Now What? Reflections on College Graduation

Our oldest son, Nick, graduated last weekend from University of Puget Sound. I had the chance to hear many students speak on stage at the various award ceremonies and the interfaith service, as well as talk informally at department receptions and parties. I thought it might be worth writing a post before I disappear for much of the summer. The press is full of transcripts and videos every May/June of all kinds of famous, high-achieving people giving inspirational commencement talks. And while I agree with the calls to greatness, the reminders of the problems our society faces that await new eyes and minds, and the warnings that life will be full of challenges, I think some more basic advice on the job hunt and settling into a new place might be useful for new graduates and their families.

You’ve finished college. Not everyone does.

You may have some lifelong friends. Not everyone does.

You may have a job lined up or a graduate school program to start. Not everyone does.

Everyone does move forward from this point and make a life. You will, too. (Be brave.)

If you need to move home, that’s pretty normal. It might be to job hunt, to reduce your overhead so you can attack those college loans, or to help your family. You might be moving to a new place where you know absolutely no one to start a new job. That’s likely to be lonely at first and it might even be a little scary. You’re coming out of four years with a very tight group of friends all in the same place in life. The bonding is intense and many people keep those friends for their lifetime. Whatever support network you had, it’s probably geographically removed. Even if you stayed in town and got a job on campus, everyone else is moving away, and the few of you who remain will find you have a lot less free time to hang out together. You’ll start the new job and make new friends, but some of those will have spouses, children, or pets that they need to get home to at the end of the day. Or maybe you moved to a new city with your college sweetheart and when everyone else at work goes out for beers, you need to go straight home. In all these scenarios, you need to make new friends, one way or another.

Luckily, you built a new life for yourself when you started college, so you just have to do it again, albeit without the training wheels of planned orientation, rush, or new semesters. Whatever your favorite activities, find new groups in the new place. (If you’re still on or near campus, all of this advice still applies—don’t just fall back into hanging at the house with the undergraduates.) Find a local church for services, knowing you may need to find a bunch of congregations to begin to shop around for one that’s a fit. Even if you’ve moved back to your hometown, you may want a younger church demographic than the one you grew up in. If you are a civic-minded volunteer, find a new animal shelter or youth sports league. If you’ve always played soccer, find a group online or through a gym or YMCA. Join a gym  and don’t wear noise-cancelling headphones. Join an alumni group in your new town. Smile at people. Ask for advice on the best Thai food, the most reliable dry cleaner, the best route in rush hour. Once you start some conversations, you’ll start to meet people who will be good companions for this new stage of your life. If you’re off to law school in August or September you may have lucked into a full repeat of the college start experience. Take advantage of anything the new school gives you to reach out to the group and make friends before school starts. Be really brave.

If you’re taking a year off so you can tackle the MCATs and med school applications without the pressure of college coursework, or to save some cash before committing back to the next round of school, be sure to keep talking to people. Spend some time in informational interviews, volunteer activities, and certifications that might also be useful. You wouldn’t be doing these just to strengthen your application but also to really be sure this is the right direction before you make a major new commitment. Take a job that gives you skills relevant to the next step in life, no matter how tangentially. Take an online or extension class to pick up new knowledge. A year is too long to spend in purely administrative work while in limbo between two phases of life.

If you’re beginning or continuing the job hunt, be sure you’re aware of everything your college career services office provides to new graduates. Just because you’re moving away doesn’t mean you can’t still utilize their services. They are likely to be very willing to help you over the phone, so you shouldn’t be restricted to only online portals. They want to help you get a job—every college wants to report a successful number of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Your school’s alumni (and parent) network is going to be geographically spread out, too. Figure out what’s near you and get involved.

Don’t take the summer off! The whole idea that college was so exhausting that you need a summer to recover doesn’t sound very good to potential employers come September. If you do plan to take the summer off, figure out how you’re going to explain it. Waiting until September to job hunt is dangerous. By November people are thinking about the holidays and a lot of companies are not as excited about adding permanent staff. Even companies with a very busy holiday season shift to adding temporary, non-career positions. That means a job search that starts in September has only 8–10 weeks to yield a result before it gets much harder to find a good opportunity. If you think I’m exaggerating about the bad impression a couple of months off can make, I think you’ll still believe that explaining six months off is going to be really challenging. Even if you have a job or school lined up for the fall, do something useful with your summer. Travel, volunteer, take up yoga, or tutor. Like an athlete after a major effort, practice active rest.

Avoid the temptation to take a day job that doesn’t require a college degree just for the paycheck. If you need to go to work immediately, stick to something that skews early, late, or weekends—you want to be free for as much of the Monday–Friday, 9–5 work week as possible so you can continue to interview for a career position. And no matter how tired you are working for a living at a filler job, remember you need to push yourself harder right now to be sure you get a good career position. A bonus about a weekend job is that if the great career position you’ll find doesn’t pay quite enough, you’ll be perfectly set up to keep a shift or two at the filler gig to supplement your income for that first year, if needed. (That extra money can go towards an emergency fund or to start retiring student loan debt.)

Don’t be afraid of a summer internship after graduation. Ideally they pay, but if not, it’s still a great chance at a job offer in September. Even if they don’t have any open spots, they’ll have clients, vendors, and their personal networks—all of which are potentially accessible to interns who do a terrific job the summer after graduation.

College graduation is an achievement well worth celebrating. Like most events in life we celebrate, it’s the beginning of a whole new stage of life. That’s exciting, scary, and it takes a lot of hard work. Sometimes it also takes a little bit of time to gain traction and get going. It’s highly likely that this next part of your journey won’t be a straight line through a clearly demarcated path. It’s almost impossible that it will be exactly like anyone else’s journey.

If no one gave you Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go as a graduation gift, you might want to pick up a copy and give it a read.


Previous Post Next Post

1 Comment

  • Reply Jeanette July 3, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    As always, incredible advice beautifully written. Thank you, Susan!

  • Leave a Reply