I graduated. Now what?

When you graduate from high school, college or graduate school, it is easy to get overwhelmed. It’s human to wonder what’s next?  It can be easy to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or let others dictate what is best for you. It can also be a time that is full of opportunity and promise. Either way, it’s best to take a moment to evaluate your next move.

I recently received my Master’s degree and it didn’t take me long to start asking questions of myself. To make sense of it all, I have put together this survival guide.

1. Give yourself a break

First, and foremost, it is important to remember that this is not the end. It is only the beginning!

You have earned a short rest. Take time to celebrate your accomplishment and do some of the things you have been putting off. You have earned the right to read a novel, take a vacation, have a party or just take a moment to relax.

2. Figure out what you want

Before you can figure out where you are going, you need to figure out what you want. This is sometimes easier said than done, but it is the essential next step. After all, you will never arrive at your destination if you don’t know where you are going!

If you aren’t sure, take time to meditate or reflect on your life. Start writing down your skills and dreams. Do some research on potential jobs or goals and ask for advice. Remember, you can always start small and build on your dreams as you gain more experience.

3. Develop a plan

Once you have an idea of what you want and have written down some goals, start to develop a plan to achieve them. It is best to start with a few (3 or less) goals. For each one, think about what you need to do to make it a reality. Break your goal into small actions and focus on doing them one at a time. It can be helpful to make a list. Checking each item off gives you a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to continue to move forward.

Without these action items it is too easy to get stuck in the muck and feel like you are standing still. To fend off the anxiety of not knowing where you are going, remember SMART goals:

    S – specific

    M – measurable

    A – attainable

    R – realistic

    T – trackable

If, for instance, your plan is to get a job, you could identify key items to achieve that goal:

Goal: Get a Job

  • Create a resume and/or website
  • Create a Linked-in profile
  • Search job boards
  • Ask for referrals
  • Apply
  • Follow-up

4. Pay down debt

One of the first things recent grads do is look at the mountain of debt they have accumulated which, of course, creates anxiety. No one wants to be in debt. It can limit your options and cause undue stress. It can even cause you to lose sight of your goals and take a job for the wrong reasons.

Depending on your circumstances, it may take a while to pay down your debt. It is a good idea to develop a plan and create a budget for your own peace of mind. There are many resources to help you get started. A great resource is MoneyStrong.org.

5. Create community and check your resources

Remember, you are not in this alone. Take steps to develop community. You may want to check in at your church or develop a peer group of your own. Also, check with your school. You will find that most have resources including career centers and alumni associations that are there to help you. Reach out to your favorite teachers or faculty to ask for referrals or career advice. Most leads will come from people you already know. Take time to develop relationships and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.

6. Be patient

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Remember, this is not the end. It is only the beginning. Whatever your dream, be patient with yourself and others. You have learned many new skills but it takes time to put them into practice. When you have a plan, you will begin to feel more confident and soon you’ll see the possibilities begin to open up for you.

Good luck to you! If you have advice for recent grads, please let us know. We would love to hear your story.


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