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What Is Life Like After Graduating?

Written by Mikael Melo
Photo by David Marcu

It goes without saying that everyone in life has their own path to take. Students across the country spend several years buried in textbooks, cramming for exams and befriending SparkNotes for those last minute essays. Until that fateful day comes where you say goodbye to the title of “student” and exchange it for the role of “adult”—you cross that graduation stage with a piece of paper worth thousands of dollars in hand, unaware of what the future has in store. But what is life like after graduating?

We sat down with a few graduates one year after finishing school to get some insight on what life has been like as alumni. The good, bad and the ugly.

Selena Gomez Graduation

What has been the biggest learning curve for you since graduating?

“The biggest learning curve since graduating has definitely been adjusting to this new phase of life. When you’re in university, you’re so involved with school that even when you’re not in class you’re thinking about school. After graduating, it took me a while to get out of that headspace —I still felt panic about picking courses in August when I didn’t need to!

The goal was to take a few months off, move back in with my parents and work for the summer while applying for jobs in Toronto. Upon getting a job I’d move back to the city.

SPOILER ALERT: Things did not turn out as expected…

Although I didn’t get the dream job, I am in a better place financially, physically and emotionally. Now I feel better prepared to take on the next phase of post-grad life—it just took a little longer to get there. I realize I don’t have to have everything figured out, but it’s good to have a general plan and options if one route doesn’t work out. I was so scared of what came after graduation that I avoided thinking about the next phase of my life. Having some sort of plan and even a back-up plan can be entirely beneficial—that is my best advice. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break!”

Emma, 22

legally blonde, "you must always have faith in yourself."

What’s something you learned after graduating that you wished you knew when you were in school?

“Prior to graduation, I wish I had known how powerful following up can be. In the performing arts, you often submit for jobs online and are not seen in a live audition setting; this is where it becomes important to follow up. If you stay on their radar, you’re much more likely to pop into their head when they are searching for that perfect person. More often than not, I have booked jobs because I was constantly in their inbox (within reason).

Also, you may find yourself doing something different than your actual line of work. But this can benefit your future career! I never thought about working where I do now, but the opportunity opened my eyes to other ideas including a different way to improve my:

  • mental and physical health
  • communication
  • owning a business
  • networking
  • improving my teaching skills

Though it may not be directly in my field, the environment and encouragement have helped make me better in the business aspect of performance.”

Jamie, 27

scared about the future

Are you where you thought you wanted to be? Have you changed course?

“If you asked me this a month ago, I would have said no… I was working a 9 to 5 job and had an hour-long commute each way. It’s one thing to run from class to class by being overly involved in school, but it’s another to get used to the monotony of office work for 9 months straight.

Thankfully, I did some soul searching and made the right change to get back on track. I took a small detour to make money and got a different kind of experience, but that has only led me back to my original goal.

Basically, it has solidified what I truly want to do in life.

Take your time finding a job (if you can). Don’t jump at the first one that comes your way but don’t be too picky either. All of the right things will fall where they need to and only time will tell where you’ll be. Whatever you choose to do after you graduate could change a few months later. Don’t shy away from that. Understand that it’s okay to re-route even after you thought you were settled in the right place.”

– Maxine, 24

i have no idea what I'm doing

Has it been hard finding a good work-life balance?

“Finding a good work-life balance took some time. In an entry-level position, gaining responsibility took a few months. It wasn’t until I had been there for 4 or 5 months that I started to understand why people struggled with a balance. The longer I was in my role, the more I wanted to stay late. To prove my worth.

What really helped me get out of my tunnel vision was a two-week vacation I’d planned before I accepted my position. It forced me to take a break even if I didn’t think it was the “right time”. And the vacation gave me perspective on the amount of work I had been focusing on. It also offered me more perspective on how I could improve a lot of personal relationships. When you’re with your friends in school, it’s easy to keep in touch. But once I had a full-time position, I realized how much harder maintaining those friendships was. Returning from my trip was refreshing and gave me the energy to reorganize my priorities to make sure I had a true work-life balance.”

– Taylor, 22

if we wanna talk about real life, i slay, okay

What’s the best piece of advice you would give to someone who is about to graduate?

“Life after graduation was tough for me. It was the first time in life when I didn’t have any sort of predetermined plan for what I would do. My mind went through the usual: go back to school, pursue a masters, find work. I was having a hard time adjusting to my first time being out of school EVER and it was more difficult because my program had been a tight-knit community.

That summer, I traveled and went on a road trip. I even used that time to relax, but I still felt out of place. I began to pursue a certificate and, soon after, wound up working part-time in my field. And I really enjoyed it there, but the hours were small and I’d work very late nights. Most importantly, I still didn’t have the structure I was craving. It was looking pretty grim, but I filled my time with fun and productive activities like attending dance classes. 

