How to Keep Moving Forward Your Second Year Out of College

The first year out of college is a trial period—it is truly your first time in the real world. It is normal to move back home, be unemployed for a bit, and not know what you really want. During that first year, every part of your life changes, yet you’re free to make plenty of mistakes because no one will judge you—you’re learning. However, in your second year out of college, it’s assumed that you’ll have your act together (or at least be closer to it). Yet, it’s easy to hit a sophomore slump and feel stuck—how do you know if what you’re doing is right? You don’t need to stress out if you’re still unsure about most things. You can, however, reflect on your time out of college so far and evaluate your experiences, which will help you figure out your next steps. Here’s a guide to help you set goals in five areas of your life now that you're well into your second year in the real world.

1. Do you have the right job?

If you loved your first job out of college and could stay there for the rest of your life, you’d be pretty lucky. If you’re like most post-collegiettes, however, you probably won’t stay at the same company, or at least in the same position, for too long. During your first year out of college, you really get to experience the job market. You become used to the 9-to-5 (which can take months). When that first year is done, there are a few things you can do to start figuring out future plans for your second year out of college.

First, make a list of what you like and don’t like about your current job. Do you like the corporate environment and the feeling that you’re part of something larger? Do you really hate that you have to sit in a cubicle and stare at your computer all day? If your list consists of mostly negative things, it’s time to brainstorm new opportunities. What environment do you see yourself in if you could make the change? For example, would you rather work with real people than with a computer? Ask yourself these questions, and jot down your answers. 

If you’re happy with where you are, congrats! While you may decide to stay at your current company, you should still be making goals for yourself so you can continue to grow. Do you want a promotion? Do a little extra work on a group assignment or take on a side project that would help your boss or the rest of your team—and start taking note of accomplishments you had a direct part in, so that you can bring them up when it comes time for an annual review. Do you want to participate more in meetings? Make it a goal to say three things in your meetings going forward, big or small. Do you feel like you don’t really know your co-workers well? Make more of an effort, whether that means setting up a coffee date with your manager or taking part in company activities, such as going to weekly happy hours or running in a work charity race.

If you’re unhappy with your current job, it’s time to start looking! The nice thing is that you do have a job, and can keep it until you get another offer, so don’t stress on how long it takes! Finding a job is hard work, and even harder when you’re juggling a full-time position already. Set aside a few hours a week to update your LinkedIn and resume, and browse job postings in your free time. If you’re considering going back to school, find resources before you make the big decision. You can talk to alumni at your school, or go to information sessions at schools in your city—the more information you gather, the better informed you will be.

Sarah, a second year post-collegiette in Chicago says, “I was unhappy at my job, but comfortable. I loved my boss and my team, but I knew I wasn’t following my true interests. After a year, I decided to make the change and switch jobs. It was difficult to have that talk with my boss, but I felt relieved once I followed my true passion.”

2. Do you like where you live?

When you move after your first year of college, you’ll have fun no matter where you are—it’s your first time truly on your own and you feel like the opportunities are endless. After a year, your feelings might start to change. Do you like living in a big city? Would you prefer to be in a smaller town? Do you live with your parents and want to move out?

If you want to move apartments, start looking online! Websites like Street Easy, Craigslist, and can help with your search. 

Liz, a post-collegiette who just moved from NYC to San Francisco, says, “After college, I moved to NYC because I thought that’s where I wanted to be. All my friends from college were there and I got a great job. After a year, I realized that I wasn’t happy there—even though I had a good job. I wanted to move somewhere with a great city, but also space to hike and explore nature. I visited a friend in SF and fell in love—although it was tough to make the change, I’m glad I did. Sometimes you just have to take the risk, even though you won’t know how it will turn out.”

