What job should I apply for after college? Should I go to grad school? Am I ready for the real world? How will I find a job amid a pandemic?
These questions and more are what graduating college students might be pondering. Whether you graduate next semester or have a few years to go, thinking about the future can be stress-inducing. While it’s important to think about your next steps, it’s also crucial to remember that there is no “set timeline” for life. There is no “correct” way to finding a career and no perfect age to reach your goals.
The Path to Happiness After College Is Different for Everyone
Currently, the socially approved agenda for individuals is graduating with a good degree, finding a 9-5, starting a family and settling down by the age of 30. This predestined sequence of events is an outdated ideal that puts unnecessary pressure on college students.
It is expected that by the end of a students’ four years of college, they should know exactly what they want to do in life. This is an unrealistic idea, especially when young adults in their 20s are still figuring out who they are and exploring the passions they had to stifle growing up. More than that, students who want to pursue the fine arts or social sciences are frequently told that there’s little value in those professions. It is imperative that our generation rewrites this narrative and gets rid of these old-fashioned beliefs.
Historically, some of the most well-respected and successful individuals have dropped out of college or never started to begin with. Household names like Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, Rachel Ray, Steve Jobs and more forfeited an education to move directly into pursuing the things that they love.
Now this isn’t saying you should leave college just because your favorite celebrity dropped out of high school. However, it is good to remind yourself that getting where you want in life takes time and consideration. Finding a career that you enjoy and will be successful in should be thoughtfully planned out, not decided the night before a grad school application is due.
It’s Not Just About Money
While it’s been found that education level is positively correlated with higher income, money isn’t the only thing individuals should strive for after college. Accomplishing goals, traveling to different places, cultivating positive relationships and finding a job that truly makes you happy are other alternatives to the “get rich or die trying” lifestyle that our society pushes for.
Success looks different to every person and can be achieved in an endless amount of ways. There’s no “one size fits all” recipe for being successful. Finding a “real” job after college could be detrimental to your growth as an individual and could keep you from taking the time to figure out what you really want to do. Furthermore, there are no rules that say financial stability must be acquired from only one income. Exploring and taking on various jobs could be another way to keep life interesting while building a retirement fund.
Whether you’re graduating in a month or in four years, reflecting on what you’re good at and what you like doing is crucial to your future well-being. This process could take an hour, a week or a month but it’s important to sit down and ponder these sentiments. Try making a 5-year plan and refer back to it when you feel overwhelmed about plans after college.
Also consider taking advantage of the resources your university provides — like guidance counselors, job fairs or career centers. There you might find aptitude tests, grad school resources, job requirement indexes and individuals in various fields that could spark new inspiration. If you have COVID-19 concerns and can’t access these assessments or events in person, there are a variety of free online tests and virtual job fairs you can explore to see which career might best suit your interests.
Instead of stressing out about what the next big thing is after college, think about other tasks you can focus on now that will add more value to your life. This could be spending time with distant family, volunteering in your community or even something as simple as nurturing your mental health with a bit of self-care. When you start with these small things, the future becomes a little less discouraging.
If you’re still worried that you won’t have enough time after college to find your dream job before financial hardships and student loans start piling up, exploring different possibilities now could save you time later. Seek out the internship you’ve been contemplating, create the small business you’ve always wanted and try spending time with people who embody your life goals. Doing these things won’t guarantee a certain future, but it might help get you closer to finding a profession you’re passionate about.
As a senior who is graduating this spring with no solid plans for grad school or job prospects, I can stress myself out overthinking about the ambiguity of life after college. When I start feeling like this, I envision what I want my life to look like in 15 years and know that everything that happens in between will work itself out. Realigning your values, doing a little research and taking a deep breath are small but easy first steps to take when feeling overwhelmed about your future.
No matter what job (or jobs) you intend on having after undergrad, worrying about it only takes time and energy away from creating a plan and exploring different career paths. Life after college shouldn’t be a daunting task, but rather a new adventure to embark on. Carefully consider your options — after all, there is no rush to getting where you’re meant to be in life.