Starting Life After College

Students moving tassels over at college graduation.

Life after college is largely what you make it.  The problem is, there isn’t a manual anywhere that tells us all how to make it great!  What a bummer!


If you find yourself nearing the end of your college career, or if you’ve already finished school but need to hit the “reset” button on the whole “life after college” thing, then this post is for you.


Being in your early twenties is just hard.  You’re trying to figure out your career direction, you probably aren’t swimming in money, and to top it all off, no one in your family seems able to have a conversation with you without asking “So are you dating anyone?”


I can’t necessarily help you there, but I can give you some help in the area of your money and your career.  If you follow these principles, then your graduation will be a launching pad into life after college instead of a trip and fall.


Have Debt? Pay it Off.


First things first here.  If you’re graduating with debt, there’s no better time than now to get rid of it.


The average amount of student loan debt for college grads in recent years has crept up over $37,000.  That’s not something you need to just pay the minimum on and forget about for the next 10-20 years.  That’s a weight around your ankle while you’re drowning.  The sooner you get rid of it, the sooner you’ll be free to build wealth!


I’m not just talking about student loans, but credit cards and cars and anything else you’ve accumulated this far.  Why?  Because while you may not have the highest income after graduation, your income is, and always will be, your number one tool for building wealth.  The longer you go with portions of it paying off loans, the longer it’ll take you to build wealth.


This would be a great time to just continue living like a college student, cheaply.  Roll up your sleeves, pay extra on your balances like crazy, and set a goal to be debt free in two years or less.  Think that sounds crazy?  I did it, you can too.


Don’t Have Debt? Start Investing.


If you have managed to make it to life after college debt-free, congratulations!  You have an AMAZING opportunity to become a millionaire.


When it comes to investing, time and consistency are the keys.  You’ll never have more time ahead of you than you do right now, so take advantage!  If your job offers a 401(k) or other retirement plan, put funds in it.  If not, then open a Roth IRA. The money you put away now will multiply exponentially over the long haul.  Don’t let retirement be a distant thought just because you’re in your twenties.  Make it a priority now and thank me later.  If you’re debt-free, I suggest investing a minimum of 10% of your income in a retirement account, and up to 15% if at all possible.  If you can go crazy and do even more, then I won’t be mad at you.


Don’t Wait For the Dream Job


Perhaps the hardest part of the transition from college to life after college is the job search.  Let me encourage you that the value of your life and your education aren’t determined by whether you land an amazing job right away.


Let’s face it.  After graduation, you’re still a young adult in your early twenties who’s largely unproven.  And that’s ok.


What’s important is that you just get going somewhere so you can prove yourself.  Explore opportunities, but don’t turn down good ones waiting for THE one.  Just get started.  Once you do take on a position, the next step is to…


Kill it at Your Job, Humbly.


Arrive early.  Work a few minutes late.  Smile.  Be fun to be around.  Work extremely hard, and seek to learn.


A mistake too many of us millennials make is that we go into a job and try to appear like an all-star from day one.  Don’t try to have all the answers, and don’t try to hide your weaknesses.  Seek help from your superiors from a place of wanting to improve, and you’ll quickly gain their respect.


I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  At your first job, EVERYONE knows it’s your first job.  They can tell it just like you could always tell a freshman their first week on campus.  You might as well have a lanyard with your student ID hanging around your neck and a campus map in your hands.  This is where humility comes in.


What will impress your superiors is not you acting like a hot shot who’s gunning for promotion.  You’ll be more promotable if you are humble, ask good questions, and give it your best every day.  A person who comes to work like that every day for a year or two either gets promoted or offered better opportunities elsewhere.  It’s amazing how great opportunities seem to come to people who just get this spirit right.


Watch Your Social Life


I’m not about to lecture you on watching your restaurant spending, although you should.  What I’m addressing here is the emotional wall some people hit in life after college.


The social pace of your life drastically changes when you go from college to a regular job schedule.  You need to be aware of this, because it can really affect you emotionally if you were super socially connected while in school.  Have a plan to stay connected to your closest friends who bring value to your life.


If you can keep these good friendships healthy in your first year out of school, you’ll avoid the emotional let-down that happens to so many when they leave the fast-paced college social scene.  A happier you means a healthier and more upbeat you in the workplace.  A more upbeat you in the workplace means more potential for promotion, and more optimism so you can dream of ideas for your future career/businesses.


Fight the Pressure to Buy a House


It happens almost instantly.  After graduation, you’ll start hearing from an older co-worker or your goofy Uncle Bob (both of whom aren’t wealthy) that you need to quit wasting money on rent and buy a house.


I don’t think this is the best idea for the vast majority of college students because of two things.


First off, you’re in a very hectic season of life.  SO much can change in your early twenties.  You could get married, find new job opportunities, move to the jungle or buy a puppy.  All of these will drastically affect your living situation, and I’d rather you not be tied to a house you JUST bought while making these decisions.  You need to be free in this season.


Secondly, renting isn’t wasting money if you’re in a reasonably priced situation.  You’ve got enough responsibility with your new job and lifestyle to worry about.  It’s adding unnecessary stress to throw home ownership in the works.  I’d rather you save the leaking roofs and busted water heaters for a few years when you’ll be more ready.


Welcome to the real world!


I often hear people refer to college or their younger years as “the best years of my life.”  I couldn’t disagree more.


First off, that sure seems like a lot of years of sucky life to look forward to.  But more than that, I think you can live by these principles to set yourself on a path to reach your full potential.


Follow these steps, manage your money with intentionality and clear goals, and you’ll find that the best years of your life can always be in front of you!

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