You’re actually completing college. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Just yesterday you were carrying boxes from your parents’ minivan up to your dorm floor, now you’re attending your last classes and preparing to pick up your cap and gown. As you get ready to walk that stage, tons of thoughts are likely to go through your head. What happens next? Am I going to find a job? Should I have applied to grad schools already? Is college really over for good?
These are questions that are perfectly normal to go through a soon-to-be graduate’s head and it’s just as normal to find yourself with no answers. Although you’ve known for four years that this day was coming, odds are it still snuck up on you out of nowhere. It’s ironic how that happens, but it typically seems to work out that way. So where do you go from here? How do you approach life once you are no longer a student? That can be hard to determine, since being a student is basically all you know. That is why a good thing to do at this point is to sit down and go through some thorough self-reflection. Not only that, but consider all of your options and all of the possible paths you could go down now. Be realistic about what lies in front of you so you can create some guidance for your post-graduation life instead of simply fearing the unknown.
Figure out where you’re going, literally. Once that graduation ceremony is over, where are you headed? For once this is not in the figurative sense, it’s addressing where you’ll be living. Many college graduates find themselves moving back home immediately, others may wish to fill out the rest of the summer in their respective college towns, and some may be on a plane the next day to travel the world. Knowing that you don’t have to do any certain thing is a comforting feeling. Officially being an adult, you can choose your own direction to follow – but going along with that, you do need to consider any responsibilities you have to take into account. You may not be able to afford the choice you want or have the means to go about it. Frankly, that is why many students find themselves in spots they don’t particularly want to be in, such as moving back in with their parents. But as long as you determine where you eventually want to go, you can make sure to spend your time at your next destination doing what you need to do to get that desired one.
Choose your mission. During your many years as a student, school has been “what you do.” Now what do you tell people when they ask you what you’re up to? That’s going to be the most dreaded post-graduation question; it’s actually probably falling upon you now – people want to know this in anticipation of your graduation. So, if you come up with something you want to focus on ahead of time, you won’t find yourself feeling totally lost and aimless after you leave campus. If you want a job, dedicate yourself to applications every day, attending job fairs, getting in touch with alumni and former internship supervisors to network with, etc. Perhaps you’ve decided grad school is going to be your post-grad plan, so frame your time around writing personal statements and monitoring application deadlines. Maybe you’d like to do some travelling, so sign up for a group abroad program or look into hotels and tickets on your own. Or maybe you just want to take some time off so you can read all those books you never had time for and get into a great work-out routine. As long as you find some course of action you feel comfortable with, you’ll be able to confidently accept “what you are doing” and no longer feel the need to dodge the question. Even if you can’t immediately do what you want (i.e. have a job), you can do what is necessary to get there (apply, network, etc.).
Accept the reality. It’s not just a cliché when people go on about how drastically different “the real world” is going to be from college life. It’s true, the lifestyle and norms you are used to are going to be swept away once you enter the post-grad world. With that being said, the best thing you can do for yourself is understand and accept what those differences are. Even if you stay in your college town for a little bit, things are going to be different when you’re not a student anymore. All of your close friends may not be immediately nearby, you won’t have classes to keep a stable schedule – you’ll need to make your own circumstances and your own series of events. Things won’t be handed to you by the university any longer. But being an alum means the university will always be a part of you, so don’t forget to start looking into those benefits and forms of support. Just because you have graduated does not mean you cannot call that school your home anymore. It is critical to understand you are moving on, but you can still look back.
Overall, remember that everyone else in your graduating class is approaching this difficult transition as well. It’s easy to get bummed out when you focus on what younger students are doing, but you must take into consideration the fact that you’ve done it. You aren’t missing out because you’ve already been through it, and now it is time to go through something even bigger. Come to terms with these factors and you will be much better prepared for this harsh change.