Graduating from college is one of the most exciting milestones you can experience before you officially join the “real world.” You’ve made the grades, checked off every item on your senior bucket list, and now it’s time to finally be on your own! But what does it really mean to transition from college to the real world? How should you navigate life now that you don’t have someone dictating what you need to do every day? I know firsthand that the transition isn’t always easy, so I’ve created a list of tips to help you successfully transition into your next life chapter. Here are five helpful ways to transition from college to surviving the real world.
- Focus on short and long-term goals
The biggest challenge I faced after graduation, by far, was pinpointing my long-term goals, and I still struggle with it today. My short-term goals have always been simple: survive each day, have enough money to pay my bills and help my family, and keep in touch with my friends. However, narrowing down and committing to long-term goals after graduation was far more difficult.
Brian Turner, Chief Technology Officer at ConvertBinary, recalls feeling similarly. “What I found the most difficult when leaving the school environment was not only leaving behind structure, but discovering new goals to work toward,” he says. “Before you sit down and work out a detailed schedule for your day-to-day life after graduation, really examine short-term and long-term goals, then build your schedule and routine around facilitating those goals.”
Personally, I recommend writing your goals where you’re going to see them every day. This can help remind you of what you’re working toward, and what steps you need to take to achieve them. And when you’re examining your goals, remember that your plans may change, or may not be feasible right away! You may find a new passion, realize that you want to work part-time instead of full-time, or even deal with a job you dislike before finding something better. Remember, everyone’s life changes after college, and that’s okay.
- Accept what’s out of your control and focus on what you can
When I graduated college, it felt like I went from having control over my life to almost none at all. In college, I was able to easily pick my major, classes, extracurriculars, and more. Now that I’ve graduated, life looks different! I still have a say, but ultimately, a lot of what happens around me isn’t up to me, and there are a lot of unknowns.
The truth is, everyone has challenges and circumstances that are out of their control. And Megan Griffith, a mental wellness coach for Healing Unscripted, shared some advice that was helpful to hear. “Work with your brain, not against it,” Griffith says. “If you’re constantly fighting yourself, you are going to struggle so much more than you need to.”
She continues to say that everyone handles situations and tasks differently — and that’s totally fine! “It’s possible that you have a friend or peer who got the job of their dreams right after graduation and you’re still applying for jobs,” she says. “It’s time to let go of the fact that they got that job before you did, and continue working hard and doing what you can to get the job you want. Just because you can’t do something the same way as someone else doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
If you recently graduated and are entering the real world, try not to spend too much time dwelling on the things you can’t control, and try focusing on what you can. Paint your room your favorite color. Send supportive messages to the people in your life. Ask for help if you need it. Treat people with love and kindness and remember that even when things feel challenging, you’re going to be okay.
- Hold yourself accountable
Finding motivation and courage after college graduation can be difficult. When you’re in school, there’s often an incentive to do certain activities. But once you graduate, who’s monitoring you? That’s right: you are.
Alyssa Pacheco, the Director of Middle School Ministries at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, tells Her Campus that little changes can go a long way. “Practice little things like forcing yourself to get up five minutes earlier, exercising when you’re tired, or making a scary doctor’s appointment,” she says. “You have to willingly strengthen the voice of independence and inhibition in your head!”
If you struggle with keeping yourself in check, ask a friend, family member, or roommate to help keep you accountable. Find someone to go to the gym with that will push you to be your best even when you’re “too tired.” If you’re feeling anxious about making a big appointment, ask a trusted family member for a script so that you can call and schedule that doctor’s appointment by yourself — I promise, it’s easier than it feels.
Another way to hold yourself accountable: structure your day with a clear schedule! Start by getting up five minutes earlier and finding something that makes the mornings better (for me, it’s eating some type of breakfast with my mom — I love a good chocolate chip waffle). You’ll also want to find a way to “stop” your day, whenever that may be. Give yourself time to relax and recharge, and add structure — it can help you feel more in control over your lifestyle in the long run.
“Try creating a routine that feels achievable, that you can stick to,” says Ayden Berkey, Co-Founder of Access Scholarships and a 2020 college graduate. “In college, you might have had a schedule that worked for you based on your classes, extracurriculars, and jobs. Your post-grad life can definitely be approached in a similar way.”
- Embrace old hobbies and discover new ones
Having hobbies is important, and getting a break between workdays and relaxing is critical to our mental health and well being! This is even more important when you have a 9-5, and much of your waking hours are spent working hard. So, if you just graduated college and need to reconnect with your passions, how do you do it?
“I started to reflect on what I enjoyed previously,” says Savanna Perry, a Certified Physician Assistant and the creator of The PA Platform. “[I] connected with old friends and learned to create a new schedule around my job…I enjoyed my job as a PA and writing, so I started blogging.”
As a new graduate, I spent a little time learning to play guitar and ukulele. And although I don’t play much anymore, it was time well spent. No matter what hobby you choose to pursue after graduation, having a fulfilling and joyful activity to fall back on can help you navigate the real world with ease, and feel healthier and happier in the process.
- Make a budget
“When in college, you have a certain amount of freedom because your parents, scholarships, and maybe even your loans are helping you coast by without truly dealing with financial burden,” says Nakea Pittman, a loan processor at Freedom Mortage. “However, once you join the ‘working adult” life, you realize just how much you have to think about financially.”
Though limited knowledge of finances won’t make or break your transition from college to post-grad life, it’s still important to learn about your personal finances and how to save and manage money — very soon, you’ll need to know what you’re doing! I’ve learned many money tips over the last few years of my life, but none as important as this: create a budget.
Between navigating insurance, 401ks, taxes, credit cards, car payments, mortgages, plus rent and utilities — it’s safe to say there are many financial considerations you have to account for as an adult. Finances can be intimidating, but trust me, creating a solid budget and plan to save and pay your bills will help you in both the short-term and long-term!
Graduating from college and entering the real world can be tough. But at the end of the day, every challenge, mistake, and moment of success will ultimately help you grow! Reference these helpful tips for how to navigate post-grad life, and be sure to be patient with yourself — going from college to the real world is not easy. A word of advice: now is the time for you to embrace the challenges that come with post-grad life, even when it feels challenging. Life after college is hard, but you aren’t alone. Don’t give up if things seem tough. You’ve got this!
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