Life After College: Getting a Head Start

study aboard girlPost-graduation depression is all too common. Students spend four years poring over textbooks and slogging through all-nighters to graduate with a degree, only to realize after graduation that they really have no idea what to do with it. The shift from a few classes a day to a 40-hour workweek, along with a social shift away from large groups of people your own age, often makes graduation a difficult transition period.

I graduated six months ago and ran into this crisis myself. I was lucky: I had done a few internships, read up on jobs I’d like to pursue, and connected with mentors who have been invaluable in guiding me through the process of starting a career, but I still spent plenty of long nights trying to figure out how to navigate the working world, and wondering if I was prepared enough to pull it off.

Here are three things I’m grateful I did, and three things I wish I had done, to better prepare myself for life after graduation:

I did internships in my field.
I knew from the start of my undergraduate career that I was interested in politics and international relations, but I didn’t know where in that vast field I might fit best. By completing a wide range of internships, I became acquainted with the work culture in my field, and I learned about the types of work environments I function best in, the types of work I’m best suited to, and the types of organizations I prefer to work for. Internships helped me find exactly which jobs I wanted to apply for after graduation, and boosted my resume to make me a better candidate for those positions.

I graduated with a degree in a field I love.
It’s hard to study a subject for four years if you’re not really interested in it. It’s even harder to jump headfirst in a career rooted in that subject – 40 hours (or more) per week is a lot of time to pour into something you don’t really care about. It’s never too late to choose a different field, but it’s much easier to make the switch earlier on than later.

I kept learning outside of class.
I went to office hours, built relationships with professors, and did the optional readings on the syllabus. Life is structured around learning in college, but after graduation, learning takes initiative; when nobody assigns you readings or schedules your exams, it’s easy to let your understanding of your field slip. I developed my sense of educational initiative while I still had a strong external learning system supporting me, and was able to lean on that initiative after I left that system.

I should have only taken the classes I was really interested in.
Contrary to my freshman year beliefs, taking more classes didn’t automatically mean I would become a better student or a smarter person; I only really gained from, and engaged with, classes I sincerely found interesting.

I should have spent more time on extracurricular activities and internships.
Classes gave me the academic foundation I needed to pursue a career in the international relations field, but the social skills, leadership skills, and professional skills I gleaned from extracurricular activities and internships were just as important in preparing me for the real world.

I should have taken more classes outside of my specialization.
By zeroing in on political science my freshman year, and devoting any open space in my schedule to even more political science classes, I closed myself off to other interesting and important fields. A better understanding of computer science, biology, economics, literature, art, and other subjects would not only have made me a more educated and well-rounded person, but would also have enhanced my understanding of political science. The world isn’t clearly divided into academic fields – all fields intersect, and I would have become surer of my own interests and opinions earlier on if I had been exposed to more opinions and potential interests.

Life after graduation doesn’t need to be so intimidating – learn from the tips above to ensure your transition from college to the real world is as smooth as possible.

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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.