A few months after “officially” getting my degree, I got a job and that job was perfect for me!

The best advice I can give is to be patient. I know it’s cliché and cheesy, but it’s true. Fill your time, if financially feasible, with hobbies that you love but are also productive. Now, you are taking advantage of your time for your passions that will also advance you as a person. Staying positive can be hard, but you need to surround yourself with the best people.

Another important thing: don’t base your self worth on your career and education. You’re so much more than that and, at the end of the day, the one thing you can always be proud of is your character and outlook on life!”

Selin, 23

phil dunphy "when life gives you lemonades, make lemons. Like will be all like, what?"

Has life gone according to your master post-graduation plan?

“I don’t think life can ever really go according to your ‘master plan’ but I’m more on-track than I ever thought I would be! I ended up getting a dream first job out of school that wasn’t entry level, so I skipped a step of my plan! The work you put in during school (volunteering, getting involved in student government, and hustling on the weekends) can really set you up for success!”

– Sarah, 22

avengers, "let's talk about this plan of yours. it's good, except it sucks"

What’s the greatest thing about no longer being a student?

“I wasn’t a very involved student. To be frank, being a student wasn’t a huge interest of mine. I just wanted to move forward with my life. Now, I’m happily working in travel and tourism where every other week I fly to a new country, visit a new city, and have meetings with clients all over the world!

As a student, I hardly ever had time to travel while balancing projects and tests. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but the best thing about no longer being a student is FREEDOM. I’m responsible for my own actions and my own life. If I want to stay up until 4am and wake up at 5pm, I can and I will. If I want to hop on a plane and move to Germany for the next 7 months, I will! Why? Because I can! No longer being a student anymore is GREAT!”

– Derrick, 19

hsm3, ashley tisdale "oh hey"

What’s the worst thing about no longer being a student?

“Although graduation brought on an exciting new chapter, I didn’t realize how many things I would lose. Firstly, you lose health benefits. Quickly after gaining my degree, I realized how little I’d taken advantage of my benefits (ex. medications, the dentist, massages, etc). Being a student was incredible. You’re actively bettering your future without the responsibility of trying to make it as an adult in the real world.

And those student discounts! Please do me a favor and show your student card EVERYWHERE while you can. You’ll be shocked by how much you can get by flashing it. Essentially, though school is a lot of work, being a student is living in a comfortable bubble. You’re respected enough to get employed and strike an interesting conversation, yet you can still go to bars 5 times a week with minimal judgment. Would I do it all over again if I had the option? Despite the countless hours of sleep deprivation, full-fledged mental breakdowns, exams, tests, and projects… yes, 100% I would!”

– Ellis, 21

being an adult sucks, kimmy schmidt

If you could go back in time and change this past year, would you?

“It’s hard to say… In school, you have this huge opportunity to move out of your comfort zone—you can take risks and experiment in fields beyond your specialized field. You could study business and still be in the school’s fashion show! Once you work full-time, you lose time and patience to do things outside of your 9 to 5 job.

I was really lucky.

Everything went accordingly to my master plan, or so I thought. I was hired by a great company that I interned for. Although I feel fortunate, it’s one year later and I’m starting to realize that I don’t feel fulfilled at work. If I could go back in time, perhaps I would have taken a more creative route, become self-employed to start my own business and be responsible for my own success as a whole. However, it’s scary to graduate and not be able to pay off your debts—the thought of failing scares me.

So, I took the secure route.

I work in finance where numbers (to me) mean success. Now, I know that I need to move on to something that will be fulfilling and will make me happy to wake up in the morning. But I wouldn’t have been able to express this knowledge without working where I do now.

In short, I wouldn’t change this past year. I’ve learned that I want to find a job that makes a positive impact and is financially secure but doesn’t forsake my own happiness.”

Nicolas, 23

devil wears prada "i love my job" after graduating

Well, there you have it, folks. No matter if you land the job, move back home, travel the world, pay off your loans, hate your job or have no job at all—WE ALL HAVE A DIFFERENT PATH. No one’s journey is exactly the same, so take a breather because you only get one life. Learn to enjoy every moment after graduating!

the voice "preach it girl!"

Life happens but if you can pass years of tests, essays, and presentations, then there’s nothing you can’t do! Besides, your fellow alumni have gone through the same adulting crisis and if they can do it, YOU CAN TOO! So eat your vitamins, polish up that resume (see our resume, cover letter, and personal branding tips HERE), then go visit your doctor and dentist before graduating so you use those health benefits! You’ll thank us later.

love, simon "you're welcome"

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.