Some two years ago, I found myself at the cusp of young adulthood—graduating college but still not entirely sure what I was doing after the final chapter of my structured education came to an end.
As a typically, incredibly anxious person who doesn’t fare well without long-term plans, I had plenty to be freaking out about as a graduating college senior. I had applied to several scholarship programs to teach English abroad for a gap year before kickstarting my career. However, it would be months before I’d get a confirmation for any one of them, and it was possible that I wouldn’t hear back at all.
I was left in planning limbo and didn’t have much power over my post-graduation life.
Like most graduates, my senior year was a time of anxious waiting at the mercy of an HR department or recruiter. My college career was a predictable map created for me by academic advisors, but what lay beyond was nothing short of a mystery.
College students today are faced by a multitude of academic and personal pressures that lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. There’s been an increase in students seeking mental health services at colleges and an uptake in awareness efforts in response. While stress in the months leading up to graduation can lead to more serious mental health problems, some level of concern is completely normal.
Now, with some years and distance between my college graduation and now, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my concerns back then that at the time seemed ever-looming and immense.
Here are a few conclusions and tips I reached after going through the stressful period myself!
1. Redirect Energy into Boosting Your Resume, Not Stressing About it
What’s done is done, and if you missed doing an internship the summer after freshman year, there’s no sense worrying about it now. While there’s always room to craft stronger personal statements, cover letters, and resumes, your past experience is already said and done.
If you are feeling anxious about a sparse looking resume, use the last few months you have left in college to do something about it. Whether that’s taking a project in class to the next level, doing an internship during your free time, or taking initiative to establish a new organization on campus, there’s always some way to amp up your qualifications.
2. Remember That the Friends Who Matter Will Still Be Your Friends
In the final months of my undergraduate career, I could already feel the slight nostalgia kick in. I realized that my tight-knit friend group would soon be dispersed around the county. College is one of the few places where you’re surrounded by hundreds of like-minded young people day and night.
Although it’s not easy to move on from that, my true friends from college still remain my support group today. Even the long-distance friends will only be a phone call or flight away.
3. Realize Most People Still Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up
Loved the major, loved the people, loved the experience, but graduated with still no clue what to do as a life-long career. It’s a common narrative and I would offer is the case with most college grads with whom I’ve rubbed shoulders.
Millennials are known as the “Job Hopping Generation”, meaning that they’re changing jobs much more often than their older coworkers. But that's not a bad thing.
If you don’t dream of working in a specific department or corporation for the rest of your life, that shouldn’t be cause for anxiety! Many (and I mean many) people end up working jobs completely unrelated to what they studied in college. Even if you do have a good idea of what you would like to do, it’s not until you start working the job that you can really know what it’s like.
So don’t sweat it. Be intentional in your decisions, work hard, and you’ll get closer to what really makes your heart smile by process of elimination.
4. Don’t Be Hasty in Your Post-College Decisions
The landscape for grads today looks much different than it did just a decade ago in the midst of the Great Recession. Although the economy isn’t a concern for young adults now in the job hunt, that’s also no reason to brush off post-college life until it smacks you in the face.
Your decisions now will largely affect where you end up in 5 or even 10 years from now, so think carefully about what your next move will be. Otherwise, you may get stuck in a company or job that will make you miserable or derail your career.
In a strange twist of events, I ended up working in digital marketing two years after studying business tourism and having been convinced that I wanted to work facilitating study abroad programs for college students. Life is weird, but it’s obvious to see which decisions led me to where I am today. So, I would argue life is also predictable if you make purpose-driven decisions.
5. YOLO Every Last Minute of College (Responsibly)
You’re only in your early 20s and a first-time undergraduate once! Be responsible and get all your post-college ducks in a row during your last year.
However, you also shouldn’t forget to savor every moment with your college community. Soak in the controversy of protests. Climb up buildings in the middle of the night. Be spontaneous. Say yes to every hang out (with the right crowd). Make memories, because you won’t be able to turn back the clock.
Does anyone want to look back at their youth and have it masked by concern and stress? My guess is no.
Admittedly, life nips you in unavoidable ways and there are always unescapable responsibilities of work and family. However, if you’re confident you did your darn best throughout your college career, why stress about what could have and should have been?
Embrace the time you have left and look forward to the future to achieve your next big goals.
By: Raquel Thoesen
I have more interests than I ever know what to do with, but at the moment I’ve settled down in Phoenix after a year-long stint teaching in Germany. When I’m not working my day job in digital marketing, you can find me perfecting my German, planning an eccentric trip abroad, or trying out the next big exercise craze.
I love greeting strangers on morning runs, petting dogs, and all things matcha.