This article is originally published in Medium’s The Coffeelicious by Gettysburg College (April 2018).
People say life is the best classroom. One year out from college, I couldn’t agree more. Through this year, I have learned many things — things I wish I had known before I threw my cap up in the air, things I wish somebody had written out to caution me before I walked across the podium. And here, I want to spoil them for you, hoping to help you become more prepared for your post-graduation life.
You are more prepared than you think.
Many seniors aren’t confident finding a job at first. I was exactly like you. I spent hours, if not days, staring at my resume, ruminating how to make my only award look more like a ‘Nobel-Prize-of-some-sort,’ or how to word my club president experience so it sounds more like “The President” instead.
Then I learned, and most of you will probably learn, too, regardless of how fancy the job description reads, your first job will be an entry-level job. It will largely involve repetitive work. You will probably never need to apply your “leadership skills” or “crisis management skills”, which you promised to contribute to your “dynamic team” on your cover letter.
With that said, not a lot people are trying to “steal” the jobs that you are applying for. For people with more experience than you, your job is probably too “low” and doesn’t pay well enough. For people with similar experience as you, there are many entry-level jobs to help disperse the competition.
But I am not saying you don’t have to work hard in college. Quite the opposite — you still have to make every effort in college to maintain a decent GPA and actively get involved in curricular/extra-curricular activates. I promise that your resume will have a better chance of standing out during human resources screening and get passed to the hiring manager. But once you’re in the door, believe me — you’re more qualified for the job then you think. So be confident.
There is rarely a warm welcome to the adult world.
Remember the weeklong orientation you had before starting college? Remember the smiling upper-class volunteers who greeted you with thumb-ups as soon as you pulled in the parking lot and raced to help you move in your room? Unfortunately, when you toss your caps, those special treatments will also be tossed away.
There will be no buffer zone for you to switch to the adult life. So be mentally prepared. Your landlord will start to collect the rent as soon as you move in. Your bills will come in your mailbox like lost doves finally returning home. Even though some work places hold orientation sessions, you will most likely be overwhelmed by “blah, blah, blahs” such as health insurance premiums, 401K plans, while being “brainwashed” by the orientation officer with their company missions, philosophy, achievements, and expectations.
It’s better to graduate college with a plan.
So far this is the most important and valuable lesson I have learned from my gap year.
Many graduating seniors decide to take gap years to help figure out what they want to do next. I was definitely one of them. But keep in mind, sometimes it can be trickier to find out your career goals during your gap years than at school. After all, taking gap years is not quite as comparable as wine tasting — it’s not practical to have a taste of multiple jobs until you find your favorite one in just a couple years. Once you graduate — unless you are lucky — you won’t find yourself in utopia, like at college, where professors and friends are readily available to you to offer advice or a helping hand. So, the task of figuring out your life is largely your own.
If you really don’t know what you want to do when you graduate, try to leave as much as wiggle room as possible when looking for your first job. Try to look for jobs that are not so specific but rather involve multiple disciplines. And try to avoid jobs that specifically ask for a long commitment so you don’t get stuck in a position you don’t enjoy. Also, try looking for positions that are more supportive for career development such as internships or jobs in an academic setting.
Keep the learning momentum going.
If you think four years of college passes by so quickly, life after graduation will fly by just as fast, if not faster. Therefore, for those of you who plan to pursue a higher degree after college or move on to a higher-level job, it is important to get yourself prepared before you start wondering where all the time has gone. Don’t treat your gap years as a break, but rather an extension of college. When you have more free time after work or during the weekends, spend some amount of time, even five minutes, studying for whatever tests (such as the GRE) are required for your next stage.
As I also mentioned earlier, your first job might be not as educational as you think it would be. If so, propose some passionate projects to your boss — projects that not only create benefits for your employer but also help you build a competitive background. Because again, once you graduate college, achieving your career goals is very much your own responsibility.
Life after graduation is exciting, and you should look forward to it.
I want to conclude on another important thing that I have learned from this past year. That is, life after graduation is absolutely amazing, regardless of what people say. It’s true that you might have to worry about paying off your bills using your slender income. It’s true that the expectations of you have been switched from student to labor — one being receiver, and the other being provider. It’s true that you still have to work hard after you graduate to help you achieve your next career goal. But at the same time, you will also have more freedom to do whatever you want in life, as no more homework will bug you after business hours. You will have the opportunities to know more people other than your quaint social circle at school. And (alcohol wise) you finally can get to go to happy hours — as a “real” adult — after work with friends and co-workers.
Lives before and after graduation are two parallel worlds, each with their own beauty. So my final advice to you? Do Great Work!