So You’ve Graduated College… What’s Next for You? Eight Critical Issues Facing New Grads

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Graduating from college is a major milestone. Congratulations on the achievement. So, what’s next for you after college? What does your future hold? Some students see college as a major goal, when in reality it is simply a stepping stone to other future life achievements. Part of the adventure is really figuring out who you are and what you value. For typical twenty-somethings, graduating from college is the final move (or leap) into adulthood.

So what’s next for you after college? Here’s a list of the eight critical issues you need to deal with as you move onward with your life in your transition from college to career.

Your Next Life Decision: Career A or Career B

Did you know that even many college grads still aren’t sure what they specifically want to do in their careers? Even if you are sure, guess what? Career experts predict the average person will switch careers (not jobs) four to five times over his or her lifetime.

Where do you go from here? How about finding your life’s passion — or at least your current life passion. Take our Workplace Values Assessment and see about the values you cherish most.

If you majored in a subject that you loved, but one that you have no idea what to do with in terms of a career — or you simply have no real career focus — head over to our Career Exploration section, where you’ll find useful tools and resources to help you with career choices and direction.

Your Next Career Step: Job or Graduate School

For some of you, the career you want to pursue requires a graduate degree; others may take the plunge into graduate studies to avoid a bad job market — or to just avoid a job.

If you are job-hunting, the most important piece of advice is for you to develop a job-search strategy. You will not be successful just “winging it.” Take a spin on our free Job Search 101 tutorial. It lists the 10 things you need to know and do to land your first job — designed for college students and recent college grads.

If you’re thinking graduate school, you should head over to our great collection of Graduate School Resources. You’ll discover articles, resources, and information on finding grad programs, graduate placement exams, criteria for choosing grad programs, and much more.

Finally, you can find lots of other job and grad school advice in this collection of articles written especially for you: College Student/Entry-Level Job-Seeker Articles.

Your Next Place to Live: Apartment or Living with Mom and Dad

A recent graduate who had planned to move into an apartment far from home upon graduation just changed his plans — and is now moving back home on a trial basis in what he refers to as a “nightmare.”

Where will you live upon graduation?

Living at home — assuming you still can — certainly has some advantages: low (or no) rent, home-cooked meals, laundry service, and all utilities included for free. The downside? They’re your family, which means even though you are now an adult, your folks and siblings are still going to treat you the same way. Another recent grad talks about her folks trying to set rules about curfews and dating. Can you imagine bringing a date back to your parent’s house for the evening? For some short advice on the subject, read: 10 Tips for Moving Back In with Your Parents After College.

Living in an apartment, either by yourself or with some roommates, certainly has its advantages: freedom to do what you want, privacy (up to a point), and a sense you are really an adult because you are living on your own. The downside? Mainly a lot of payments — rent, phone, cable, utilities (unless included in rent) — plus, you’ll need to do your own cooking and laundry. If you choose apartment living, you’ll want to be sure to plan carefully, deciding on where you want to live, the kinds of amenities you want (tennis courts, laundry facilities, clubhouse, etc.), how much you can afford to pay per month, the age of residents in the complex, and detailed information about leases and upfront costs (usually first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit). Find some great apartment living resources in this section from Apartment Living.

Your Next Home Town: Staying Nearby or Moving Away

Regardless of whether you move back with your parents, stay nearby, or move across the country, you’ll need to take care of some important issues.

First, you’ll need to officially change your address with credit card companies, student loan providers, magazines, etc. You’ll also need to change (or get a new) driver’s license, car registration, and voter registration.

Second, if where you’re living is new to you, you’ll want to locate banks or credit unions, public transportation, post offices, grocery stores, malls, movie theatres, restaurants, places of worship, gas stations, etc. Get some maps (try the local Chamber of Commerce or realtor… or go online to Google Maps or and become familiar with your new neighborhood and surrounding areas.

Third, you’ll probably want to subscribe to the local newspaper, consider joining one or more community or civic organizations (both for volunteering and for networking), find your local alumni association club, and one or more professional organizations.

For help with relocation, check out these Job-Seeker Relocation Resources. And if you don’t have a job yet, definitely read our article, New City, New Job: How to Conduct a Long-Distance Job Search.

Your Next Budgeting Issue: New Car or Paying Off Student Loans/Credit Cards

The most important lessons here are that your paycheck will always be smaller than you think it will be AND you will always have more expenses than you think you do.

If you’ve never had to plan a budget, now may be the time to do so. Start with your net income — your “take home” pay — the money left over after taxes, social security, etc. are deducted from your gross pay. Next look at essential bills: rent, utilities (electricity and water), telephone, cell phone, transportation, and food. Now add credit card payments, student loan payments, and any other loan payments. What you have left is your discretionary income, which you can use for savings, investing, and entertaining.

Nellie Mae, a leading national provider of higher education loans, reports that the average student loan debt load of college graduates is $30,000 — and quite higher for grad students. They also report that many college grads leave college with fairly high credit card debt. Other sources report recent college grads as living beyond their means.

Your Next Finance Goals: Spending Now or Investing for the Future

We baby boomers are just now learning the value of investing for the future — and wishing we had done so right out of college. The earlier you start putting money aside for retirement, the sooner you’ll be able to retire — or the more money you’ll have in retirement.

But it’s not just retirement savings that’s important. You need to be saving and investing for future major purchases, such as cars and houses.

Your employer may have some retirement and investing options, such as 401Ks and a stock purchase plan, but you should also look at the many options available to you. Read Investing for Beginners, from See also: Retirement Planning from The Motley Fool.

Your Next Insurance Issue: Health, Auto, Life, Apartment or Else

Now that you’re out on your own, you have to deal with the insurance issue. There is no question that there are advantages to different types of insurance; however, be sure you are paying only for the insurance you require.

Most employers offer health and life insurance — and most experts recommend taking advantage of the prices you can get from group rates through your employer. And under flex plans, the costs are deducted from your paycheck before taxes, saving you more money.

And, of course, if you have a car, you’ve been paying insurance (or someone has), and you’ll need to continue to do so. But what about apartment/renters insurance? Apartment insurance policies protect the contents of your apartment should something go wrong. It’s usually pretty cheap and often a wise investment.

Check out this pdf: Health Insurance 101: A Step-by-Step Guide for College Students and Recent Grads.

Your Next Concern: Dealing with Success or Failure

And now back to your career. Just as first impressions are critical with job-hunting, your first days on the job are important in establishing a reputation for yourself with your boss and co-workers. And as time goes on, you’ll want to quickly prepare yourself for dealing with office politics, for dealing with good and bad bosses, and for marketing yourself within the organization. You should also consider finding a mentor within the company — and perhaps one outside the company.

Ready for a lesson? Read our article, Moving Up the Ladder: 10 Strategies for Getting Yourself Promoted.

Finally, remember that a job is only a job. You may succeed wildly, or you may have troubles. Enjoy the good times and try not and fret about the bad. All of us will change jobs and careers multiple times — and most of us will be fired/downsized/rightsized at least once in our lives.

Other Great College Grad Resources

Here are some other great resources to help you with achieve a successful future life after graduation — to help you make the transition from college to career as smooth as possible for you.



Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Founder Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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