Navigating Your First Year After College

The decisions you make, big and small, in your first year after college will help set you up for future success. If you are still feeling uncertain, know that you’re not alone. Here are three pieces of advice to help you navigate life after graduation:

  1. Identify Your Goals

Whether you’re continuing your education, starting your career, or still trying to figure out your next steps, the transition can seem overwhelming. You may not have your life figured out the day after graduation, and that’s okay. A good starting point would be to establish post-grad goals that will serve as a framework for your post-college success:

  • Define what success means to you: Determine what you would like to accomplish personally, socially, financially, and professionally, and set your goals based on your desires.
  • Tie your goals to a timeline: Break larger goals into smaller milestones with set dates, so you can track and celebrate your progress.
  • Predict potential roadblocks: Think about any obstacles that may prevent you from achieving your goals and incorporate backup plans whenever possible.

After you have set goals, make sure to put them in writing. Jot down each objective and develop an actionable plan to achieve them. Remember that, while you may have a clear idea for how you would like things to play out, you shouldn’t get too caught up if you miss a milestone or start to get off track. Simply keep your end goals in mind and allow yourself to adjust your strategy when necessary.

  1. Sort Your Finances

Once you join the workforce, you may find that you have more money at your disposal. However, with this comes the responsibility of learning to manage your finances responsibly. Understanding how much you can afford to put toward each of your expenses will help you set a realistic budget and develop better spending habits. As you evaluate your financial situation, consider taking the following steps:

  • Know your financial obligations: List out expenses such as housing, student loan debt, and personal savings, which can impact your working budget.
  • Take note of discretionary spending: Identify areas where you may be able to cut back such as clothing, dining, or entertainment.
  • Check your credit score: Find ways to build and improve your score, so you have a better chance of qualifying for low-interest credit in the future.

It is also important to identify long-term objectives to help determine your budget. For instance, if you want to prioritize buying a home after college, you should first figure out if it’s a fiscally responsible decision. Building equity is important, but so is acknowledging the financial commitment of such a decision. If you’re serious about buying a house, you should research factors like your options for a down payment and the importance of getting pre-approved for a mortgage. Taking time to understand each step in the process will help you plan ahead and keep your finances organized for current and future expenses.

  1. Pursue Learning Opportunities

Learning doesn’t have to stop once you earn your degree, and it shouldn’t. In fact, pursuing learning opportunities after college can help you brush up on old skills, develop new skills, and even position you for the next job you want. Whether you are focused on professional development or simply looking to grow as an individual, you can broaden your skills and knowledge with the following:

  • Take free online courses: Research online webinars and courses that will allow you to fine-tune your skills without breaking the bank.
  • Read about your interests: Explore the library, read magazines, or research blogs to expand your knowledge on the topics that interest you most.
  • Find a mentor: Connect with a colleague at work or consider reaching out to a former professor or supervisor for career and life guidance.

You may even decide that you would like to further your education by applying to graduate school. This decision might depend on several factors such as your field of study, student loan debt, and intended career path. Regardless of what you decide, you should take this time in your life to explore and capitalize on any learning opportunities that come your way.

As you prepare to embark on this new chapter in your life, remember to give yourself a break. Figuring your life out will not happen overnight. But with sufficient planning and preparation, you will set yourself up for a successful transition into the professional world.

By Kristi Coleman
Kristi Coleman Director, Network Partnerships and Career Education - Career Services Network