Challenges You Will Face After Graduating From School

How does a professional-student transition into life after school? A list of what I wish I knew and what I know now after graduating.

I've been in school for twenty years. Granted: the first thirteen years were the required kindergarten to twelfth grade then four years of undergrad and an additional two years of graduate school. And if my family has their way, I'll be in a doctoral program soon enough. So, my entire life I've been a student. And at twenty-four years old, I kind of don't really know how to be anything other than a student.

Who am I if I'm not pulling all-nighters to finish a twenty-page paper that was assigned two weeks ago? Or if I'm not waking up in cold sweats during school breaks panicking over a non-existent assignment? Or rolling my eyes when Back to School commercials start to dominate my television ads in August?

Honest answer: I have no clue who I am. 

This past May I completed my graduate program (quick shout-out to my fellow grads!) and with no plans to return to an academic program in the fall, I'm faced with the realization that I truly am free from the shackles of academia. But, that only means that I'm being thrown into the dreaded: life after graduation.

This means post-graduation responsibilities: paying back student loans, finding a job (in your field, if you're lucky), bills, scheduling your own doctor's know real adult things. All of this is quite daunting. For me, at least.

Here are the real-life challenges you will face after graduating from school:

1. The biggest obstacle, that nobody warned you about, is post-graduation depression

The stress of trying to secure a well-paying job immediately after walking the stage is almost back-breaking. Not being able to just meet up with friends on campus or go down the hall to their dorm room to hang out for the night is incredibly hard to grasp.

I miss late-night runs to Insomnia Cookies or just staying up until 4 in the morning playing Cards Against Humanity. Life comes at you really fast after you walk the stage. Schedules change, friends move away, the need to acquire as much money in as short a period of time as possible grows significantly. The beginning of the struggle to figure out my place in society and what that means commences.

All of these things were definitely not on the forefront of my mind until they smacked me dead in the face. Now, I just sit on my couch and watch old Snapchat memories and remember the carefree moments I didn't appreciate enough while they were happening. 

2. Working full-time and being a Full-Time Student are two different experiences

I have discovered that an eight-hour workday is so much more exhausting than sitting through one to three-hour classes a few times a week. As students, we were able to attend multiple classes a day, go to whatever extracurricular activities you were a part of, maybe even clock in a couple of hours at your job (if you had one), go out all night friends, and finally hit the sheets well past midnight only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Now after working an eight-hour, I can barely keep my eyes open during the drive home. I now fully understand why my mom would be so upset when I would forget to take the chicken out of the freezer while she was at work. Sorry, mom! 

3. Being bombarded with the life-after-school questions is incredibly stressful

I can't even count the number of times I've been asked: "so what are you going to do now?". And my answer is always: "I don't know yet". This opens the door to being questioned even more about potentially going back to school, when do I plan to start "getting my life together", how can I have been in school all this time but I don't know what I want to do? Of course, I have dreams and aspirations I want to achieve, like everyone else. But, I haven't yet made the connection between having said dreams and achieving them.

I'm like a baby giraffe who's just been born: I haven't quite found my footing yet. Eventually, I'll get it, but for now...just let me stumble around. And why is it necessary to know exactly what I want to do right after graduation? Why isn't there an accepted grace period of sorts where graduates are allowed to mentally transition themselves from students to graduates? Where we can start to form a plan in our heads about what our next steps are before we're bombarded by family, friends, and strangers and we haven't even gotten our official diploma in the mail yet. 

4. There's a monkey on your back and its name is Student Loans

The weight of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of students loans is looming over me. So much so that sometimes I seriously contemplate applying to a doctoral program for the sole purpose of not having to worry about paying back my loans for another few years. What makes it even more worrisome is knowing you only have a couple of months after graduation to get your finances in order to begin paying them off.

Except most graduates won't have their finances together.

College doesn't teach you that. College doesn't teach you to learn about 401k plans and how to correctly file your taxes. Most graduates probably won't even have a job or a decent-paying job within the first couple of months or the first year.

