Transitioning from College to the Real World

So, you’re about to graduate college and leave “the best four years of your life” behind. Excited? Nervous? In denial? If you were like me, extremely ready for a new chapter?


Lesson #1 – No emotion you are feeling right now is wrong.

I remember allllll my friends were shocked to hear me say I was ready to graduate.

“BUT WHYYYYYYYY? Don’t you just LOVE IT HERE?? I NEVER want to leave!” 

Well, yes, I did love it at Purdue. I just was ready for a fresh start. I started to question myself. Should I be feeling this way? Should I be more upset like the rest of them? What’s wrong with my college experience that I’m ready to move on?

I had a friend at a different school in a completely different scenario. The whole second semester of her senior year, her friend group had been leaving their college town and heading on different trips every weekend, or even heading into the city to work at internships after classes let out. She wasn’t ready to let go of college, and she was made to feel like she was a failure. She had no set job offer, she didn’t have the money to drop on their lavish jet-setting, nor did she have any places to crash in the city. She likewise questioned herself about how she had wasted her four years enjoying the moment and not planning ahead or making proper connections.

Which brings me to

Lesson #2 – It’s okay to not have the next step figured out.

I had some friends who had job offers in hand before senior year even started due to their summer internships. I had friends who tried so so so hard to find a full-time position all year long, and had to settle for a summer internship after graduation instead. I also had friends who couldn’t find the right fit and graduated without a job at all.

Guess what?

When you received a job offer, an internship offer, or neither, you will be successful.

I had a friend who didn’t get a job offer in his field and decided that may have been a sign that it wasn’t the right fit. He told everyone he had a job at a firm in the Chicago suburbs, but in actuality, he was living at home and taking the summer to do some soul searching. At a happy hour in the fall after graduation, he mentioned his new job in a completely new industry. When asked how he made the switch so quickly, he fessed up and told us there never was a first job. He was too embarrassed to admit that he needed some time to think on the future since he felt like a failure.

I was heartbroken hearing that! He’s now killing it in his new industry, so I promise you, if you are pulling the same “move back home and figure ish out” move, it will work out.

Lesson #3 – You will be seeing and hearing everyone’s highlight reel.

Scrolling through Instagram, you’ll see your graduating class out at happy hours on a rooftop, or vacationing in Europe before their fall start date. You’ll see Snapchats of food on a desk captioned “LOVE MY JOB” or a cityscape captioned “Desk view.” When you catch up with friends, you’ll hear ALL about how wonderful their job is and how nice their bosses are. What you will not see or hear is the real day to day struggle – how they’re working long hours for no pay, how their coworkers disrespect them, how they go home and cry every night because they’re homesick, how much they wish they were back in college, how hard it is to budget, etc. Let me assure you, everyone is having the exact same freak outs you are having. They just won’t be telling you about it.

Lesson #4 – Have friends who you can have honest conversations with about the transition.

I completely understand not wanting to seem like the one friend who’s having a rough time when everyone else is claiming their lives are perfect. Say what you want to people in group settings. I wouldn’t lie, just summarize and say things are “interesting” in place of any negative adjectives.

However, please find a friend or two who you can call crying when your boss sent you a mean email about your proposal or when you just miss college and how easy life was. Maybe choosing a confidant in a different city that’s removed from it all will be beneficial, it sure was for me. Trying to appear like everything is AMAZING at all times is exhausting and completely untrue, and you need to not fall into that trap.

Lesson #5 – Learn to say no.

Not in your job necessarily, you probably want to take on any new task or opportunity offered to you there, but in any other aspect of life. If your friends are going out and you are cringing at the thought of straightening your hair, say no and stay in instead. If you are online shopping but your electric bill is due in two days, say no and save your damn money until after all bills are paid. In college, it’s go go go all the time, eating out, drinking, spending money all the time. Your body just can’t do it the same way (or your wallet tbh). Say no sometimes. It will save you from massive burnout.

Lesson #6 – No one will love you like you love yourself.

No matter how close you are with your friends, no matter how much your significant other loves you, no matter how much you talk to your mom: You will rely on yourself far more than ever before after graduation.

In college, if something bad happens and you need someone, you call them and you either chat or meet up, and boom, you feel better. That’s off the table now.

If something happens at work, you will have to cope by yourself for a few hours before whoever you choose to call gets off. Even then, your significant other may not pick up because they’re at dinner with a client that will turn into drinks to close a big deal. A lot of the time, telling your parents will just stress them out even more than they already are with you in a new job and possibly new apartment. What does that mean for you? You are your own best friend. Find ways to cheer yourself up, to clear your mind, and to reduce burnout. You will learn so much about yourself this year because you are the only one that will be getting you through rough patches, and this is something that will vastly improve your life in the long run.

Lesson #7 – It will get easier.

Budgeting, waking up early, working 8-9 hour days, finding time to work out, dragging yourself to dates, making cold calls – it all gets easier in due time. Take it day by day. Get yourself a cookie on the days when you need it, or buy a plane ticket home when you need a break from it all. Figure out how to make it through each day, and consider it a success when your head hits your pillow at night. I’m two years out and I swore I’d never be able to #adult. I just filed my quarterly taxes last week (by myself) and have figured out a good work/life/mental break balance. Some days, I think I am going crazy, but then I look back and see just how far I’ve come from that brunette girl walking across the stage with a diploma. I promise the same thing will happen to you.

Congratulations, and a bonus lesson: anyone who says college is the best four years of your life lied. The best is yet to come.

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