I’m sitting here before you tonight having just made the final click of “Pay” for my student loans – ever. At least, I hope so. I’d be way more excited if I hadn’t been so confused by Sallie Mae’s interface. And also when that lovely amount clears my bank account…

So, college graduates: first of all, congratulations. You’ve worked pretty hard to get to graduation, and here it is. Well done. And hey – the world isn’t even going to end this year! You must have worked some magic through your years of:

  • classes
  • finals
  • mid-terms
  • frenzied 6am course registrations
  • stressful housing lotteries
  • great people
  • annoying people
  • people you were friends with 3 years ago and awkwardly aren’t anymore
  • friends you made yesterday and didn’t have a clue you’d get along with so well
  • parties gone right
  • parties gone wrong
  • parties you don’t recall
  • cool discussions
  • boring lectures
  • lectures that ended too soon
  • quad parties
  • impromptu snowball fights
  • boys
  • girls
  • too many all-nighters
  • one or fifty one-nighters

It’s all led up to this. This one day – no, couple of hours. A shiny piece of paper. All yours. First things first: it is totally natural to feel “kicked out” of college upon graduation week. Hey, maybe you want to peace and leave everything behind. But most of you don’t. This has been your community, your home, your life for 4 years and now everyone is scattering like the wind they arrived upon. Feel it. It’s okay.

My advice to you? Here goes. It is not comprehensive but it’ll do for now.

  1. Get a job. Skip to 10.
  2. Buy a suit.
  3. Breathe.
  4. Smile.
  5. Keep applying.
  6. In the meantime, keep busy.
    • Do anything -sitting. Pet-sitting, baby-sitting, house-sitting.
    • Try local stores for full or part-time work this summer.
    • Take an online class to keep your brain up.
    • Can you tolerate children? Be a camp counselor. Overnight bonus: you may not get paid a lot but they cover food and shelter, which is a plus.
    • Do something you love, or have always wanted to do but never had the time.
  7. Take a good, hard look at your resume.
    • Look up resumes in your industry. Read articles on how to tailor yours to meet that. Keep it short and relevant. Use action-packed words, not passive ones. Use keywords from job postings. Draw out any leadership roles.
  8. Keep applying.
    • When you start feeling really desperate (you’ll know), stop. I tried going the Government route. Did I automatically apply for 50 “Administrative Assistant” jobs anywhere in the country? Yes. Did I really want to be an Admin Assistant? Not in the least (personally). Was I willing to move anywhere at all? Not really. When I realized what I’d been doing, I stopped to take a step back. Did I get the job(s) I wanted? Nope. I re-started the whole thing with a focus on what I wanted and what I’d take for awhile.
    • Leverage LinkedIn and Monster. I got recruited by my current company that way. Join groups in areas you’re interested in working in and browse job boards and discussions. Join discussions. Do the same for organizations you’d love to work for. HR has their tentacles out, and one may snatch you (and even if it’s across the country or world, getting those messages alone feels nice).
  9. Work your connections: family, friends, old bosses. Can you do anything? Do they know of anything? Send your snazzy resume out. Repeat steps 3-9 until you reach 10. Roughly. (Or, go to grad school. Which I did not do, so cannot speak to.)
  10. Job goal complete!
  11. Find a place to live.
    • Living with others is cheaper but less private.
    • Living alone is expensive but all yours.
    • If you have time, think about all aspects of the potential place.
      • Accessible to a grocery store? Public transportation? Pharmacy? Hardware store for those first few weeks?
      • Safety: would you feel comfortable walking home after a fun night at the bar? What kind of access controls does the building have?
      • Commute time. You will spend most of your time at work – don’t opt for a heavy commute if you can help it, especially starting a new job. As noted in Tuesday’s post, it can be exhausting.
  12. Allow yourself to change. For some of you, this will be easy. For others, maybe not. You’ve learned a lot in college, changed your opinion based on new information, discussed world issues, but it doesn’t stop here. You will learn much more about yourself, your opinions may change a dozen more times, your lifestyle will likely change drastically. This is life. Let it happen. For me, a big lesson was about becoming “corporate.” I’d firmly believed that for myself, I’d never choose that life. Desks and cubicles, meetings, managers. Get me outside! But for most of us, life doesn’t work like that. And that’s okay, too. I’d thought, at first, “I’ve become one of them! Part of the machine!” and while that may be partly true, it’s not a bad thing. I make a good living sitting at a desk all day interacting with all sorts of people and participating in long meetings. I learn every single day. I meet new people. I set limits, and work to achieve a life/work balance. I look up events, both during the week and weekends, and do my best to catch a few now and then.
  13. Have fun! Never forget this part.
  14. Be confident: in yourself, in your opinions, in your skillset.
  15. Learn to cook and make your own lunch and dinner. It’s better for you (and cheaper) than skipping out to the local fast food chains and food courts. Trust me.
  16. Try to live without regret. You don’t get these years back.

That’s what I’ve got for you, for now. College may have been the time of your life – but the rest of your life can be, too. Go get ’em.

What are you most excited for? Least? What else do you want to know about “post-college” life? If you’re in “post-college life” what would you tell this year’s graduates? Throw a tomato back and I’ll try to get to it. 🙂