So you've graduated from college, now what? Here are 7 tips for the recent graduate breaking into the "real world"
Becoming an adult definitely has its not-so-glamorous moments. The struggle of finding a job that fulfills both financial and personal needs, stressing about student loan payments and understanding the balance of being young and having fun, yet staying professional and responsible makes stepping into adulthood more awkward than your first day of middle school.
However, take heart: it really isn't all that bad and it will get better. Here are 7 tips on how to make the transition into adulthood less painful.
Movies Tell the Tale for Each Generation
In the sixties, it was “The Graduate” featuring a young Dustin Hoffman as an aimless recent college graduate. The eighties spawned “St. Elmo’s Fire” starring the Brat Pack as Georgetown graduates in search of the meaning of life.
However, one movie title summed up the post college experience perfectly. “Reality Bites,” released in 1994, tells the story of four friends navigating the land of the newly graduated. One lost soul named Sammy (played by Steve Zahn) has trouble even conceptualizing what it is he wants out of life: "My goal is ...I'd like a career or something."
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No one wants to become a Sammy. Unfortunately, despite several years of higher education (and the student loan debts to prove it), far too many young adults have trouble finding themselves. Scientists have a term for feeling unprepared for the real world: “immaturity.” The only cure for it is time and experience.
In fact, according to an MIT report, “…the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s.” Nonetheless, young adults owe it to themselves (and their parents) to begin building a life of their own. The tips for how you do it:
1. Clean Up Your Act
Increase your online profile using social media sites for professionals, such as LinkedIn. At the same time, sanitize other social media sites so they provide no fodder for potential employers to question your suitability for a job. You can still have fun, just be more adult (and discreet) about it.
2. Get a Job
Make finding employment your job. Create a stellar yet authentic resume (plenty of online sources for doing this exist) and carefully proofread it several times. Create a great cover letter that introduces yourself as a person. Be polite but persistent and make follow-up contact after preparing and sending a resume. Remember, you are competing against other people for the job.
Searching for employment means being ready for impromptu interviews at any time, in any situation, so present yourself well whenever possible, because you never know when the person you meet may have the perfect job for you. First jobs may not be the all-encompassing, dream-fulfilling experiences hoped for by many new graduates. However, if it pays the bills, it should be enough, for at least the near future.
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3. Obtain Insurance
This is a must-do for your car, your home, and your health. You may not think you have much to lose right now, but think about the real costs of replacing the things you have. If you are unemployed, you have options for health coverage, and no matter what your job status is, if you do not have car insurance, you should not drive. You may end up paying for your lack of insurance for the rest of your life.
4. Establish a Sound Credit History
Even if living with parents is the only option, take steps to create financial health. Get a credit card and use it wisely, which means not using it to support a lavish lifestyle. Keep close tabs on all financial activity, from credit cards to bank statements, to protect against identity theft.
Additionally, pay your bills promptly and in full whenever possible. Paying only credit card bill minimums detrimentally affects your credit score, takes a long time, costs a lot in interest payments, and can quickly bury you in debt.
5. Save Money
Start saving your money, even if you feel like you have none, in the following areas:
- Retirement (seriously) through 401(k) plans
- Automatic savings account payroll deductions
- A fun fund for vacations that will offer life-long memories
- An emergency fund to fall back on
- Aim for a savings rate of at least 10% per paycheck
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6. The Student Loan Debacle
For most new graduates, paying off student loans looms large. When you signed the promissory note for your loans, you agreed to a repayment schedule. Experts differ on whether paying off student loan debt early is a good idea. If you are lucky enough to handle making an early payoff, a 2014 Forbes article recommends considering:
- Interest rates: paying off higher rate loans first saves money in the future
- Loan forgiveness through an employer or if you are eligible through a federal program
- Sufficient income to pay off loan debt and save money for emergencies and retirement
All the considerations involve weighing of many factors within each category, so carefully consider your student loan payment plans.
7. Talk To A Professional
Being fiscally responsible at a young age may sometimes make you feel a bit deprived, but you will thank yourself in 10 or 20 years. A financial planner can look at your economic situation, including employee retirement benefits and your savings, and help you understand what else you need to do to ensure a comfortable lifestyle and retirement.
Now For the Good News
The good news is that things are now brighter for recent graduates than they were just a few years ago, according to Marketplace:
- The 2014-2015 hiring rate for college graduates increased 16 percent from the previous year
- Many employers offer new hires a signing bonus
- Average wages for graduates run from $45,000 for humanities BAs, up to more than $80,000 for petroleum engineers
Life is a journey, so get ready for the ride, grasp your responsibilities, and then make the most of all the experiences coming your way.