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5 Things College Didn’t Prepare Me For, And How I Wish I Prepared Myself

You wait your whole life to get to that moment when you finally walk across that stage to get your diploma. That piece of paper that is supposed to tell potential employers that you are prepped and primed for life outside of school—that you spent four or more years learning everything there is to know about being a working adult. That might be true, but there are some things that event a degree cannot prepare you for.

The value of a higher education is undeniable, but most students don’t get lessons on what comes with adulthood. Money, relationships, how to keep yourself healthy — I knew about none of it, and no matter how many times my literature professor told me, I still do not see how Dante’s Inferno tells me anything about how to keep myself from starving.

Here are the five things I was not ready for after graduation, and ways you should start preparing yourself. 

How to create and stick to budget. 

It has been preached to us time and time again—learn how to budget. But has anyone actually sat you down and showed you? Has a professor every actually gone over how you should be spending your money wisely? In my experience, no.

Now should be the time you are thinking about how you spend your money and how you can cut back on unnecessary spending. You don’t have to be totally involved right now, but it’s a good idea to keep track of your spending and look it at it near the end of every month. You can see how much you spend on necessities like bills, food and gas, and where you could start exercising a little more willpower. Trust me, you can live without your Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (I know, I know). 

Understanding the importance of a backup plan. 

You just spent years learning how to do one job, and while you probably took some really useful courses, you were likely banking on your major of choice turning into a career you at least liked a *little*.  But sometimes, you get into the workforce and you don't like your field. I took a job in publishing that I thought was going to be great, and I hated it, so I had to think about other ways I could use my degree.

Even if you feel you are going to love your career after graduation, it doesn’t hurt to think about other options. Talk to an advisor or trusted mentor about other routes you could take with your degree if you don’t end up liking where you end up. If you can, minor in things you are passionate about that don’t have anything to do with your major. You never know what kind of jobs you could get with just a minor. And if you find yourself really struggling to be happy with any job in your major field, there is no shame in taking a step back to go back to school or working as a barista until you figure out what your calling is. The goal is to figure out your purpose, and you have so much time to find it.

Knowing how—and what—to negotiate. 

Salaries, benefits, getting a good deal at the local farmers market… I have never been able to negotiate anything. But out in the real world, it’s a skill that could come in handy more often than you think. I find myself frequently wishing I would have taken a class on it when I could.

As women, we need to try and negotiate our salaries—according to SkillCrush, women earn on average 20 percent less than men do. Negotiating is something that is so crucial to successful career, but almost no one learns how to do it well. See if there is any room in your schedule to take a class on negotiation and business skills, or talk to a trusted advisor about their experience with this issue. Most professors are willing to talk anyone’s ear off about their field, so reach out to professors in communications, business or economics and ask if you can stop by their office to pick their brain. Do not walk away from your campus without at least a little bit of knowledge on negotiation skills.

How to manage extra time. 

I remember feeling really anxious and uncomfortable when my first fall after graduation rolled around. I felt like I had to be somewhere or be working on something all the time, but I didn't. It can feel very awkward to have free time if you were working three jobs and were involved in multiple clubs between classes like I was.

Think about that as you time—start a side hustle, take a class online, pick up a new hobby or re-start one you never had time for in college. Find a way to use your time to keep bettering yourself or hustling toward something bigger.

How to cope with loneliness. 

I’ve been calling this my lonely year. I went from spending four years in a world where friends and good conversations were less than three minutes away from me at all times, to seeing almost no one for days on end. It can get really lonely.

You have to make time for friends even if they are far away. Whether that means planning a weekend to visit them for a day or taking a day trip together, or just talking on the phone the old fashion way. If your friends are close, dedicated 1 day a month or more to get a quick cup of coffee just to stay in each others lives. If you want to join a new fitness group or local book club to make new friends, do it! Keeping and making friends is not easy, but it’ss worth it to have a tribe who support you through your life.

College is difficult, but life after graduation isn't easy either. Just remember that you completed something incredible and this is just the next stage of your amazing life. 

Carlee Nilphai

Millersville '19

Carlee is a Millersville University graduate with a BA in Print Journalism and a double minor in Music and Theatre. Her favorite topics to write about involve career, environmental issues, pop culture, budgeting hacks, and Taylor Swift. Carlee lives in Lancaster, PA and has a corgi named Alan.
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