We spend our entire school experience on a path of categories. As a preschooler, we learn shapes, colors and numbers. In third grade, we learn how to write in cursive. In high school, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, or other well-known classics. For most, college is the first place where we are immersed in a new sense of independence – where we could begin to forge our own path. But even then, the categories followed us. Freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior were titles that were an integral part of our identity – and we were surrounded by peers on similar paths. No matter what dorm, building, or dining hall I entered, I knew (as a freshman) I could find someone who was as lost as I was, or (as senior) someone who was just as ready to graduate as I was.
The average college graduation age for traditional full-time students is 23. Twenty-three years with the same identity until you walk across a stage, flip your tassel to the left, and suddenly the path of categories comes to an abrupt end.
I was one of the 2020 grads who had their experience cut short. On a random Wednesday in March, my senior year as I knew it was over. My classes, my job, and my graduation were all taken from me in one email with the subject line: Sharing developments for our COVID-19 response. In that moment and the months that followed, I had no idea what was next. I lost my student identity. I no longer fit in the category I had grown accustomed to for 22 years. I needed to start a new path.
To all the recent graduates, I hope the next 3 tips will help you navigate life after college.
Don’t Compare Your Journey to Others’
As a recent grad, job-hunting was a job within itself. I was on LinkedIn for hours every day – scrolling through jobs and companies until all the descriptions I was reading started to sound the same. And when I was done with that, I would click over to my home page and see other recent grads posting about how excited they were for their new positions. They’re my friends, so of course I was happy for them, but I couldn’t help but think: Why is everyone finding great jobs except for me?
It felt like I was in last place of a race I didn’t even want to be in. But I soon realized that this was the first time in my life where all my past classmates and I were on different paths. You can’t get caught up in scrolling with envious eyes. Instead, view all those posts as opportunities. Did someone you know post about a company that may be hiring? Did an old classmate post about moving to a new city you hadn’t considered in your job search? Did someone just complete an online certification that would look good on your resume? Realize that you’re on your own journey and while it may appear that other people are winning, it’s not a race.
Reevaluate Your Goals
If I had a dime for every time, I heard the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up,” I’d probably be writing this blog from a mansion overlooking the beach. In reality, you may not have the same vision for your life after graduation that you had when you started college. THAT’S OKAY! What’s important is to identify what you want now. According to a study done at Dominican University of California, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Using a goal-setting template can be a helpful way to evaluate your new and existing goals, and the actions that need to be taken to achieve them.
Explore Your Hobbies
Now is a good time to find some new hobbies or nourish the one you began in quarantine. Both job-hunting and starting a new position can be stressful, so it’s important to find things you enjoy to provide work-life balance. After graduating, I started baking more, reading more books, and painting even though I’m a terrible at it (trust me, no one is lining up to see my art any time soon). I just do it because its fun! I learned how to make new recipes on Tik Tok, listened to podcasts, and started watching all the shows I didn’t have time for when being a student dominated my life. This is your brand-new journey, and you get to choose how you spend your free time.
Life after college can be a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, but now is the time to start making your dreams a reality. Congratulations to all recent graduates and a special shoutout to my favorite 2021 grads, Haley and Helena. You will do incredible things in your own time.
You’re the main character of your story and it’s time to write the next chapter!