What Comes after Graduation?
Surely, on the day you received your admission letter to college, you looked forward to the moment you would cross the graduation stage victoriously and accept your diploma. You then pursued a degree that would immediately secure a job you were interested in. You plan on living roommate free and being financially independent, never needing anything from anyone because a few years later in this dream life after college, you plan on making a healthy median income.
Now you find yourself in the days following that very graduation celebration and the path from A to B is thickly forested. You knew there would be choices (and were excited about that), but no one told you that none of them would come with ease.
After some practice, you’ve formulated an answer for the infamous “what now” question that everyone seems to be asking, but underneath the surface, you have 101 other worries that are quickly pushing you towards the emerging “quarter-life crisis.” If you are nodding your head in agreement, you are not alone.
While there is no one-size-fits all strategy to ensure absolute happiness and success (because that definition changes as much as we do), if you use the following suggestions as your checklist, you can have peace of mind that you’re getting everything under control.
Tips for Owning Your Life after College:
Find a Job
If anything was ever to be described as easier said than done, it is this for a college graduate. Remove some emotion from your job search by setting a realistic timeline and realizing that it is a numbers game. The number of resumes you submit will yield interviews, the amount of interviews you go on will produce second and third interviews, and once you’ve been on so many of those, you should have a job offer in hand. If it’s possible, start your search before you finish school.
Remember to go in with an updated resume, research possible questions and practice answering ahead of time, and be prepared with questions of your own. You should be examining the company as much as they are examining you. After all, a job offer isn’t worth much if you’ll be unhappy shortly after signing on.
That being said, be open to different possibilities and value any job that offers you the opportunity to learn and grow and add to your resume. Even if your degree gives you an edge, you may need to accept paying your dues in a position that will act as a stepping stone to where you ultimately see yourself. From experience, I can tell you that after you have a few jobs under your belt, what you think you want and what truly fulfills you will align and your direction will become clear.
To help this process along, start by expanding the net you cast. Apply to any position that matches your skill set. After all the skills you have taken the time to develop may more clearly identify where your passion lies than a title, company, field, industry, or salary.
Become an Expert in Student Loans
If through luck or hard work you were able to escape college without any student loans, feel free to skip along to the next section. For the rest of you, even before you have a job in hand, it would be wise to turn part of your focus to your finances, namely student loans. Depending on the amount you borrowed, your student loan repayment will be ranging anywhere from under $100 a month to over $800 a month. Either way, it must be addressed in your monthly budget and better understood before it balloons into overwhelming debt.
Student loans are notorious for being overly complicated. Not only are they often listed as multiple debts, but they also have varying interest rates. Comprehending how that interest works is a big step in managing and successfully repaying your debt.
Take the first step by contacting a certified credit counselor (usually accessible through nonprofit credit counseling agencies), calling your loan servicer to speak with a customer service representative, or logging into your online loan account and reading any information available. Using these resources, you’ll not only want to ensure that your repayment plan is affordable but also as efficient and effective as possible.
If you’re interested in paying down your student loan faster, you can try two strategies (or combine the two.) First, you can split your total monthly payment in half and pay that every other week. This won’t add much more strain, but by the end of the year you would have made an extra payment.
Another common strategy is to make extra payments to the loans with the highest interest rates, similar to the avalanche repayment method used for credits cards. Utilizing one or both of these tips will cut down the amount of time you spend repaying your debt by reducing the amount of interest you pay on those loans.
Take Hold of the Future
Once you have an income and have learned how to budget your basic expenses including your student loan repayment, you’ll want to set up a savings and investment plan with whatever you may have left over. Typically the goal is to contribute 10% of your income to each of these categories.
While a savings fund will provide you stability in your month to month finances, investing will have you taken care of later on in life and the sooner you get started, the better.
Build a Savings
There are many savings options out there. Be sure and research which one is best for you. You may see the appeal in an online savings account because of its high-yield interest rate (a percentage of your balance the bank adds to your account as a benefit.) Perhaps you’d rather start a savings with a local credit union because of the convenient access to your money and their face-to-face service.
Many consumers are also now opting to save using apps because they are often calculated and automated to make the progress towards your savings goal effortless and affordable. If you feel a bit anxious about getting started, take comfort in knowing there are few ways to go wrong and a hundred ways to get it right. Just begin where you are with what you have.
Learn to Invest
If you’ve looked into investing prior to reading this post, you’re probably aware of the never-ending list of strategies out there. Here, we are only describing level one investing.
The most common way to invest is to enroll in your company’s 401(k) or 403(b) program. You can immerse yourself in research and be very involved in the process, or you can choose to select the amount you will contribute and the funds you desire to invest in and let your company’s representative take care of the rest.
If this benefit is not accessible through your company, consider building a portfolio with a trusted financial institution that offers low fees, such as one-time trade fees (less than $5). Investment plans which include an account manager who provides direction can be helpful if ongoing fees are minimal (less than 1%.)
As I’ve researched investing, it’s clear there are some widely preached principles to keep in mind. They are as follows:
1. Start as soon as you can
2. Have a goal of investing 10% of your income or more.
3. If you have a 401(k) or 403(b) option, contribute enough to earn your company’s matched amount.
4. The younger you are, the more risk you can afford
5. Build a diversified portfolio (don’t put all your eggs in one basket)
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Take heed to these, add an increasing awareness of economic trends, and you will have a strong foundation for financial growth.
Stick to Your Life Goals
What I read about all too often is of people in their 20s who have postponed their dreams because of a misconception of their present financial state. People like you, who wonder about traveling, moving out, getting married, buying a home, or starting a family.
For every one of those stories, there is one about someone who doubled down and did it. Set your goal, create a budget, build a savings plan, research resources, and slay that career. You can achieve what you want even living within your means.
As you work hard and sacrifice, you’ll find life likes to interject obstacles, and you may not always accomplish your goals in your timeline. However, far more inhibiting to your success than these challenges will be your lack of action.
Commit, pursue, and reap the rewards reserved for those who won’t take no for an answer.
Debt Reduction Services, Inc.
Do You Have Questions About or Suggestions on Surviving Life After College?
We check our articles and blog posts for new comments and make it a priority to respond quickly.
If you’d like more information on managing your finances after graduation, smart ways to repay your student loan, or have tips to share with others, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer right away!