3. Are you happy in your relationships?

During your first year out of college, a lot changes, especially when it comes to your relationships. From moving away from friends and family to getting accustomed to the post-college dating scene, it’s hard to know where you fit in once you graduate. After a year in the real world, you realize that it’s hard to stay in touch with everyone, no matter how close you once were. It’s time to start thinking about what kinds of people you want to maintain a relationship with.

For your friendships—put reminders in your calendar once a month to contact that old friend who lives in California that you don’t get to talk to very often. It’s easy to forget things when life gets busy!

In terms of your romantic life—if you’re in a serious relationship, think about your future. Yes, it was fun to have an SO while you navigated your first year out of college, but how do you feel now? Can you see yourself being long-term with this person? If not, it might be time to move on, no matter how difficult that decision may be. 

If you want to be single, more power to you! This is the time to take advantage of your freedom and explore your new surroundings outside of college. You don’t need to date—just have fun and get to know what you like and don’t like about people. Even if you don’t want to date, don’t stop meeting new people! You never know what kinds of relationships (romantic or not!) you’ll build.

And if you want to start dating, that’s great too! Now that you’ve been out of college a year, you probably know more about what kind of person you are and who you would be interested in dating. If you’re having trouble meeting potential partners, try joining a group activity outside of work, such as a kickball team or writing group. Doing what you love and not thinking about meeting the “right one” is the best way to meet the one. It might be fun to meet someone at a bar your first year out of college, but by the second year you might be a little tired of that hookup culture that’s so similar to the one you had in college—but there's nothing wrong with celebrating your singledom, either.

Emily, a second year post-collegiette in NYC, says, “I met my boyfriend at a softball game! I joined a team after feeling like I wasn’t meeting the types of guys I wanted to at bars, and I loved softball growing up. You just have to follow your interests—you never know who you might meet.”

4. Are you taking care of your health?

While partying like you’re still in college can be fun, it will get exhausting and catch up to you by your second year out. Sure, you should still be able to drink and go out and have a great time, but as a second year post-collegiette, you need to make sure you are treating yourself well. This means making smart eating choices and taking care of your health. Make sure you are getting enough of all the nutrients you need to stay strong. If you have moved to a new city, make sure you get a new doctor—yearly check-ups are important! As you get older, it becomes more difficult to stay on top of these things because you’re very busy, but if it takes putting a regular reminder in your phone, do it. In the real world, it’s also hard to stay active when you work a 9-to-5 (or even longer hours), but it’s extremely important to stay active—whether that means joining a gym, biking to work, or even forgoing the elevator whenever you have the choice. Depending on how much you like to exercise, you should be active at least 30 minutes a day (yes, taking the stairs counts). 

Jenna, who lives in Boston and has been out of college two years, says, “During my first year out of college, it was difficult to make time to exercise regularly—I didn’t know my schedule and I was still getting used to my new schedule with work. This year, I made it a priority to work out 4 times a week. I get my friends together to go for runs (otherwise I won’t go!). I suggest doing the same—it will force you to stay active.”

5. Are you saving or spending?

During your first year out of college, you learn all about budgeting—like, how many Starbucks coffees you can get each week or late night pizza runs you can make without breaking the bank. You quickly learn (probably after a year) that you need to create an actual budget for yourself. If you need help with doing so, apps like LearnVest and Mint will take your salary and spending habits into account so you can create your own personalized budget. With categories such as health, entertainment and home, you can figure out how much you should truly be saving and spending, which is difficult to stick to if you're not keeping track of your expenses.

Ashley, a recently graduated student living in Charlotte, NC says, “I never knew what I was spending my money on until I got the app Mint—it helped me realize that I was spending over $100 a month on coffee! I set a coffee budget as soon as I noticed and now only spend half that amount—which would be impossible to do without the app alerting me about my budgets each week.”

Thoughts of the second year of your post-college life really don’t seem so bad once you’ve reflected on the first one. Now that you know what you want, and have goals to accomplish, you’re ready to tackle them. It’s the real world, take two. Good luck—you got this, post-collegiette!