Stay in School
Take it from someone who has been in the real world for all of two weeks—it’s cold out here, and there’s no going back.
By Karen Juarez, University of Illinois at Chicago
Although many of my friends congratulated me on my graduation, and I really do appreciate it from the bottom of my heart, please don’t tell me you’re jealous.
Really, every time I hear about the “envy” you feel, I want to scream. Why? I know the grass always looks greener on the other side, but trust me, you have it a lot better in college. I’ve only been out of school for a few weeks, but already I’m beginning to realize how good I had it before I walked the stage.
So, if you haven’t gotten a diploma yet, here are some of the issues that you don’t have to worry about yet, and trust me—boy are you blessed to still attend school.
1. Get a Move On
If you went to school in another state, or even if you’re just dorming at school, I’m sure it’s crossed your mind at some point what you will do when graduation comes along. There’s probably someone out there right now who just had an epiphany that involves not going back to their parents’ house; or, maybe you like the town you went to school, but don’t know if you should stay. Either way, whether you’re moving away or moving back home, the thought of relocation can be stressful.
While there is certainly a degree of anxiety that comes from living near school, it can’t be worse than trying to figure out where to go after graduation, especially if moving isn’t the only thing that has you stressed.
If you’re a junior, you still have another year to figure out where to move, but for graduating seniors who really don’t feel like moving back in with mom or dad, it can be hard switching living situations so suddenly. You’re scanning apartments and paying a close eye to the rent because probably, for the first time, you’ll be the one footing those bills. You also have to consider the part of town you move into, as it can be difficult to meet people if you live in an isolated area or a space devoid of community centers. Plus, you have to consider whether you want to cough up the cash for a single place or toss the dice with a Craigslist roommate who, by the way, does not have to abide by dormitory policies and may or may not ruin the next year of your life.
2. Get a Job
While most students have worked a variety of part- or full-time jobs during undergrad, graduation comes along and then surprise! The moment you went to school for, where you receive the paper that says “Feel free to hire me” is finally here. But shit does it feel scary. A thousand thoughts run through your head. Did you do enough internships? How are your references? When will you stop making minimum wage? Does anyone really want to hire you?
School keeps students from thinking about questions, simply because there’s no time. As a sophomore, while I was thinking of internships, I was more concerned with my immediate problems, such as essays I had yet to start, than I was with jumpstarting my career. But after walking the stage, getting hired becomes a real stress, and while there’s so much more free time now, the weight of still working for next to nothing starts to cave in on you. When the hell will my career start?
3. Making New Friends
I spent a lot of time at the library as an undergrad, but I also spent a lot of time with the friends I made at college. Whether it involved prepping for an exam and pulling all-nighters together, or sending good morning texts to the group chat, school brought everyone together. The reality of being in the same classroom or just a few doors down from your best friends is something I realized isn’t possible only once I had gone back home.
Sure, friendships that start in school can last long after big life transitions, but meeting each other for lunch before a lecture or grabbing a coffee before hitting the library will never happen again. School brings people together, and, especially when you’re the first to graduate, it’s painful to not be within proximity of your friends.
4. Plan Your Future
Maybe you don’t have any plans, or maybe your only plan was to get through school and graduate, but is graduating all you really want to do? With all the free time you have now, you also have a lot of time to think. Do you want to work, or are you planning to go back to graduate school sometime in the near future? Maybe work isn’t even your issue. Maybe you want to marry or start a business. Making a plan is what I think stresses everyone out, especially if you haven’t thought about it yet.
Even for students who graduated middle school with their life plans laid out, graduating college can throw a wrench into their gears. Everything happens more slowly in the real world, so if you were planning to get a certain job and were unable to, now, instead of making an about-face overnight, you’re looking at weeks, if not months, of cobbling together a new plan. Very few graduates have everything together when they graduate, and the ones who are only delaying their self-crisis a few years. At this time in your life, everyone around you is either hopelessly lost or is one bad job away from realizing that they’re hopelessly lost. So relax.
5. Debt Central
There was a guy at graduation whose cap read “Game of Loans, the Interest Is Coming.” And holy shit is he right. There’s a looming anxiety whenever someone mentions money after graduating. It’s very true that graduates are drowning in loans, and, along with these loans comes work and moving. In fact, money is what gives all these questions answers.
Still, whether you landed a post-grad gig or not, you’ll be facing debt, in different forms, for the rest of your life.
It may start as student loan debt, but eventually you’ll take on mortgages, loan payments for cars and other serious financial investments. The prospect of repaying tens of thousands of dollars is certainly an unseemly one, but it’s a fact of modern life.
Fortunately, until you’ve graduated, the world contrives to keep you relatively sheltered from this reality. You could argue that forcing you to take out massive loans and then shielding you from the attendant responsibilities is somewhat unfair, but, at the end of the day, at least you have four years of blissful living. So enjoy it. As soon as you graduate, the credit sharks come swimming.
6. Embrace the Anxiety
You may think you’ve experienced anxiety as an undergrad, but you don’t know true fear until graduation itself arrives. The sense of finality that the experience promises, though it comes with the euphoria of crossing the finish line, also means that you’re done. There is no more changing majors, no more adding concentrations and no more networking.
You will never have another undergraduate experience; even if you return for another bachelor’s degree, your collegiate cherry has been popped. The weight of wondering whether you made the right choices finally begins to register, and a new breed of self-doubt, one that you hadn’t yet experienced, sets in. You begin to realize that the last four years will be your “college years” for the rest of your life, and that what you did and didn’t do are now forever set in stone. Regret, much?
Part of the anxiety stems from a newfound restlessness. Yes, returning home after graduation and lounging on the couch for a week sounds luxurious, but you’ll quickly begin to feel listless. The rat race that had kept you stimulated for nearly two decades has been run, and now you have nothing to do, no achievements to seek and no guideposts to aim for. Yes, you have the prospect of a new career and perhaps postgraduate education, but school as you know it is now permanently in the rear-view mirror.