College graduation is a double-edged sword. It represents a feeling of immense accomplishment; you’ve been working toward this moment for the last four years. Your professors, family, and friends will watch you walk across a stage, shake hands with the college president, and come away from it all with a diploma. You deserve a massive hug and a pat on the back. On the flip side, though, it can feel like you no longer have anything to work for; you’ve spent the last four years focusing on graduating and now you have to leap into the real world and become, dare I say it, an adult.
Being an adult is hard and messy, and you will never be ready for it. But, we all have to do it. Here is a collection of advice from people who’ve stood right where you are now and lived to tell the tale:
College is your time, not anyone else’s:
“Treat the experience of college for what it is, a time of growth. Soon you will look back on graduation just like you look back at your high school graduation. Enjoy the time you have [left] and make it what you want it to be.” -- Chris
College graduation is not an ending:
“College students tend to think graduation is the end...but it’s really just the beginning. Also, I felt that college prepared me for a lot of “best case” scenarios, which life is not. Be open-minded, flexible, and willing to adapt and learn as you transition into something completely new and different. And don’t assume you know it all; find people who you can learn from and who will teach you. College isn’t the end of your education.” -- Shannon
The graduation ceremony is a whirlwind and reality won’t sink in until later:
“The actual act of graduating is very surreal. My ceremony was on an incredibly hot June day and it was all that we could do not to pass out while waiting to go up on stage in our very thick robes. Afterward we milled around, took pictures, hugged, and then the college kicked us out and I started the road trip home with my family. It took a few days to actually comprehend that I was never going to go back, that after the summer I’d have to start real life. It was scary and exciting all at the same time.” -- Megan C.
There’s no better time than the present to make some goals, big or small, for your future:
“I took a job immediately after college graduation because it was a good job, not because I actually wanted it. Imagine my surprise when, after three months, I was miserable. I didn’t have a clear plan about what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt stuck. I don’t think I would have felt that way if I’d set goals for myself and my future. My advice to soon-to-be college graduates is to ask yourself what you want to do in five or ten years, and start working toward it. And if you find yourself in a situation or job you don’t like, like the one I was in, remember, it’s not permanent. It’s never too late to make new goals or reassess old ones.” -- Ian
Take chances while you’re young and fresh out of school:
“When I graduated from college, I planned on moving to NYC to pursue an acting career. However, I got cast in a show near my college in Boston and decided to stay in the city because my boyfriend was there and it was comfortable. The majority of my close friends went ahead to New York and supported each other through the ups and downs of putting down roots in such a complicated city. Six years later, I finally moved to Brooklyn, but by then, my friends were established in their careers and knew the ins and outs of the five boroughs. At 28, I had to go through the same struggles they had surmounted years before but without the camaraderie. I realized that it’s a lot easier to deal with being broke and uncertain when you’re 22 and everyone your age is in the same boat. So, my advice to graduates? Take chances now. Move to the big city. Find friends to join you or make friends when you arrive. It’ll be a lot easier now than it will be in 5–10 years.” -- Megan R.
Don’t expect to be the top dog anymore:
“As a senior, you’re used to being the top dog; this continues through graduation and even immediately after, until you leave school for the last time. Be prepared to lose your status when you start at a new school or a new job, and shift your focus to working your way back up the totem pole. The hard work has only just begun.” -- Tyler
At the beginning of your career, getting different experiences is worth more than the actual job:
“Don’t expect to do anything close to what you want to do right after graduating. You may not even fully know what it is you want to do long term. Work toward making short-term goals a reality and try to develop a plan for the long term based upon what you take away from the experiences along the way.” -- Reid
After graduation, you’ll have to hold yourself accountable for your own growth:
“When I was in school, I constantly thought, ‘I should be studying.’ I knew I could always be reading more or starting an essay or preparing for a test. After college graduation, I was shocked to find that my work stayed in the office. Of course, it’s not like that with every job, but you’ll no longer have homework in the traditional sense. So, make the most of your free time. While it’s occasionally nice to finish up work and reward myself with a Netflix binge, I feel most productive when I’m structuring my free time around my hobbies. I’m in a monthly book club, a weekly writing workshop, and a biweekly strength training class. I hold myself accountable for my personal growth now that I don’t have professors around to do it for me.” -- Gwen
Take the time to get lost:
“When I graduated from college, I was surprised by how lost I felt. I envied my peers who immediately started grad school or full-time jobs, wishing I had something all-consuming like that to occupy and define me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I worried that I was wasting my time trying to figure it out. But I wasn’t wasting my time. I explored new places, made new friends, worked a quirky array of part-time jobs, and read tons of books. No longer defined by my role as a student, I became more open-minded toward myself and others. I learned and grew as a person in ways I could not have anticipated. Three years after graduating, I started grad school. I’m excited about my career, but I’m so grateful for those ‘lost years’ that led me to where I am now. Whatever your post-graduation plans are, make time to get lost.” -- Isabella
The friendships and relationships you most value may surprise you:
“After four years in college, I'd settled into close friendships fostered by everything from clubs and classes to computerized roommate pairings. When I left for a new city immediately after graduation, the lack of built-in community was jarring. I found myself falling back on old friends as a tactic to avoid the risk inherent to new social situations. But getting out of your comfort zone sooner rather than later is hugely beneficial. In college it was easy to find friends with shared interests. In my new city, my coworkers and neighbors were often in different stages of life, came from different backgrounds, and held different opinions. But once I put in the work to strike up conversations, join community writing workshops, and volunteer in my neighborhood, I realized those differences that at first held me back actually contributed to some of my most engaging and important relationships.” -- Tom
No matter if they’re with new friends or old, friendships take nurturing:
“If I could give one piece of advice to the soon-to-be graduate, it would be to make an effort with your friendships. Keep the ones you have and love, and also put in some work to make new ones. It’s harder to find and sustain close friendships after college, especially if you aren’t going immediately to grad school or in a job with lots of people your own age, so it may fall on you to make sure your social needs are met. Don’t hesitate to be the one who brings people together over food, games, or an activity. Other people are likely wanting social contact as well!” -- Ellie
These quotes may not give you a perfect idea about what to expect after graduating college, but hopefully you’re approaching graduation day with a little more insight about the path your life may take. This is an awesome day and a huge accomplishment; take some time to feel proud of yourself!