The Realities of Post-College Life

The Realities of Post-College Life /

You’ve probably heard people tout the phrase “college is the best four years of your life.” It’s become an oft-quoted phrase for a reason… college is fun! You’re surrounded by people your own age, who have at least some of the same desires and interests that you do, and you’re isolated on a college campus in a pocket that is most certainly not the real world. The real world is fun too, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot of new things that you’re going to have to get used to if you want to thrive. Once you graduate from college and leave the undergraduate oasis, then the real work begins.

What You Should Know about Life after College:

Making friends as an adult is hard. When you’re not surrounded by a community of similarly-aged, like-minded people, it becomes a lot harder to strike up a conversation with someone. Friendships tend to become situational as an adult, and it takes a lot of effort to make actual friends that transcend these boundaries. You’ll find that you become buddies with one person because they work in the cubicle next to you, another because you attend the same gym, and a third because you both know the same someone. You’ll end up with neighbor friends, exercise friends, and work friends, and the groups never really mingle, making for one awkward birthday party. And that's after you get over the fear of friendship rejection and throw yourself into finding a new best bud. If you’re seriously struggling (and it’s okay if you are), you could try signing up for BumbleBFF.

Bill paying becomes your new hobby. Seriously. Between rent, car insurance, the gas bill, the water bill, the electric bill, the internet bill, Netflix, cable, your cell phone, your parking spot, and your credit card statement, you’re going to have to get really familiar with bill pay. Payday becomes exciting simply because it means you have money to pay some of your bills. You may have dealt with this a bit as a college student, especially if you were responsible for tuition payments or lived off campus, but when you’re in the real world, it’s a whole different ball game. I recommend setting up automatic payments so that you don’t have to worry about having stamps and envelopes always at the ready or paying late fees.

You don’t have nearly as much free time as you want. If you’ve ever watched Friends, you’ll notice that the characters are always hanging out at Central Perk. Occasionally there would be an episode showing Ross as a professor or Rachel working for Ralph Lauren, but for the most part, the cast of friends sits around a coffee shop in the middle of the day as if they have no jobs. Real life is not going to be anything like that. Yes, you might get the occasional half day on a Friday or the ability to work from home, but the majority of your weekdays are going to be spent actually at work. Unlike at college, when all of the time you don’t spend in class is free time, as an adult, free time comes in the evenings and on weekends. That being said…

Work doesn’t have to come home with you! Once you finish up and leave the office, you don’t have to think about work for the rest of the day. Of course, there may be some exceptions, say if you have a work event or have to be on call, but for the most part, work and life are separate. This is completely the opposite of college, when you spend years immersed in your “work” (read: education). Sure, you had plenty of free time in college, but once you’ve graduated, I promise you won’t be reading anymore textbooks in bed.

You’ll have way more on your plate than you can handle. Remember how we talked about not having enough free time? Consider the fact that after you finish a day of work, you have to commute back to your home, make dinner, and clean up. Somewhere in your day you might want to schedule time to exercise, shower, or call your mom. That free time dwindles down until suddenly you’re too tired to even read for fifteen minutes before bed. Sure, you could subscribe to Sun Basket or Blue Apron to cut down on the time you spend shopping for groceries, and Stitch Fix to cut down on clothes shopping, but you still are 100% responsible for yourself as an adult. No one is going to clean your house for you (unless you pay them) or cook for you. No one is going to pick out your clothes each morning or drive you to and from work. You have to balance it all.

It’s time to start taking care of yourself. No more staying up past midnight shotgunning beers and not having a hangover in the morning. No more midnight pizza or deep fried cheese curds without weighing the toll it takes on your body. By the time you graduate from college, your metabolism has already started to slow, so continuing to drink heavily, rely on carbs and dairy for all your meals, and skip the workouts will do nothing good for your body. If you have trouble staying motivated, sign up for gym classes or pay for a membership so you’ve got a reason to get off the couch in the evenings. It might be time to start thinking of a skin care routine as well (yes, you too, gentlemen). As we get older, our skin dries and thins and wrinkles become permanent fixtures. Taking care of your face and making sure to use plenty of sunscreen each time you go outside will keep you looking your age for longer.

Time moves insanely fast. When you’re in college, you frame everything according to the length of a semester, but when you’re an adult, you start to frame things differently. Maybe you plan only one month out, or think of periods of time in terms of paychecks (which typically come every two weeks), both of which are shorter than 15 weeks. Furthermore, you’re busy with a job and household care and making time for the friends you do have. You’ll find that time starts slipping by faster and faster and then, all of a sudden, you’re 30. (Which seems like a big deal for all of your 20s, but seriously, 30 is still quite young.)

Finding the perfect job is nearly impossible. Your first job after college is unlikely to be your last. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2015 found that Americans born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of nearly 12 jobs between ages 18 and 50. I, myself, have had six different jobs since graduating college. Be ready for the fact that there is going to be a lot of movement after graduation. Maybe you’ll realize that what you thought you wanted to do isn’t actually interesting, or there are no job openings, or you can only find a job as an administrative assistant. Unless you get incredibly lucky, you’re going to have to start from the bottom and work your way up. And forget having six weeks of paid vacation plus health benefits plus being able to work from home. The “perfect” job? It’s a myth.

You can call me cynical if you want, but when you’re in college, you live, eat, play, and work in a bubble. Life outside of college is so much more than that, but it’s hard work. There isn’t anyone to clean up after you anymore, and if you need help, you’re going to have to ask for it. On the bright side, though, you don’t answer to anyone but yourself (and your boss), and you’re in charge of your future! Go forth and become the adult you were born to be!

What scares you about life after college? Or, if you’ve already graduated, what did you find surprising about the transition into adulthood?

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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