Moving into "real life" after you finish school can be a shock, whether its undergraduate, graduate, or professional school. Of course, it does depend on what you study. Many people get a taste of what their postgraduate life is going to be like during school, especially if their field is more hands-on than others. But the reality of finally being on your own can still be tough to take. If you feel like you're entering the adult world for the first time, without the bubble of student life to protect you, you should think about how to prepare yourself for new experiences. Being totally independent can be scary, but it's worth it - probably.
Figure Out What You Need
You might have come to the end of your college days, but do you have all that you need to create a professional career? For some career paths, such as law or medicine, this will mean completing essential qualifications and certifications. Taking the MCATs, applying to medical school, and once you're in, passing exams like your Step 2 CS Exam are all steps on the way to have the career you want. If you're interested in law, you've got the LSATs and then boards. Graduate school? GRE. Engineering? GMAT. Do your research so you know what you need. Don't worry - studying ain't done yet!
Brush Up on Your Professional Skills
As you enter the job market, having an updated resume, professional cover letter, and the soft skills to go with it is important. Many schools have a Career Resource Center that will proofread your materials and provide practice interviews. Take advantage of these opportunities to get some practice under your belt before the real thing.
Reach Out to Connections for Help
Of course, getting a job is your main priority once you've finally finished studying. This is where it will come in handy to have completed work experience and internships, or to have been involved in various things in college.
Having a network of useful contacts will help you get your foot in the door. You might not have someone who can hand you a job, but your connections can benefit you in several ways. They can offer advice and mentorship and even recommend you for open positions. The majority of job postings are filled internally, so reaching out to contacts early on - before you need a job - means they'll have a positive impression of you, and are more likely to recommend you for the job. In my post about Getting the Most out of Conferences, I go over several networking techniques. Even the shyest of us can do it.
Budget for Working Life
Earning a full-time salary can be one of the best and worst things about being a proper adult. You're proud of the money you're earning, but you have to make it go as far as possible. If you haven't had a budget before, now is the time!
Planning ahead and making a budget is the only way to know if you'll be living paycheck to paycheck or have more money than you know what do with. If you have loans to pay off - student or otherwise - make a plan to maximize monthly payments to minimize the amount of interest you'll accrue over time. Don't forget to talk to HR about your company's 401(k) retirement options. You want to max out contributions for matching, while also building up your own savings. It may seem like you don't need to save while you're still young, or that it's not a priority over paying off loans, but the truth is having a balanced budget means making room for it all. If your job doesn't offer a 401(k), consider opening a Roth IRA and take advantage of the compound interest, even when you can't contribute.
Make Space for Your Social Life
Your social life can change a lot once you're working full-time. Making new friends can be hard, and even staying in touch with your family can be more difficult. Even if you're exhausted at the end of the day or week, you'll soon adjust. It's important to make time for hanging out with friends and family, and for making new friends at work and elsewhere too. If you're moving to a new town, it can be challenging to meet other young professionals. Sites like MeetUp connect like-minded individuals in social groups, so your social life becomes that much easier to navigate.
Starting adult life for real might feel daunting, but you'll soon enjoy your new independence. Start figuring out where you want to go next.
What are you most worried about? What did you wish you had known? Leave a comment!
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