Attending Nick’s sister Kelsey’s college graduation over the weekend brought back so many memories of my last days as a student. I honestly can’t believe it’s been five entire years since I put on my cap and gown and was handed my diploma. I was 21-years-old when I graduated and left school feeling so unsure of where life was going to take me.
Despite furiously applying and interviewing I hadn’t yet secured a job (luckily my first offer came by the end of the summer!) and didn’t even know if moving to New York was feasible. I was incredibly sad to leave my circle of friends and the thought of managing my own finances was beyond intimidating. While I had begun easing away from relying on my family throughout those four years, graduating was the moment where it all came to a head and I realized that what happens next was completely up to me.
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I’m not going to sugar coat it and act like life is smooth sailing once you get that degree. Like I mentioned in Monday’s post, my first year post-grad was tough. There were many stressful moments where I desperately wished I was still in school and hadn’t moved to New York, however looking back I came out of them a much stronger person. The ways in which we decide to handle difficult experiences is what shapes us the most.
Observing Kelsey and her friends over the weekend reminded me so much of myself. The excitement for the future, but also the anxiety of not knowing exactly what was to come. I got me thinking. What are some things I wish I would’ve known when I graduated college? Here’s what now comes to mind…
10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated College
It’s okay to not have an exact plan. Despite countless internships and a ton of networking, I didn’t have a job offer when I graduated. Society makes you think that you’ve failed if you haven’t secured a full time job or you aren’t immediately heading off to graduate school following graduation. Newsflash: it’s OKAY. Most of your peers probably don’t either and this economy isn’t easy. It’s also very hard to interview if you aren’t physically based in the city where you plan to live after school. With the stress of graduation and final exams behind you it’s much easier to focus on getting an offer. Plus you never want to rush into a job or accept something just because you feel pressured by timing. Wanna know how to stand out on a job application? Then read this post!
Making your own money is way better than spending your parents. While it’s wonderful having someone else pay for your housing and meal plan, it’s so much more rewarding being able to do it for yourself. Just think of the feeling of accomplishment you’ll have when you finally cut the cord from your parents bank account. Being fully responsible for your finances really forces you to grow up and hold yourself accountable. It also will give you that extra motivation to excel at work and get promoted.
There’s nothing wrong with taking time to travel or save money by living at home. I wish I had known this because within three months of graduating I had plunked down of all my savings on a broker fee and first month’s rent for my West Village apartment. While I did had to move to New York for work (commuting would’ve been way too far) I don’t think I needed to move away from home as quickly as I did. I was definitely one of those people guilty of judging my friends and peers who decided to permanently move back in with their parents. Funny enough they ended up having the last laugh because they were able to save so much money not having to pay rent while also working. Another good reminder: once you start a job you are at the mercy of your allocated vacation days. If you have the means to travel, doing it after graduation is the perfect time. As you get older your responsibilities are only going to increase so maybe think twice before delaying that backpacking trip.
You don’t need to stay at your first job forever. It’s okay to not like your first job or realize it may not be the best fit for you. The only way you’ll ever know if you’re on the right path is if you actually take steps on different ones. Don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t make any impulsive decisions (aka quitting after one week.) Be professional and give it 100%. If it still doesn’t feel right, then you can look into other opportunities. Another reason why you shouldn’t stay at your first job too long is salary. Sometimes the only way to make a big step up pay-wise is by leaving for a new role.
You’re not a failure if you still have to intern after graduating. Sometimes summer programs or part time semester internship stints aren’t enough for a company to really get to know you and feel confident in hiring you as salaried employee. Full time entry level jobs are very competitive. Don’t think just because have a bachelor’s degree that you’re automatically deserving of a salary and benefits. When you’re applying for jobs, apply to internships too. Taking an internship after graduation isn’t a failure. It shows hustle and that you’re willing to work unpaid or at an hourly rate to get an offer. Also please don’t go to graduate school just to delay having to get a “real” job. I repeat: do not go to graduate school just to delay having to get a job. A sh*t ton of added student debt is not worth putting off a 9-5 for a few more years. I blogged about all my tips for landing your dream internship here.
College doesn’t prepare you for the workforce. Don’t freak out, but it doesn’t. College classes are great for honing your writing skills, learning time management, practicing critical thinking and working in groups etc. but honestly it’s impossible to learn what a job entails without actually doing it. That’s why internships are so important. In all of my entry-level job interviews the hiring managers were only concerned about my professional experience. Though remember every industry is different– while the public relations world didn’t care about my media writing classes or GPA, for example finance jobs will definitely want to know you graduated in good academic standing. Just do your research and tailor your resume to each role or industry where you’re applying.
There are no safe spaces once you enter the workforce. When you begin working no one is going to come to your rescue. If you have a rough night, you can’t just call out sick the next day and make up the work by copying someone’s notes. If your manager chews you out for making a mistake, a call crying to your mom isn’t going to help your situation. You have a coworker you don’t like it? Too bad. You can’t just switch classes to get away from a person like in school. I think colleges that coddle and make students feel “special” are doing them a disservice. Beginning my career was a big wake up call because I discovered that no one I worked with gave a f*ck about my feelings. You need to realize that you were hired to get work done– that’s it. Maybe it’s a New York thing but I found that being easily offended and triggered by the small stuff are not traits you want to bring into the workplace.
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Don’t expect to have the active social life you had in school. College is a unique time in life where most people can party like there’s no tomorrow and still end up passing class. While it’s easy to fake being awake in a lecture hall, not so much at work. At a job you need to show results. Giving the same bare minimum of effort you did when writing that B- term paper most likely won’t cut it. Also get ready because your body is going to change. It’s mind boggling what I was able to eat and drink and still be about to wake up fine for an 8AM class. Fast forward five years later I feel like total crap the next morning if I drink more than two glasses of wine the night before.
You can change your career path. I talked all about this in my post about Why I Quit My Job. I took me a while to get over the feeling of failure when I realized that public relations may not be for me. It’s OKAY. There’s nothing wrong with deciding to take a new path. You’re the one that has to live your life and don’t feel like you wasted your education or college years if you decide to pursue a different route after graduation. You learn so much more in college beyond what is in your textbooks and oftentimes many skills are translatable across industries. It’s all just how about how spin your experience and tailor your resume.
The best days are yet to come. Everyone likes to hype up college as the best four years of your life. I believed it for a little while, but if the last five years have taught me anything it’s that the independence and career growth you can experience in post-grad life beats college any day. There’s only so much joy that you can get out of partying with friends and having a lazy schedule with minimal responsibility. I personally have found life is so much more rewarding when you are working towards goals and reaching personal and professional milestones. Being completely in control of your own life and not at the mercy of professors or your parents is also a very liberating feeling. No one can tell you what to do and you can make your own happiness. Of course you can look back on the amazing moments you had in school, but constantly wishing for the old times and thinking about the past isn’t going to help you move forward. Once you embrace that you are officially a graduate and your school days are over, it’s much easier to tackle grown up life like a boss.