7 Tips to Get Your Life Together Post-Graduation

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You just graduated and everyone has their life together—except you. Amy lined up a job in Cali, and Samantha’s off to do research in the Amazon. The day after graduation, you unpack your stuff into your old room back home, complete with decade-old pop star posters on the walls, stuffed animals piled up in the corner and a neon bedspread that blinds your eyes. Your mom’s voice echoes up the stairs announcing that dinner is ready, and you realize your plans to get late-night drunk food probably won’t happen. You need to get out and start a new chapter of your life, but how?

1. Make a List of Goals

Forget what everyone else tells you—what do you want to do? Sit down, compile and list objectives you’d like to achieve. Maybe you want to travel the world before you start your big-boy job or join the Peace Core. Scribble down what you want to accomplish on a sticky note and put it up on your wall or in your planner. In a study published for Harvard University, S. Turkay said, “Achievement and motivation are increased by setting goals.” You gain an edge over everyone else by figuring out your career ambitions.

2. Rank Your Priorities

“I try to ask students—can you be candid with me? What are your aspirations? And if you can’t tell me exactly what your career focus is, then can you prioritize?” Penn State’s Head of the Office of Internships and Career Placement in the College of Communications Bob Martin said. Ever heard of Pareto’s principle, the 80/20 rule? It states that 20 percent of devoted effort is accountable for 80 percent of the end results. This means that out of that big list of tasks you need to complete, only 20 percent of it will essentially help you in the long run. For example, you wrote your to do-list for the day: Clean your apartment, apply to three jobs, workout, get drinks with friends and tan. If you feel stressed, sit down and decide which items on the list will benefit you in achieving your goals. So do some summer cleaning, cut back and figure out what really matters in your life.

3. Stay Open to Different Opportunities

Martin said that it’s important to know what you want to do in this very moment, not what you want to do 10 years from now.  If you have a one-track mindset, you could let countless possibilities pass you. Richard Dietz released a study in 2012 that said only 27 percent of college grads end up with a job related to their major. My father majored in Forestry at the University of Minnesota and became an estimator for a commercial waterproofing company. Martin graduated with a degree from Penn State in broadcast journalism and now advises students. “If someone told my younger self this is what I would be doing with my life, I would think it to be a joke,” Martin said. The truth is, you just don’t know. Take chances on the jobs you feel iffy about because they could open doors to your future.

4. Choose Your Location Wisely

Do you see yourself in a bustling city like New York or a small town in Montana? Martin said you need to eliminate your second and third choices and solely focus on your first choice. “Before you accept a job offer, know how the potential salary aligns with the cost of living in the area and how that might impact the amount of rent you can take on,” said Merdith Pritchard, Senior Banking Consultant and Manager of First National Bank’s innovative banking center in State College, PA. Make sure your setting and career path match up. First Tech Credit Union listed some things you need to consider when living on your own: moving expenses, security deposit, utilities, monthly bills and renter’s insurance. 

5. Budget Your Money

Are you drowning in debt, bobbing at the surface or walking off with your degree scot-free? Come up with a financial plan. Pritchard said, “We advise students to find a way to track every dollar that goes in and out. I recommend taking advantage of the innovative online and mobile banking tools that are available for a more automated, convenient process, but even if its just though paper and pen, you should pick a method that you are comfortable with and that you will actually use.” Plenty of websites exist to help you create your own budget, like Personal Finance @ Duke and What are the Benefits of Budgeting. Start now and it will pay off later. Is that venti Starbucks latte really worth $4.15 every day? Pritchard said, “The savings habits that you create now will serve as a foundation for financial independence now and in the future.” Your bank account will thank you.

6. Get a Reality Check

What is your financial situation? Career plans? Dream location? Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t attain them now. Try to look on the bright side, but don’t walk around with your head in the clouds. As long as you don’t live outside of your means, everything will fall into place. A poll done by Gallup in 2013 ranked 14 percent of people aged 24 to 34 in the U.S. still live with their parents. Yes, you might dread living at home right now, but it could be a blessing in disguise. While your friends live paycheck to paycheck, you live rent-free. Maybe you dream about writing a book or landing a movie deal. Get a job that will pay your bills first and then use your free time to draft your best-seller.

7. Make it All About You

Does it feel like someone just threw a cold bucket of water over your head to wake you up? That’s how I feel. After graduation, everyone asks the same question: What are your plans now? Don’t freak out—it’s just a question, don’t feel obligated to answer. Maybe you just want to relax, catch up on your favorite shows or get the body you had pre-freshmen 15 back. “You’re the one who is in control of your destiny. Don’t feel like you need to race to do things, you’ll know when it’s time,” said Martin. Many opportunities exist out there for you; you just need to take the time to find them. Don’t compare yourself to others; instead, focus on yourself and what you need to achieve your ambitions. At the end of the day, it’s all about you.

Senior at Penn State University studying broadcast journalism and Spanish. Avid foodie, gym rat, and writer.

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