What Every College Student Should Ask Themselves After Graduation

“Getting out of college isn’t as liberating or optimism-inducing as you remember high school graduation being.” But you can ease your stress and blaze your own trail.

By fongbeerredhot/Shutterstock
By fongbeerredhot/Shutterstock

Congratulations! The world is your oyster. You’re in your final days of a dual communications and math degree, you’re 99.2 percent certain to get your diploma (pending one linear algebra exam . . . it’s probably fine), and you have choices laid out in front of you. Sure, you may only end up making eighty-two cents for every dollar that Andy—your on-again-off-again boyfriend—will make, but you have an amazing group of friends, big aspirations for making the world a better place, and a heart that has never been broken—you are ready to take life by the horns.1 

Getting out of college isn’t quite as liberating or optimism-inducing as you remember high school graduation being—then, you were finally able to leave your insecurities, quarreling parents, and spotted-reputation behind—but it does seem like you have less baggage to shrug off from your 4.25 university years. Sure, you might have had an embarrassing public breakup, some common-room-vomit your freshman year, and a couple of exhausted meltdowns (mostly among friends). But those were pretty par for the course, and you feel like you won’t need to fully reinvent yourself in this next phase of life. 

That said, there have been an uncharacteristic number of pep talks in your life lately. There was the, admittedly, moving pre-graduation speech from the alumni who started his own global shipping company. Then the slightly less moving—but more predictable—lecture from your mom about paying back student loans and using birth control (the latter probably would have been more timely seven years ago). And finally, the most exciting (and most buzzed) “pep talk” from your BFF about the possibilities ahead. “Who rules the world?!” 

Those upcoming possibilities, while exciting, are actually pretty daunting in their limitlessness. It’s not completely lost on you—based on the Socioeconomics 101 class you took your freshman year and the Racial Anthropology series you conquered as a sophomore, not to mention the daily news cycle— that the mere fact that you have so many options is a result of privilege. 

The idea that you’re privileged was actually pretty counterintuitive to you the first time you encountered it; you felt like you’d had your share of struggles already handed to you. From your parents’ constant fighting (and eventually divorce) to a ten-month bout with an eating disorder, to that asshole who sent you into a shame spiral after groping you at your high-school senior year prank night. And the fact that you had to work at gigs like Pizza Mart and Toy Time since you turned sixteen (and were babysitting even before that) just to buy the outfits that would stave off ridicule. You wouldn’t have chosen privileged as one of the words to describe yourself. 

But fortunately, you’re of a slightly more enlightened generation than even your aunt Ashley’s (although she is only ten years older), and you’re days away from a liberal arts degree. So you now understand that the options that span out in front of you might not have been so expansive if you had experienced the systems of oppression that many of your classmates—and even more so, those who didn’t end up at this second-tier, yet respectable, college—have had to live with. You recognize that, and you really want to “be the change” that dismantles those systems. 

But first you want to celebrate graduation in your new party ensemble! And then you need to figure out where you’re going to be living next month. 

Your boyfriend Andy (or is that even too gracious a title for someone who makes time to make out, but only when other more exciting plans don’t come up?) is heading to law school on the East Coast in the fall. You have no interest in more school at this point, and he’s not exactly making the case for following him, so that option is off the table. 

Your BFF Sam has been bitten by wanderlust and is trying to talk you into traveling the world with her. Honestly, that sounds amazing, and you know that the number of college graduates who take a gap year before starting in on real life is on the rise, so crazier things have definitely happened. And you know there are some opportunities for teaching or working shorter term jobs, so it is not like you would be entirely without income while seeing the world. 

At the same time, the combination of your college debt and an unexplainable urge to prove yourself as some kind of “career woman” (although that title only makes you think of bad 90s businesswoman dramas!) is whispering in your other ear. Even with some sort of job internationally, you wouldn’t be paying down the loan principle at all, and so you would be coming back to even more debt to climb out of. There’s a career fair on campus tomorrow and a stack of edited resumes on the peeling Ikea desk in your apartment. 

There is no universal right answer here. In a recent survey, the paths out of college were pretty evenly split: 35 percent of people jump straight into their career after college, 32 percent take up to five years to get their career started, and 33 percent spend closer to ten years—or more—getting going. The average new graduate spends 7.4 months looking for their first job. 

Excerpted from Blaze Your Own Trail: An Interactive Guide to Navigating Life with Confidence, Solidarity and Compassion by Rebekah Bastian with permission from the author and publisher.

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