After the stress of getting into the college of your choice, financing your way with loans, getting through hours of lectures and classes, struggling to make it through all-nighters, and balancing your extra-curricular, social life, and personal relationships, you’d think you’ll catch a break after graduating.
This is both true and untrue. Now that your undergraduate degree is complete, you’re free to be and do what you like, whether it’s an artist, a traveler, a junior accountant, a filmmaker, or anything you want. It’s a time full of promise, potential, and an open road. But simultaneously, if you are one of the 70% of college graduates who are in debt, you have a lot more to think about.
With a total of 3,989,000 college graduates expected to graduate in 2019-2020, it’s incredible how little we’re prepared for what life after graduation looks like. In dealing with the stress and exhaustion of college itself, we forget that there are loans, bills, responsibilities, and some major life changes awaiting us.
So how can you start preparing for life after graduation and when is the right time to do this?
Give yourself a head start during college
The sooner you start preparing, the better.
Take this advice with a grain of salt, however, because college can be exhausting, cut-throat, and incredibly demanding. You don’t want to miss out on the now or fall behind on schoolwork, and all-around happy college experience.
What you can do, however, is start early by cutting back on non-essential and unnecessary expenses, save more, and take on part-time work like freelance jobs, TA-ships, and various other opportunities available to you. What you earn can be used toward managing your day-to-day expenses or to pay off the interest on your student loan.
While some loan terms such as federal loans don’t allow you to repay the loan itself before graduation, you can work to pay off the interest that’ll accrue over time. Your future self will thank you for being more decisive and reducing a fraction of the financial burden that awaits you.
But be sure to keep your counselors and other mentors in the loop so they can help you get on track in case you fall behind on school work.
Always think long-term about your decisions.
Whatever decisions you’re making, make sure that they’re in line with your long-term plans and goals. Do you expect to be able to pay off your loan with the kind of career prospects that await you? Do you want to switch careers t something radically different? Can that semester abroad hamper your graduation and cause you to lose funding?
College is a time of immense exploration and self-discovery, and you should definitely try your hand at everything that comes your way. But it’s equally important to be mindful of the long-term consequences and effects of your decisions. This isn’t meant to rain on your parade, just to remind you that you may want to plan and make decisions keeping all necessary aspects in mind.
If you haven’t started college yet, it might help to think of factors like the cost of attending compared to other colleges, the loan you’re taking on, the major you’re pursuing, so on and so forth.
Start networking and building connections
One of the most underrated advantages of being part of a college is having dozens of different networking and socializing opportunities during your time here. Don’t skip all those career fairs and events—maybe a couple though—or the lectures, talks, and public events where you might meet people relevant to your industry.
Build your communication and networking skills by meeting with and talking to people, taking on internships during summer breaks, working part-time, and building relationships with your faculty members. Your faculty will be able to connect you to several other academics and professionals, and it’s a valuable form of social capital to possess.
Don’t hesitate to ask for people’s email addresses and looking for work opportunities. It might feel awkward, but you’ll never know till you try!
Don’t worry about exploring and finding your way.
While this may sound counter-intuitive to the advice above about thinking long-term, It’s important that you stay open, flexible, and willing to explore different ideas and opportunities that come your way.
See what gets you excited, find your passion, seek your interests, and take a leap of faith. It’s not necessary to have it all figured out before you graduate, or even after. It might take you a while before you find the right fit.
Whether you decide to work, open your own company, study further, or take on an unconventional career path, it’s worth exploring different options before you make a final decision.
Even if this means working entry-level jobs for a while, you shouldn’t hesitate to take up work.
Prepare and plan with plenty of time to spare
Don’t underestimate how important it is to plan ahead. Serial procrastinators and frazzled college students know how difficult it can be to work before there’s a deadline looming over your head, but it’s important to give yourself time.
Build your resume, collect your recommendations, look up applications for grad school, or into programs that might be right for you. It can help you plan better and be more prepared when it’s actually time to apply. Speak to professors and faculty about eventually writing recommendations, get them on board, and follow up with them closer to your deadlines.
Look into prospective training programs, employment opportunities, internships, research opportunities, or anything that you could apply to after graduation, and orient your goals toward getting there.
Focus on your financial health and decisions
We’ve talked about planning your career, networking, planning long-term, thinking about your major, and how to prepare ahead of time. But we haven’t addressed the elephant in the room.
Your student loan is one of the most significant financial responsibilities you will ever take on in your life and one that is bound to stick with you for several years after graduation too. You should look into jobs with loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs), or look into other options such as refinancing your student loan.
Refinancing and consolidating can help you reduce the amount of interest, save on time, and focus on other career prospects, grad school, and other financial commitments.
Work with a reliable student loan provider such as Education Loan Finance (ELFI), who will be able to provide you with flexible, affordable, and manageable solutions.
Your student loan will dictate many facets of your life to come, from being able to own property, to where you live, the job you have, and more.
Your financial health depends on creating a budget, setting goals, and finding ways to achieve those goals. Do an yearly review of your finances, and before you graduate, have an overview of what life after graduation will look like financially.
Adulthood is hard, but you’ve got it all under control!
About the Author
The writer is a recent graduate with a humanities major working to launch their startup and simultaneously pay off their student loans. They are working to help students deal with the upcoming challenges of adulthood, self-discovery, and wanting to carve out their own path through their writing.