10 things I wish I knew before college graduation
It’s may, which means that college graduation is around the corner. If you’re one of those about to earn your diploma, well, I would tell you not to panic, except that I’ve been there myself and know that not panicking can feel next to impossible when you’re only a few weeks away from the real world. But I also know that you will survive and everything is going to be okay. Why do I know this? I graduated college in 2013, and I lived to tell the tale. And although I wouldn’t give up my experiences during that time for anything in the world, there are a few bits of advice I wish I knew then, that I know now.
Savor those last days in class
My last few weeks of school I spent skipping class to work a part-time job, since I thought that it more important than class. Now I’m out of school and I’ve spent approximately two years working non-stop, and zero time in class. By skipping those last few days I missed some of my final lectures with my favorite professor, and the last days of some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever attended. In short, the days I spent working were forgettable, but the days I spent in class were irreplaceable. Even if you only a have a few classes left, don’t miss them.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a job yet
I spent a lot of time during my last semester trying to find a full-time job. I would shut myself up in my school’s library for hours to write cover letters on job sites. Despite my best efforts, I only got a few calls back, and maybe one interview. Finally, graduation rolled around and I was still jobless. At the time I felt awful sitting in that sea of kids at graduation, not knowing where I was going to be the next week. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I spent the next few months job-hunting, and eventually got hired.
Now that I have more perspective I realize that I was being too hard on myself. I was meant to find a job when I was meant to find a job, not sooner or later. Stressing myself out and beating myself up about it while I was still a student did not help me get employed any faster. If anything, letting myself feel desperate and stressed out might have made me seem like a worse candidate to potential employers. If I had approached my job search with more self-love and positivity, I would have been a lot happier in the long run.
Get ready to make an effort to keep in touch with your friends who live far away
During college I had a solid group of friends and fairly healthy social life. The week after college I felt like I was living in a ghost town. While having friends from all over the country and the globe was amazing, I didn’t realize that it also meant that everyone had somewhere else to be after graduation. During college my friends mostly lived in New York. After graduation my friends live everywhere from North Carolina to Australia. Some people went on to grad school, some people moved back home, and some people got cool new jobs on different places.
Regardless of where they go, it’s important to remember that mostly everyone will scatter after you graduate. What this means is that not only is it important to make time for your friends while you’re all in the same place, it is vital to keep up with them after they leave. This means writing them, calling them, or maybe visiting occasionally. It might seem kind of like homework after four years of effortlessly seeing everyone all the time, but the pay off is that you get to keep your friends. And bonus, you’ll have tons of new and exciting couches to crash on when you do decide to go visit them.
Get ready to make an effort to keep in touch with your friends who live nearby.
You would think that after all that effort keeping up with your faraway friends, it would be much easier to stay in touch with your nearby friends. But it’s not always the case. This isn’t because you don’t all love each other, but because college gave you all a common meeting place. Now you may live in different parts of your city or town, have different demanding jobs, or be focusing on different interests.
All this makes for awesome, independent lives that can also at times pull you away from each other, even when you live minutes apart. So you’ve got to schedule your friend time for nearby buddies, just like you would with your faraway friends. That means making solid plans, and not flaking. If life gets intense and you can’t hang out for a bit, call each other or text to check in. It sounds crazy at first, but trust me. I see some of my nearby best friends once or twice a month when I’m trying. Scheduling and firm commitments are the secret of adult friendships. If you don’t make an effort you can get so wrapped up in your own business that you lose touch with each other, and nobody wants that.
If you get scared or stressed, go make stuff or do stuff
I spent some of my last weeks in school worrying about the future, and how could I not? It was so scary, new, and imminent! But oftentimes when I worry, I freeze. My mind may be going a mile a minute, but I physically stagnate. This translates to a lot of sitting around and watching Netflix, and not a lot of positive productivity. I wish I knew then that feeling scared meant it was time to do something that made me happy so I could process my feelings in a healthier way. So if you feel your self start to mentally flip out, do something you like or try something new. See a friend, try a new sport, or make some artwork. Whatever floats your boat and eases your mind, because you’re going to need it later.
