I know a ton of people who graduated from various levels of schooling this weekend (congrats all you awesome people!) and I wanted to take the chance to post a letter that I wish someone had given me when I graduated from college with my bachelors.
Great job! You have traveled the pit of eternal essays and arrived on the other side, the mystical so called ‘real world’ that so many people have told you about.
Good news! You’re going to find out that this ‘real world’ is a lot like college. You have to worry about bills, buying food, and managing your time. You also won’t have classes and without homework will probably find yourself with more free time than you know what to do with!
Now here’s the bad news, the economy is crap right now and odds are it’s going to take you months to find a job, and when you do it probably won’t be your dream job. It’s alright to feel sad about this, and stare at the ceiling and cry for no reason other than that your life has suddenly changed in ways you didn’t want. (Side note: Apply for jobs well before your graduate! Don’t wait until you’re done to start hunting officially.)
All your friends likely don’t live near you anymore and they can’t come over for pizza at 1am every night. You may move in with your parents and back into your childhood bedroom where there is no mini-fridge or stacks of textbooks. You might miss the stupid things like the awful cafeteria food or the noise from your upstairs neighbors.
It’s alright, and normal, and while you may feel like this will never end, you are going to be ok.
So here’s where I drop some advice:
Look for a job like it is your job, and don’t be too proud to apply for jobs in retail, or at restaurants. I know you’ve heard your whole life “if you don’t get a college degree you’ll end up working in xyz field.” And now that might be where you end up. Learn everything you can from those jobs, and hell, you might even find out you really dig those kinds of jobs, and that’s great!
You’re not going to hear from every job you apply for and it’s going to drive you slowly mad.You’ll scream at your friends, cats, and computer that this is the perfect job for you but months will tick by and never a call. Be mad, be upset. Keep applying for jobs. Talk to your alma mater and get help from the career center. (Yes, you can still talk to them even after you’ve graduated.)
Volunteer with your free time; stay in touch with your friends; try to be nice to the world around you.
A degree doesn’t make you a great person, and it certainly doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else working in a field you deem ‘beneath you’.
When you finally get a job, wring it dry: take every last bit of skill that you can learn and treat it like the most important thing in your life. Be on time, be pleasant, and be willing to learn. If you hate your job, keep applying for jobs while you’re working, save your money and live frugally.
STUDENT LOANS ARE COMING AND THEY ARE TERRIFYING AND CRUEL.
You may start your first job and feel totally lost. See that degree didn’t really teach you skills you need in most jobs like… Filing reports in a non stupid way, or not reacting when a customer spends thirty minutes screaming at you for no reason. Those are the things you’ll learn in jobs and places outside the classroom (that you hopefully had while in college) and not from memorizing Emily Dickinson poems.
Figure out what your dream is, and realize that you will probably need some kind of income to achieve it. (I like doing 1, 5, and 10 year goals.) Plan and look towards your future because it’s coming whether you want it to or not.
The biggest thing you need to believe is that you DO NOT need a degree or permission from anyone to do huge things. You can paint and write and dance without ever having gone to school for it.
Know that more school won’t always make you better at something, and you can learn without being in a classroom and trying for a grade. Accept that sometimes (frequently) you will fail and fall on your face. Learning to get up and carry on, bruises and all, is something that will come with time.
DO NOT GO TO GRAD SCHOOL JUST TO DELAY GRADUATING. Grad school is stressful, and specialized. In the humanities, graduate degrees are often a gateway to teaching but those jobs are slim and not guaranteed (and if that is your plan make sure your degree is terminal). You don’t need an MFA to write or paint or sing. Think long and hard about if the extra debt and time spent on grad school will pay off and why you are really going.
Remember to be proud of what you’ve done, but never forget that this is just the beginning. In life no one tells you what the requirements are or how many credit hours you have to take before you’re done.
Congratulations, and go kick ass,