Yet, we're racing against the clock to try and put together a well-established life within the next three to six months when not too long ago we were knocking back shots at the bar on Thirsty Thursdays and taking random 2 am trips to Walmart to buy things we didn't need. College definitely doesn't prepare you to deal with any type of financial situation once you're out, so debt repayment has to be the top three scariest aspects of post-graduation life. 

5. Getting a job in your field right after graduation is sometimes unrealistic

Tied in with paying back student debt is trying to secure a job. In my personal experience, nobody really talked about how exhausting and difficult job hunting is. Hours and hours of sitting in front of your computer and submitting application after application, completing assessments, scheduling and sitting down for interviews, waiting weeks to hear back only to be told that the company is considering other applicants.

Wash, rinse, repeat. For days, weeks, months, years.

Only to be rejected again and again and again. Each day your hopes of finding a job dwindle a little bit more and the worry of never securing a job kicks up. Until, if you're lucky, you finally get that call. And if you're luckier it's a position you really wanted doing work you really love. Some graduates are incredibly lucky to find work in their dream field right after college.

But for the majority of us, the hunt for a job we wouldn't mind or would love to do for the rest of our lives feels never-ending. 

6. Maintaining friendships will take a lot of time and effort

A big lesson I've learned is that maintaining all my friendships is very draining. Especially since pretty much all of them are long-distance at this point. I had to accept the fact that just because we don't talk every day anymore or no longer have the ability to spend all our free time does not mean we're not friends anymore.

We all have big kid responsibilities now and sometimes those get in the way. Who are we kidding--most of the time. Though, it is important to try and carve some time out to meet up with friends and be social. It is a seemingly impossible task, but it can be done. 

I miss all my friends terribly, but that just makes the time we do get spend together now even more memorable and meaningful. 

7. The world outside of University does not care about your GPA

As hard as I worked each year in school to increase my GPA and maintain good standing. None of the matters once you walk the stage. Nobody really cares if you were on Honor Roll or on the Dean's List. Most jobs just want to see if you finished your degree program or not and it doesn't matter if you had a 4.0 or 2.5. 

What does come in handy in your networking skills? A skill I never really mastered in college and am currently somewhat regretting. Although obtaining good grades and achieving different honors and awards is meaningful during your academic career--networking is probably the most important thing you can really accomplish as a student. 

8. Time marches on and self-doubt fills those empty Spaces

Life continues on and when your fellow classmates and friends begin to actually figure their own lives out and you're feeling like you're stuck in the same place those feelings can be incredibly hard to deal with. The doubt and insecurities are creeping in.

Maybe you're not as smart as all your professors and parents claimed you to be, maybe you're not as talented as you and your friends thought, maybe your goals are too unachievable. Maybe you really are a failure. How do you handle these emotions? How do you get rid of these feelings completely?

The general answer would be to stop comparing yourself to those around you, to focus on your smaller goals before tackling your bigger ones, to remember that life isn't racing and people arrive at their destinations at different times.

9. It's okay to be overwhelmed

These past few months have felt like life is literally running at me full force and I have no way of slowing it down or stopping it. There are so many decisions to make towards my future and many things are changing. I feel like I'm drowning sometimes. 

And that's okay. 

Transitioning into "real life" after college will be overwhelming. We're all just baby giraffes struggling to stand on our own two feet for the first time. It'll take a few tries, but eventually, we'll get the hang of it. It's important to not fall too deep into the dark abyss of feeling overwhelmed and learn when to pull yourself back.

Take a breather and start again. Even though it feels like everybody's expecting us to have everything figured out once the commencement ceremony ends, that's not going to happen. So, take your time and take a breath. 

So, what happens to me after I walk the stage? I haven't figured that out yet. But, the journey is also just beginning and I have to say...I'm just as nervous as I am excited about the possibilities of what's to come.

graduation pic
Image from Getty Images
A young writer on the journey to finding her voice and her purpose.

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