper is what I devoted most of my time to.
Thankfully, that work and savings ethic transferred to my after-college years, and my family is here when I have questions about time and money management.
After college, you have to have a plan, or ask for help to create and execute a plan. Figure out your expenses, such as groceries, phone, car, rent, electric, water, credit cards, and any other necessities. This is the important stuff. Then figure out how much money you have left to have fun – shopping, going out, concerts, games, travel.
Organize the information in a spreadsheet if that works for you and, again, hold yourself accountable. The sooner you learn how to handle these situations for yourself, the more prepared you’ll be to support your own family one day.
3) You must build and maintain your support system.
This is a HUGE lesson that is both heartbreaking and important. This was the most difficult one for me.
We spend three to four years with a group of people in college. It may change throughout the years as we evolve. We might add or subtract friends, but by the end of it, we usually have an idea of who our real friends are.
Once we graduate, everyone goes their separate ways. They disperse like wild Pokémon, going back to their homes or finding new homes in cities we’ve never been to. And then what?
Most of the time, there’s silence. A LOT of silence. Until you break that silence. You have to decide who is important in your life to stay in touch with them, how you want to stay in touch, and how often.
One of my college friends keeps in touch using snail mail. We started this when she was studying in medical school on an island with no phone service.
Now that she’s back here in the States, we still write letters every now and then, including fun details in the envelopes, like Lisa Frank stickers and “Let’s taco ’bout it” stationery. She’s better at keeping in touch than I am, but I’m working on it.
All of this might take some time for you to figure out what works. It could take months and even years to figure that out. Spend time with people who appreciate you, who value your time. Drop people who do not bring value into your life, or who are self-centered.
I had a large support group in college thanks to meeting people early on, continuing to make friends, and getting involved in campus clubs. Once I graduated, it was difficult to find things to talk about with new coworkers – they were two to three times my age, and I didn’t even know who I was after I graduated college.
I knew I loved writing, photographing, and designing newspaper pages. But when someone asked me, “So what do you do for fun?” three weeks after I graduated college (I didn’t take a break), I answered honestly, “I’m not really sure what to do with my time now.”
Time is valuable, so spend it wisely on people who respect you, who will fill you with joy.
4) Mood swings are a thing.
Life after college…in the real world…being an ADULT is so glamorous! Oh, wait – no it’s not.
You might feel sad. Confused. Alone. Depressed.
A huge chunk of your life is over. It’s completely normal and OK to feel this way. We all feel it at some point, and it’s not any easier for us.
Talk about it. Write about it. Express your feelings – do not bottle them up. It might be difficult. You might want to hide away in your room. You might want to drop off in communication.
I wish I talked about it more when I was in and out of depressed stages after college, but I understand now that it’s healthier to talk about it. I encourage you to do the same.
You might be surprised by how many other people experience those same emotions.
5) You may or may not know what you’re doing.
This is very broad. You may or may not know what you want job-wise. Maybe you’ll find a job in your field. Maybe you’ll grow tired of jobs in your major, and now you want to try something new.
There are so many possibilities out there that, thankfully, we don’t have to limit ourselves.
You might know who you want to spend the rest of your life with – who you want as your significant other. You might date and make mistakes.
Some people know right off the bat where they want to live, for how long, what their job looks like, and what their career path is. Other people don’t. Again, that’s OK.
We’re all trying to figure this out at our own pace, following our own paths.
Do what’s right for you. Come up with a plan that works for you. Make sure it’s something that will support your lifestyle, and something that will make you happy!