“What’s your plan for after graduation?!” There it is — every college student’s favorite question. Even though I’m only a sophomore, getting asked about my future plans when I don’t even know those plans myself can be very nerve-wracking and stressful, and I can only imagine that those feelings intensify as college students get closer and closer to getting their degrees. Whether it’s relatives, family friends, professors or peers, having to explain or express your uncertainty to people never gets easier, and can definitely feel very defeating.
No matter how annoying it can be to not know what you want to do with your life after college, the truth is this: it’s completely normal. I still have two more years until I walk across the stage in my cap and gown, but I already know I’ll have to remind myself when I do that everything’s going to be alright. Everyone’s going to get to where they’re going on their own timeline and at their own pace, and the path you choose isn't wrong. Whatever you do, it's going to get you where you're going, even if it doesn't always seem right.
- There’s no right or wrong way
There really is no right or wrong way to “do life” post-college. Some people may decide to enter the workforce immediately, and others may struggle to find jobs. Some may go straight to graduate school, or take a year (or a few) in between in order to save up the money to go. Others might want to spend time at home or use this time as a chance to travel.
No matter what you choose to do after you get your degree, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about your decisions. There’s not one way a college graduate is expected to go out and live their life — even if you feel like there is the pressure of a typical standard bearing down on you — and that’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it matters what you do, and you'll get where you need to be eventually.
Brynn, a recent graduate from Arizona State University, shares how she used some of her free time to come up with next steps for herself and her career. “I had no idea what I wanted to do right after I got out of school. I sat down one day and decided I needed to network and make some more career connections," she says. "After reaching out to my past internship offices and scrolling through LinkedIn for quite some time making connections, I felt well-researched and ready to begin talking to more people about new job opportunities for myself.”
Obviously, coming up with a plan for yourself is easier said than done, but if you’re willing to put in the hard work, it will most definitely pay off. One good place to start is your school’s career and professional development office. It may be called by a different name depending on where you go to school, but sitting down with an advisor who has been trained in assisting students with future career options can be really beneficial. It’s definitely something I plan on doing soon myself! Don’t be afraid to go in and talk with someone whose job is to help you, and remember: starting to figure out what interests you is something that should be a fun process.
- It’s a waiting game no matter what
I know this may seem like the exact opposite of what you should do post-grad, but if you don’t know exactly what you want with your life after school, start by focusing on your inner-self. A lot of college graduates don’t end up finding a job by the time they graduate, even if they do know what they want to do. Despite good intentions, sometimes having a concrete plan right away just isn’t in the cards.
Coming off of the four to five years of school, internships, and constant socializing that is college can take a serious toll on your mental well-being. So, taking some time to recover and regroup can prove to be a very beneficial use of your time, and the best part is that this process is completely unique to you! For some it may be moving home and spending time with family while on the hunt for new jobs. For others, traveling and gaining new perspectives on the world may help kickstart some new life and career goals.
Samantha, a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, shares how traveling helped refocus and center herself after her graduation. “I didn’t have a solid plan for what I wanted to do (after graduation) or a job already lined up, but I knew I really wanted to travel,” she says. “I spent five weeks travelling all throughout Italy and its neighboring countries and loved every minute of my experience. Being abroad really opened my eyes to how big our world is and made my stresses and worries about my future career feel — thankfully — a lot smaller.” Samantha is now living at home and working a day job as she saves up and applies for graduate school.
Through taking time for yourself and doing whatever it is that makes you happy, you’re bound to feel more at ease and ready to return to the work force when the time comes.
- No one has the perfect plan
Maybe a few of your friends have received job offers already. Maybe some of them are moving back home after graduation. Maybe a friend or two is moving somewhere completely new. No matter what it is, just remember: there is no such thing as the perfect plan.
Not knowing what twists and turns are coming your way can be very stressful, but also (if you frame it a little differently) a new and different kind of adventure. Remember that the joy is in the journey! Focus less on the destination and more about how you’re getting there.
Rachel, a senior at the University of Washington, speaks on how she’s learning to cope with thinking about the unknowns in her future. “My best friend is moving back to Michigan and I’m heading back to California, so I’m definitely sad we’ll be so far away from each other,” she says. “But we jokingly started to plan a move to LA together and I actually think it may work out! I’m in the final interview round for a Los Angeles-based company, and she’s been talking to a few companies herself. Of course, plans could always change, but it’s been really fun to start figuring out some little things the future has in store!”
Planning isn’t always fun, but it’s important to remember it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. The most important thing is to have a little bit of fun with things and to not jump too far ahead. As a person who’s constantly jumping ahead and working hard on not comparing myself to others, I understand this stuff can be really hard. So, start small. Focus on planning out your next few days, then weeks, and then months.
Maybe you still have no idea what you want to do with your life after your college graduation. As long as you remember that’s okay, you’ll be okay! Don’t forget to run your own race and run it at your own pace. And as for those people asking you questions about your future plans? Well, there’s one answer you can surely give them: you’ll be living your life, and living it well.