We talk to three recent graduates about their lives after college — what they say might surprise you
By Melissa Stefanec
When we are in college, most of us prepare ourselves for the next phase in our lives: adulthood.
We spend four years preparing for something abstract. None of us know what our post-college years will look like. Yet, we spend so much time and energy composing ourselves for what we think they might look like. Then, when we reach that stage of glorious independence, it looks almost nothing like we imagined.
“Life comes at you fast” is an understatement when applied to the first few years of life after college. If you talk to people who have been out of school for a year or two, you discover there’s no way to avoid the sentiment that accompanies this cliche.
However, you can adapt how you respond to the changes in your life. If you keep your mind open and your expectations reasonable, the years directly after graduation can be some of the most liberating times of your life.
Here, three recent graduates share insights gained in their early to mid 20s.
Their humor and wisdom will help you navigate the tumultuous times that often follow graduation.
School: SUNY Oswego
Major/minor: Major: public relations; minor: arts and entertainment management.
Percentage of your net income that goes toward student loans: My student loans make up about 6% of my monthly take-home pay. Across all my debt obligations, I try to make double the minimum payments wherever possible and am focusing on long-term debt as a credit-building tool that will help me later in life.
Whom do you live with? My boyfriend and our two cats.
Best thing about adulting: No one judges you if you spend your Saturday night on the couch watching Shark Tank instead of going out.
Worst thing about adulting: Fighting your way through Wegman’s at peak “rush hour.”
What do you know/understand now that you wish you knew in college? It’s less about where and how you earned your degree and more so what you do with it. I’ve been in rooms with people from all walks of life and all different schools. The ones that stand out from a group are those who take theory and apply it in the real world in new ways. It takes work ethic, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and, above all, a willingness to learn from others.
What piece of advice would you give 18-year-old you? Don’t worry so much about what other people in your degree program are doing. Stay in your lane and don’t compare yourself to others. You worked just as hard to be here, and you will get every opportunity you work to earn.
What piece of advice would you give 21-year-old you? Leaving the structured collegiate environment is scary, but you’re about to learn some really cool things and meet some really smart people. Things get better.
What you want to share: There’s a saying in my family, though I’m positive it did not originate with us, that if you surround yourself with people who are “smarter than you,” you’ll always strive to be your best. Find people at your workplace or school whose ideas and perspectives you admire; you’ll always be learning and growing that way.
School: SUNY Brockport
Major/minor: Double major: English and journalism and broadcasting.
Percentage of your net income that goes toward student loans: About 4%.
Whom do you live with? Just me and my two cats.
Best thing about adulting: Being able to order Chinese food for dinner whenever I want.
Worst thing about adulting: 100% stressing about money 24/7.
What do you know/understand now that you wish you knew in college?
I wish I realized how amazing it was to have all of my best friends within 5 minutes of me. Having close friendships after college is much harder.
What piece of advice would you give 18-year-old you?
I would tell myself to be more selfish. College years are about finding yourself (cliched but true) and learning about yourself.
What piece of advice would you give 21-year-old you?
I’d tell myself to go out more. The last year of college is such an important time to hang out with your friends and suck as much experience out of college as possible.
Anything else you want to include:
Don’t take your parents for granted and call them more often. You’ll call them 10 times more after you graduate.
School: Ohio University
Percentage of your net income that goes toward student loans: Roughly 10%; although I currently pay the bare minimum.
Whom do you live with? One roommate and my dog.
Best thing about adulting: Definitely the autonomy.
Worst thing about adulting: Bills, regular stress, financial stress, making friends, the societal pressure to get married and start a family as soon as possible. I’ll stop there at the risk of disheartening you too much.
What do you know/understand now that you wish you knew in college? You may have a clear-cut path that you envision your life after college, but your actual post-grad life will likely not resemble that path in the slightest, and that’s OK. It’s more interesting that way. Also, there’s no shame in realizing you don’t like the career field you plan to enter. That’s totally normal, and you don’t need to force yourself to work a certain job just because you have a certain degree.
What piece of advice would you give 18-year-old you? Your five-year plan is not going to turn out the way you imagined it would, but just keep rolling with the punches and take every opportunity as it comes to you. Try not to worry too much; even the most trying circumstances have a way of working themselves out in the end.
What piece of advice would you give 21-year-old you? Live a little. Take some time to relax, put the books away for a couple hours and spend time with people you enjoy being around. You don’t want your only memories from college to be studying and working.
What you want to share: No matter what you do, you can never be fully prepared for the real world, so try your best to be adaptable. Although it might seem like you’re the only adult who doesn’t have it together, I promise everyone else is flying by the seat of their pants too. We’re all just doing our best.