The Pomp and Circumstance ends, you eat some cake and then BOOM, reality sets in. There are two ways to handle this jolt of reality that comes with graduation: 1) crawl into the fetal position clutching your favorite college sweatshirt while blasting Justin Bieber or 2) face it like a champ and make steps to get prepared for the “real world” (ps, it’s okay to do a mix of the two).
Up until now, for every new chapter of your life you’ve had some sort of orientation, which is partly the reason the transition from college to grown-up life can be a harsh slap in the face. With no map, no syllabus, no handbook, it’s easy to feel like you’re playing a blindfolded game of pin the tail on the imaginary unicorn.
I was there just a few years ago, taking the fetal position mixed with denial approach. It took me a year or so to figure out so many things that could have jumpstarted my post-grad life in a more positive light. Lucky for you, I don’t want you to wait a year to figure these things out. Let’s call it my graduation gift to you.
Invest in a coffee maker
Working girl mistake #1: stopping for a morning latte every day on the way to work. Yes, there is something very Devil Wears Prada about strutting into work with a coffee in hand, but at almost $5 a cup from the cute little café down the street, you’re looking at an annual expense of about $1300. That’s a trip to Tulum.
After the initial investment of your maker of choice, you’re looking at $1 or less a cup if you make your morning joe at home, saving you a whopping $1000+ a year. Treat yourself to some cute mugs to make the at-home experience feel extra special and save the fancy drinks for coffee dates with friends when you can sit, sip and really admire the latte art.
Get recommendation letters from professors ASAP
This should probably be done before you throw your graduation cap in the air. Get to your favorite professor and kindly ask for a blanket letter of recommendation before they get a fresh batch of bright-eyed students. Recommendation letters are a pain to ask for at any time, but chances are for every job you apply to, you’ll need at least one. Might as well be ahead of the game.
Know your worth
Figuratively speaking, yes. By all means, know how amazing you are!
But I’m talking literally. When applying for a job, do your research. Know industry standards of what that position makes and not just for across the board but specifically for the city, the job is in. The cost of living is a major factor in settling on a salary. No one wants an employee who’s too stressed about paying rent to do their best work.
Also, take into account your internships, past jobs and leadership positions that set you apart from the other candidates. Just because a salary is on the table, doesn’t mean that’s the salary you have to take. Most companies will be very open to negotiating if you can prove why you believe you deserve more – and they just might think you’re a total badass for being smart enough to know it.
Set a later start date
I can’t emphasize enough to push back your start date as much as possible. Yes, the appeal of a paycheck might have you jumping at the bit to start, but this could be the last chance you have in years to take a good amount of time off.
Whether you use that time to travel to Australia, road trip across the US or just catch up on reading by the pool, I urge you to savor this sweet time. Going from the classroom straight to the boardroom without any downtime in between can cause major burnout. And because most employers don’t want their young, bright employees to hit that so soon, they’ll very likely respect your request to make your start date in September rather than July.
Start the habit of saving
401Ks are becoming less and less common with entry-level positions, but most of the time retirement isn’t top of mind to a 22-year-old. Setting aside a little bit of every paycheck that comes through, even just $100 a month, will help you get into the habit of saving – something our generation isn’t really known for.
Does your money have to go into a retirement fund? Not necessarily. But it can sure come in handy for that spur-of-the-moment roomie reunion trip to Lollapalooza.
Clean out your closet
Though fabulous darty attire, that collection of crop tops and perfectly worn-in cutoffs you’ve curated won’t get much use in your post-grad life. In the words of Frozen, let it gooooooo.
Set aside a day for the ultimate closet raid. Create a “keep”, “donate” and “toss” pile and be cutthroat. Follow the 4 “W”s rule and donate or toss items unless they fit into one of these categories: work, weekend, wedding (as in attending) or workout. Or as Rory from Gilmore Girls put it, get rid of “everything that you’d be embarrassed to be wearing during a car accident.”
After the purge, reward yourself by investing in your first “grown up” clothing purchase.
Clean up your social media accounts
Most college graduates, aside from the kid geniuses, are 21 or older. But if more than half of your Instagram photos are drinking-related or set in a bar/beer garden/red solo cup-covered tailgating field etc., it’s going to look like you did little else in college besides go to class and drink away your brain cells. Even if the latter is true, go through your feed and minimize these types of images. By all means, screenshot them and save them for your own personal memories, and don’t feel like you have to take down every single one. It’s okay that you weren’t a monk in college.
But make an effort to have your social media accounts reflect the interesting aspects of your life that your resume can’t – your taste in music, that amazing backpacking trip you took last summer through Southeast Asia, your knitting skills or the Pinterest-worthy raw vegan smoothie bowl you made for breakfast. Companies are as interested in your personality as they are your GPA.
While you’re at it, now is also a good time to unfriend or unfollow people on social media who add any type of negativity to your life, directly or indirectly. Whether they over share offensive articles on Facebook (you know who I’m talking about), or you find yourself obsessively scrolling through their last 148 weeks on Instagram, detach yourself from what’s causing anger, jealousy or FOMO. You’ve got a bright future to start and no time for that.
Get a non-school related email address
Job search tip: if you’re looking for a full-time position, don’t reach out through your school email address or list it in the contact info of your resume. You’re a college graduate. Upgrade yourself to a non .edu email address.
Memorize your social security number
Yes, this seems insanely simple and probably something you should know by now without having to text your mom, but do you? Yeah, I thought so.
Find a form of exercise you enjoy and splurge on a membership
Chances are your starting salary won’t have you rolling in the dough. But one of the biggest mistakes I made was getting a cheap gym membership to an overcrowded, too far away gym simply because it was only $15 a month. Your physical well-being is something worth spending a little more money on.
Fitting in a workout is even harder when your only options on weekdays become either super early in the morning, or after a long grueling day when honestly, your neighborhood bar sounds a lot more appealing than a Barre class. Which is why finding an exercise routine, or class that you love is all the more important. So splurge for the gym with the chilled eucalyptus towels if it’ll put your mind, body and soul in a better place.
Get a grown up doctor you can trust
Confession: I went to a pediatrician until I was 22 years old. As you get older, health stuff gets scarier but more important. No one gets jazzed for a pelvic exam, so finding a doctor you’re comfortable with and trust can make all the difference.
End that on-again-off-again college relationship
College is definitely not the breeding grounds for healthy relationships. That’s not to say post-grad life is all rose petals and carriage rides either. But the step towards a more mature dating routine starts with cutting out the unnecessary baggage.
If you’re having trouble figuring out whether to end it or not, do this exercise. Imagine where your life with this person would be 10 years from now and if it involves a Lazy Boy recliner and them muttering something about a sandwich to you, then sayonara.
Don’t freak out
If you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re not alone. I’ll let you in on a secret – even CEOs don’t know what they’re doing sometimes. They just pretend that they do and have really nicely tailored clothing so we all just assume they’ve got it together.
There’s this perception that the “real world” is this crazy new planet we’re dropped upon the second we get handed our degrees. But it’s the same world you grew up in. It just seems scarier than it really is because there’s no book on it, or orientation course, or orientation leader to help you find your Spanish class (I guess that’s what iPhones are for now).
But then again, that’s also the exciting part about it. You get to begin shaping the life you want to lead, no prerequisite classes required.
“Welcome to the real world. It sucks! You’re gonna love it!” – Monica Gellar
Featured image by Kayla Bacon