2012 / life

10 Tips for New College Grads From a 2011 Graduate

Today is officially one year since I graduated college! I got handed my diploma on May 14th, 2011 on a cloudy day in southern California with big plans and lots of hopes.

Even though I was probably the one with the best-set plans out of my group of friends, life definitely didn’t go as I’d planned. Here are some things I wish my grad speaker had told me about the year after you finish school. Congrats to the class of 2012!

(Also, this is different from my usual travel-style blog, but I wanted to do something to mark the occasion!)

10) Nobody cares about your degree (really). Okay, grad schools might. Sometimes it counts if you have one. Sometimes new acquaintances will ask you what you studied. But beyond that, nobody cares what grades you got, what classes you took, or what your thesis was about.

9) Don’t get your expectations set too high. Hoping is different from expecting. I expected all my hard work the last year of college would pay off. It hasn’t. Life doesn’t work like school.

8) All that constant reaffirmation from college isn’t normal. Professors go out of their way to be nice to students.  This level of praise isn’t normal, and it’s an ego-blow not to have it. I felt like I was doing badly for a while because nobody was giving me the regular praise and validation I was used to getting as a star academic achiever.

7) It gets much harder to measure success and have a sense of direction. It’s easy in college – every few months you get an assessment of your level of success, as well as a sense of making progress. When this structure goes away, it’s weird and disorienting. You’re not “on track to…” anything anymore.

Photo Credit: Shutter Daddy

6) Make an older friend. They’ll be able to empathize and give you advice about what to do from a recent perspective. One older friend told me your early 20s is all about ‘un-learning’ everything you’ve been told and re-learning according to what you want. And that everyone has lengthy crisis periods. I might’ve laughed this off two years ago but it makes much more sense now. it’s reassuring to hear stuff like this, particularly when it comes from someone you know and like.

5) If you’re going to work a boring job, at least do it somewhere you like. Being a waiter or waitress isn’t the most fun job in the world, but you could do it in a big city, in a pretty beach town, close to home to see your family, or just with people you like.

4) Find a hobby…that isn’t watching reality T.V. Go out and actually do stuff – it’ll make you happier and more interesting. It might take a while to figure out what you like to do, but do something so you don’t go crazy.

3) If your job makes you miserable, find a way to quit. My first job post-college sucked in every way possible. But it wasn’t until the day I was in tears all afternoon over heading to work that I realized I had to find something else. I dropped to part-time to job hunt, and fully quit three weeks later when I got a job that to this day has not made me cry.

Lots of employers will take advantage of the bad economy, especially if you are young and they think they can manipulate you into staying. Don’t stay somewhere like this. There are other jobs. It may take a while to find one, but no job is worth your sanity.

2) A year out, nobody has their ‘plan’ together yet. At graduation time, most of us were planning on having some ‘space’ to figure out what direction we wanted to go in next. That meant things like moving back home, applying for temporary jobs, or escaping to an exotic abroad location. A  year later, we still don’t have our life plans together. So far, that seems to be okay, and I’m at least figuring out some things I like.

1) It’s going to be tough. The last year has definitely been the hardest one of my life. A lot of expected stressful stuff happened, and then life had lots of nasty surprises in store for me too. It’s exciting to graduate college, and everyone tells you constantly how wonderful your post-grad life is going to be.

But my grad speaker Max Brooks put it better than I can: “The first thing I learned when I left [college] into my golden 20s was that my golden 20s…sucked. They were really hard, and nobody told me that. Nobody warned me. […] Nobody taught me that it was going to be hard, and more importantly, nobody taught me that it was okay to be hard.”

And Conan O’Brien said in his grad speech at Dartmouth last year “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”  

No idea about what was going to happen next.

Welcome to the ‘quarterlife crisis’. It’s definitely been way more of a roller coaster than I was hoping for, and I hope the next year is a lot less stressful. What other tips would you give 2012 grads (or 20-somethings)?



18 thoughts on “10 Tips for New College Grads From a 2011 Graduate

  1. Happy 1 year anniversary. Who knew a year ago you’d be quoting Max Brooks? It turns out his speech was actually pretty much on target. Dont forget to take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all you’ve accomplished over the last 12 months. Just because you don’t earn grades for it doesn’t mean it’s not impressive xxxx

  2. Jessica, this is a great post. I’m glad you went with your instincts to post something “un-related” to the rest of your blog. On the contrary, I think it does relate to your travel: it says a lot about you and perhaps why you chose the path you did now.

    As an “older person” – older than you probably! – I don’t want to make you feel like I’m lecturing, but I have two thoughts to share.

    1. No one ever has their plan together! People think they do, but life goes and turns it upside down just as quickly. Plans are only as good as you are willing to change, adapt or abandon them altogether.

    2. You need to dream big and always follow your heart. It will never steer you wrong.

    Congrats on marking your important and worthy accomplishment.

  3. It’s been nearly 2 years since I graduated but I still relate to everything in this post. As my time in Spain comes to an end (for now, who knows what the future holds?), I find myself wondering what the heck comes next. I didn’t plan on staying so long–and it has been full of ups and downs! Here’s to the next chapter–whatever that includes!

    • Yeah, and we thought going abroad was going to give us time to figure it out! Good luck in your next adventures, whatever/wherever they are.

  4. Hey Jessica. I was fortunate to have found a job after graduation that I had no idea what it was all about, but for the first two months (probation), they treated me like I thought a recent college graduate was supposed to be treated. We were wined, dined, trained and praised and trained so more. We were sent to the home office and actually had an expense account. Then, they put us to work and it went down hill from there. It really sucked. I totally feel you on hoping to find something, that doesn’t make you want to cry. Funny how our standards have been lowed.

    • Wow, that sounds like a really nasty surprise. Mine did kind of the opposite – they weren’t especially nice to me from the start, but promised it would change next month. Then the month after, etc. etc. Here’s to jobs that don’t make us cry!

  5. You could have written this 20 years ago and it’ll ring true. Sometimes, when we get affirmations day in and day out about how good we are at school, we expect a great ‘career’ to be handed to us once we graduate. Good on you to disabuse other young people of that notion now. 🙂

    Ah, 20 years ago. I sooo wish I’d known about # 5 then…

    • Thanks for reading! I think we did expect careers, or at least a lot more immediate payoff in terms of jobs. Making minimum wage after getting a degree is pretty frustrating.

      And as for #5…better late than never! 🙂

  6. you have AMAZING tips. it makes me sad to see so many delusional kids about to graduate thinking that the piece of paper is a golden ticket :/ btw, I’m having a 100+ Follower Urban Decay Giveaway! I hope you enter 🙂 ♥

  7. Pingback: Class of 2012 enters work world with jobs, hope, debt _ and fear about shaky … | job my

  8. Great post! #8 is something that I definitely have found to be true. It’s also one of the hardest things to get used to. However, I do think that you if you ask for feedback in the right way, (such as when your boss has free time, after you have been working at a company for longer than a week, etc…) then you can find out how to improve your work. It’s no longer about getting an A or a gold star, but allowing yourself to seek out useful criticism and use it to your advantage.

    • Yeah, that’s true – something I’ve got to work on! It’s tough to adjust to, especially as I’m working abroad and communicating in a foreign language (for me, anyway).

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