The final class of my college career lasted about 30 minutes. The professor gave us a last bit of life advice and said, “Well, there’s no reason for you to sit here anymore. Go out into the world.”
“This is it?” I said to Sam, a longtime classmate of mine. “Oh my God.”
We cried and hugged, unbelieving that our graduation was actually a thing that was happening—a permission slip for us to go do whatever we could or wanted or dreamed.
College was formative and challenging — a four-year learning curve that presented me with both real-world challenges and assignments that would only ever exist in a classroom, like a 30-page paper. I learned how I liked my coffee (sugared down to the extreme) and how to be both an effective and ethical journalist. I lived with other people and that in itself armed me with enough experience to hold my own in social situations outside the dorm.
As many lessons as I had learned, there was still so much I didn’t know. Now, with invaluable hindsight and nearly four years of experience under my belt, here are a few things I wish I knew before I graduated college.
It’s harder to make friends in the real world
My freshman year, a girl approached me in a bathroom and said, “Aren’t you in my English 101 class? Do you want to be friends?” We are still friends today. No one approached me in a similar way when I moved to another state for my first real-world job.
Making friends in college is nearly effortless; we’re all in the same boat, struggling in similar ways, and so it’s a no-brainer that we latch onto each other and form strong bonds.
Making friends after college is different. Take the workplace. Though you spend a lot of time in close proximity to someone, sharing pleasantries like “tell me about your weekend” is hardly the makings of a friendship. Instead, ask meaningful questions, rather than relying on the minimum amount you can get away with in a conversation. Additionally, refrain from workplace gossip. Don’t tear down your boss or one co-worker in order to win the approval of another. Sure, it will feel like a bond, but it’s only a temporary one, founded on negativity.
Outside of the office, you’ll also need to put in a little effort to find like-minded folks. Seek out social settings by signing up for a volunteer opportunity, taking a fun class, or checking out Meetup groups in your neighborhood to connect with new people.
Staying friends with the people you went to college with will take effort
Often times, the money chase and job opportunities lead people in different directions. My own college roommates are now scattered across the country. We only get together nowadays for major life events.
But with a little effort and persistence, maintaining these important friendships is possible. One way I stay in touch with my closest friends from college is old-school, letter-writing. And we try to plan trips together at least twice a year. These moments of connection make it feel like we’re not so far apart from one another.
Becoming money-smart is essential
My journalism degree taught me a lot about news judgment, accuracy, and fact-checking, but now that I’m applying for my first car loan and attempting to understand why the government takes so much out of my paychecks, I wish school had put more of an emphasis on financial education.
Being responsible with money in college meant I didn’t spend the last $100 in my account at the bar. In the real world, being fiscally responsible means something much, much more: managing a 401K, making smart retirement decisions, filing your own taxes, saving enough money for a house, a car, future kids. It’s a far cry from simply not dropping $100 on Long Island Iced Teas.
One way to bridge the gap is by listening to finance podcasts like “So Money” with Farnoosh Torabi. The host provides insight on some of the most confusing and common money issues like financial overflow, emergency funds, and which loans are the best loans.
Grades no longer matter
When I started interning, I realized there was no A to showcase that I was going above and beyond; no C+ to communicate I needed to try harder. I was thrown into the arena, forced to figure it out as I went along, and realized hands-on work was the best experience.
Pass or fail—hired or fired—isn’t the same “report card” we received in college, but there are certainly ways bosses will gauge your success. Reviews determine how much money you make, the clients you take on, and the benefits you’re awarded. Understanding those expectations will make you a better and more successful employee.
The best of your 20s is yet to come.
I used to think having fun in my 20s was over because I’d never attend a Bagels & Booze event ever again.
Wrong. The best of your 20s is yet to come. Change and growth happen slowly, and while I’ll always look back fondly on 20 and 21, some of the most unexpectedly amazing times of my life have come post-graduation. I’ve fallen in love (again), put my own stamp on a new city, and made friends who span Canada, Portland, Indiana, and Texas. I’ve been a guest at the Teen Choice Awards, met Kylie Jenner, and negotiated raises — all things that had previously seemed like impossibilities.
Life changes so quickly, and as I move past different hurdles, it becomes harder to remember the times when they seemed daunting. To preserve that mindset and the parts of my 20s that have already happened, I’ve started journaling. I’ll always have those journals to look back on, and oftentimes, they provide perspective on what’s yet to come.