Go on informational interviews and talk to everyone
Do you know what you want to do for work or grad school? Curious about a job market but want to know more? Wondering how one makes the transition between school and real world? The best thing you can do when you’re thinking about these things is to go on informational interviews. Informational interviews are basically informal meetings between you and other professionals where you can ask the professionals anything you want about their lives or careers. They’re not interviews or a job offers, but a chance to talk to and learn from professionals who might be somewhere you want to be someday.
They’re also probably the best tools to learning about the all the paths you can choose in front of you. People love to talk to students about their careers and experiences, and hearing from people who have been through what you are going through will help you better figure out what you want and where you want to go. Never be afraid to reach out for coffee and a conversation, because most people will say yes. Also, you never know who will be of help. I do comedy, and the person who ended up giving me the final push I needed to try standup was a family friend who edits documentaries. People whose job you want, people whose job intrigues you, people whose job you never want, and people who are only a year older than you, are all wonderful people to talk to. Experience is the most valuable asset out there, so why not hear about someone else’s?
Get that magical student discount software right now!
Regardless of what field you’re in, there’s definitely some nifty software out there that’s essential to your career. For me it’s stuff like the Adobe Creative Suite or Avid Media Composer. I got it for free at school, so I took it for granted while I was there. What I didn’t realize was soon I was going to need it at home. And even though I was lucky enough to have access to the college facilities after graduation, there came a time when I looked around the elevator at my alma mater and thought, ‘Oh my god, I am in an elevator with a bunch of children, and I am 100 years old.’ At that point, I was really wishing I had bothered to get some professional software at home. And while $100 may seem like a lot for Photoshop as a broke student, it’s a lot better than buying it wholesale as an adult consumer. If you know you’re going to need it later, try to buy it now. Same goes for any cool freebies that your school offers now, but won’t later.
Thank your professors, and keep in touch
When you are weeks from graduation, some of the last people you will be thinking of are your professors, but they really should be the first. Take time to meet up with the professors who mentored and inspired you, and let them know what their help meant to you. It will make you feel happier in the long run, and the goodbye feel less abrupt. Also, quite honestly, they don’t hear that kind of stuff from their students enough, and that’s what keeps most teachers going. If you don’t have a way to reach them already, get their business card or their email address, and check in with them every once in a while once you’ve graduated. Because what you really don’t realize when you’re still in school is your professors aren’t just professors, they’re your professional contacts, and maybe even some day, your friends.
Don’t skip the graduation parties
I get it. You’re exhausted, your family has been in town for what seems like a million years, and all you want to do is crawl in bed and chill out. There will be plenty of time for that later. Now is the time that if you care about someone and they are hosting a party, you go to that party. Even if it seems like there’s a never-ending supply of parties, and missing one couldn’t possibly hurt. But after school, it’ll be a lot harder to see everyone in one place. So get up off the couch and go hang out with those awesome people. You are going to miss them sooner than you think.
Your graduation day is going to be chaos, and that is ok.
High pressure and all of your relatives packed tightly into the same place mean your graduation is not going to be the Hallmark fairy tale that everyone is envisioning. Your parents will be there. They will need a place to crash. You will all have to get to a crowded location at the same time, dressed nicely. Best-case of scenario it will be hot and you’re wearing an ugly polyester housedress (I mean, graduation robe) over another outfit. Worst case it’s raining and said ugly polyester housedress will become your temporary shelter. You will want to say hi to your friends but they’ll be running around with their families.
Also everyone whose is graduating will have their family there too. People’s dads will fight over good seats, people’s moms over parking spaces. All the grandmas will be taking photos at the same time. There will be a point in the day where you silently make eye contact with your family over a sea of other families and you will all simultaneously make a break for it, no prior discussion. It will be a fun, exciting day, but it will also be crazy, filled with lots of logistics and travel. Much like a wedding, there’s the ceremony representing the journey, and there’s the journey. Graduation is your ceremony, graduating is your journey. Either way, bring a water bottle and some sunscreen.
But most importantly, you’re in a really special moment of your life right now. Don’t try to make it go faster or get rid of it. Live in it, because there will be no other time like it. Also, everything is going to most definitely be okay.
Scarlet Meyer is a NYC based writer and stand up comedian. You can check out news about her upcoming work and shows here