5 Ways to Successfully Transition From College to ‘Real Life’

Walking across the graduation stage, I had a simple mantra: Don’t trip.

I shook hands with University of South Florida’s president, and, blinded by stage lights and camera flashes, posed for an awkward photo with my diploma in front of thousands of people.

And then it was over.

Just like that, my four years of college were in the rearview mirror. I needed a destination, a new mantra, but I wasn’t even sure what I was having for dinner.

With graduation festivities behind me, I went back to my shared apartment and stared at a sheet of paper as blank as my future. What should I do next? Should I move? Should I take a gap year, or should I dive head-on into work? If you’re feeling as lost as I was post-graduation, take a look at some of the steps I followed that got me from post-college crisis to graduate with a plan.

RELATED: How I Dealt When All My Post-Graduate Plans Fell Apart

1. Map it out

After a cup of coffee and a few minutes of dramatic gazing out my window while listening to The Smiths, I stole a sheet of printer paper from my roommate. “Life Map,” I scribbled at the top.

I’d been eyeing a Passion Planner — a self-described “personal organizer that helps you identify your goals and build toward them everyday.” Post-graduate Paige didn’t have 30 bucks to spend on a planner, so I made my own “life map” that mirrored the Passion Planner’s. (Passion Planner and Canva offer free printables nowadays too if you’re not so crafty!) I made a web map for goals I’d like to complete in three months, in one year, in three years, and in my lifetime.

I made sure my three-month goals reflected my lifetime goals. For example, one of my lifetime goals was to publish a book. So, one of my three-month goals became, “Get a short story or poem published online.”

It’s easy to feel paralyzed by, “Where do I start?” But by concentrating only on short-term goals that contribute to long-term ones, I had an easy-to-follow plan in no time.

2. Keep in touch

Losing touch with friends, extended family, and career connections doesn’t happen overnight. A cafe meetup is postponed until next weekend, and then next month, and before you know it, you haven’t seen a close friend in over a year. Take a deep breath — this is totally normal.

It’s important to keep in touch with people who mean the most to you, but it’s also important to focus on your post-graduate goals and to continue making new connections in a new workplace or city. Fortunately, you don’t have to trade one for the other. To stay in touch with friends and family, set up weekly or monthly meet-ups. After graduation, I moved to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English. Keeping in touch with friends and family abroad was tough, but I planned Skype dates with a few or my friends, and I called my mom every weekend to update her on my adventures.

It’s also important to keep career connections, such as university professors you grew close to or internship mentors. You don’t need to email your college English professor about what vacation she took last summer, but you could add her on LinkedIn to grow your network. In addition, some university programs have events open to graduates. My university offers dinners and get togethers for current and former journalism students in the area.

What do you miss most about undergrad?

3. Find your center

For me, university was four years of structure and support systems. When I wasn’t in class, I was hanging out with my roommates, joining study groups, or taking yoga classes on-campus. But post-graduation, I was alone. A lot. Even though I was still living with roommates, some were still busy in school and others moved out to pursue their next career steps.

I hadn’t been to church in a while, but there was a beautiful church that I’d driven past hundreds of times to get to school. Post-graduation, instead of passing the church, I parked and attended a service. While I later decided the church wasn’t for me, I still felt lighter and more connected to my beliefs after the service. I felt loved, and I knew I wasn’t alone.

If you’re moving to a new city or state, don’t be afraid to church shop for a community that feels like family. Attend a service, or even just peek your head through the door. If you’re timid about joining a new church, search for meet-ups instead, like Bible studies or a spiritual book club on sites like Meetup.com, or through local events on Facebook.

And if you’re not comfortable sharing yourself with a new community just yet, pencil in time for some spiritual health alone. This could mean downloading a Bible study app for your new commute, practicing meditation, or even hiking to connect with nature. For me, having 30 minutes of quiet reflection in the morning while I sip my coffee helps me feel grounded. If I feel like I need something more, I pray or journal.

4. Spoil yourself

Sometimes, a junk food and Netflix binge is just what I need to end a tough week. It’s OK to allow yourself treats or a lazy day every now and then. But if you’re eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast every a.m. post-graduation, it might be time to rethink your routine.

What health, exercise, or well-being advice would you give to your best friend? Now, give that advice to yourself. No one deserves to be loved and spoiled more than you do! Show yourself gratitude by cooking healthy meals, going for a parkside jog, or cutting back on caffeine.

To keep yourself from reaching for the Cheez-Its after your first day at a new job or after a day full of job searching, try meal prepping for the week on a free day. I also like to buy healthy treats in bulk, like plain popcorn or pretzels, that I repackage into portion-sized sandwich bags.

5. Start saving

If you start meal prepping, you’ll already be on your way to saving money. But saving money post-graduation as opposed to during college is a bit different. After you land your first “real job,” you’ll need to get started on a budget. You’ll want to start paying down your student loans and perhaps begin funding a retirement account.

If you’re still a job-seeker, don’t panic. Just be aware of how much money you’re spending with apps like Mint, and cut down on frivolous spending. For example, you can save a ton of money by investing in a cheap coffee maker and a thrift-store thermos, rather than spending $5 or more on coffee shop trips.

A new chapter

Graduating is exciting and terrifying. But while post-grad life is certainly the start of a new chapter, it’s the same book. A lot of what you did in university — made connections, balanced your degree work and social life, pretended to be a grown-up — applies to post-graduate life, too.

Currently, I’m transitioning from my English teaching job in Seoul to a career in Tampa, Florida. In my new job interviews, I have a familiar mantra: “Don’t trip.”

Originally published on May 16, 2019.

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