When "the best four years of your life" are over: Feeling Down About Graduating From College

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graduation cap commencement ceremonyIn the film “The Graduate”, Benjamin Braddock returns home to California after graduating from college. He has no clue what he wants to do and is slightly terrified that he is in the real world now. He knows all his parents’ friends will quiz him about graduate school or getting a job at his upcoming graduation party. Right before the party, Ben feels uncomfortable and anxious so he speaks with his father.

Mr. Braddock: What is it, Ben?  
Benjamin: I'm just...  
Mr. Braddock: Worried?  
Benjamin: Well...  
Mr. Braddock: About what?  
Benjamin: I guess about my future.  

Though the words were part of a screenplay and were said more than 40 years ago, they still resonate today with new graduates. If you can relate to Ben and his uneasiness about graduating, you are not alone, and HC is here to help.

Thinking about the Future

The uncertainty of the future after graduating can be nerve-wracking to some students. Caitlin Hardgrove, a senior at JMU, says she feels like she’s come to the edge of the cliff and has no clue where she’ll land. “I think what makes it so hard is that ever since I can remember, there was always some sort of "next step." After elementary was middle, after middle was high school, after high school was college, and after college is.... I have no idea!” says Hardgrove. Avery Cook, a clinical social worker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says you should view the future with curiosity and as an adventure in order to take the pressure off.

Leaving Friends Behind

After graduation, many of your friends will continue their education, start jobs or return home.  
“One of the hardest parts about moving on after college is leaving your friends and your home for the last four years,” says Cara Sprunk, HC’s Managing Editor and a graduating senior at Cornell. With your friends off in every direction, “the idea of leaving good friends behind is very difficult because making friends in a new area is daunting,” says Cook. Since most of us have relied on our 16 years of schooling for friends, Cook says you will have to work to stay connected with your current friends. She also suggests trying to expand your social network. One way to make social connections is by joining professional groups — they can provide you with networking benefits and advice from older members who know what you are going through.  Reach out to your school’s alumni office to see if they have any groups set up in particular cities or for particular industries.

Perfectly Normal

All of your excited-yet-anxious feelings about graduating are completely normal, says Cook. “Graduation is a big change and any change can become stressful, positive or negative,” Cook says. This is definitely a time of mixed emotions and everyone responds differently to transitions. Cook says the varied emotions you will experience are similar to another big change you had four years ago: starting college. She says some students went out every night to celebrate their freedom and there were others who pined for high school and home. Overall, there is no “normal” way to feel.  While some of your friends may be itching to get out the college door, it’s perfectly ok if you’re feeling like you’d like to stay right where you are.

Focus on Yourself

Cook says one of the best things you can do during the transition from college is to really take care of yourself. You should be eating, sleeping and exercising regularly, and the routine will give you some stability if you do not know what’s next. Do whatever it may be that feels rejuvenating or rewarding to you. And if you’ve got time on your hands, try some volunteer work. Cook says feeding the need to be active and giving to others will make you feel better too.  As wonderful as college’s loose, unstructured schedule can be, it can also be incredibly relieving to return to a schedule that is more stable and structured.

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About The Author

Jessica Stringer is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is originally from Woodbridge, VA. At UNC, she is the editorial director for Rival Magazine, a joint publication between UNC and Duke. She has previously written for the Daily Tar Heel, interned at DC Magazine and CNBC, and is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Jessica fell in love with London during her semester abroad and dreams of moving across the pond. Some of her favorite things include coconut cupcakes, Carolina basketball, old Hollywood movies, and her Havanese puppy Max.