You’ve Graduated and Got the Diploma–What’s Next?

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Graduation has come and gone, and we used-to-be seniors are being forced into the real world whether we like it or not. For some that means job offers or grad school acceptance letters. Looking back on all those awkward undergrad moments, you realize they were some of the best. This chapter in life has ended, but now it’s time to move on. Wherever we go, we can’t deny that leaving our four-year homes is bittersweet. We’ve got that expensive piece of paper, now what? Let’s be real, people—moving on is terrifying.

Class of 2016 Rutgers University graduate Nadiya Chuchvara will start medical school at Rutgers in the fall and has major feels about leaving her undergrad years behind. “I’m never going back to that apartment. [That thought] hit me out of nowhere,” Chuchvara said. And no one said any type of extra schooling would be easy. The workload gets more demanding, and, unlike your carefree freshman days, you have to prioritize your days. “I know I’ll be hit with nostalgia for my undergrad years when I see a bunch of undergrads just running around and just having fun, and I’m just stuck literally to a chair and studying all the time.”

“What happens if I don’t get in?” wondered recent Penn State grad Stephanie Steele. She is applying for grad school to be a physician’s assistant but explained she needs to wait a year in order to apply.

For those stuck in post-grad limbo, it’s not an easy place to be. If you got your degree and are still searching for that entry-level position, or you’re waiting on an acceptance letter to grad school, you can’t help but worry. For the last however many years, everything was laid out for you; middle school to high school and high school to college. Now, you have to go out into the world and make something of yourself. If you don’t get that job or acceptance letter, it wasn’t meant to be. Not yet, anyway. Move on and keep applying to other places. If that means taking some time and moving home, it’s only for a little while anyway. Don’t let this post-grad indecision and fear keep you from following your dreams and finding that paycheck.

Whether you’re contemplating living in your childhood bedroom for the rest of your life, going back to school or finding a grown-up job, the new challenges recent graduates, also known as “adults” (whatever that means), embark on are scary. And you won’t just be learning the ins and outs of your new job. Once you have the job, you have to learn to adult.

Adulting may be difficult, but sometimes choosing a career path you truly love pays long-term dividends. Even if it took some time to get there. Class of 2016 Nittany Lion Brian Sundberg will be moving to Iowa to start his new life with a career in engineering. He took some academic risks throughout his time at college, but it paid off for him. Sometimes it’s about going after passion and what you without simply choosing predictability. “I really didn’t take a safe route with my major. I did something that I really wasn’t good at, and it was very tough and challenging for me, but something that I really enjoyed,” Sundberg said. What’s important to remember is that while trying to figure out your life in four years can be terrifying, you’re also making memories and having the experiences of a lifetime.

Although Sundberg finds moving far away from his friends and family challenging, he looks forward to some of the perks that come with adulting. “Maybe actually have some money to go out and enjoy buying things that I appreciate, rather than bumming off pizza, being a more established adult is what I’m excited about,” Sundberg said.

With graduation comes independence. Those lucky enough to be snapchatting their new apartments and new lives are on the road to truly discovering what this new chapter will bring. For others, it’s a bit of a wakeup call. You have four (or sometimes more) years to figure out whom you are and what you want to be when you grow up. “But where did all the time in college go?” you think as you stare at your newly framed diploma. Look at it this way: College is like a night out. The pregame starts out slow, but before you know it you’re in a club, it’s 2 a.m., the bouncers turn on the lights and it’s time to find that dollar slice and crawl back to your apartment.

“How did the night end so quickly” you ask yourself. What to do now? Mary Anne Knapp, a clinical social worker and senior staff therapist at Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), sees students experience this uncertainty and is familiar with the anxiety associated with graduation. “I think there’s a fear of the unknown, so if you’re applying for jobs and you don’t know if you’ll get one that anxiety producing,” Knapp said.

Stress seems to be a part of life. First you stress over assignments and exams. Next you stress over the job application process. And after you get that job, you’re most likely stressing about the new position and the responsibilities that come with it.

If you haven’t found work yet, don’t stress, because it’s only been a few weeks since you moved your tassel. Just keep in mind that you need to search without getting complacent. “Also, people who are looking for a job, they have to figure out how to motivate themselves to keep looking, especially if they’re not getting positive results, and so anything that leads a person to worry increases anxiety,” Knapp said.

There’s no surprise that your post-grad days will be filled with times of indecision and uncertainty. Maybe you don’t have a job yet. Maybe you’re taking a gap year. Maybe you need to wait to apply for additional schooling. Whatever the case may be, figuring out what to do next can be overwhelming and, quite frankly, exhausting. The conversations at family parties and explanations of what will come next seem unending. But don’t get discouraged, and don’t lose hope. Assess your goals, make a plan and execute it. You got this.

Rachel is a Penn State University senior studying print journalism. She loves John Hughes movies, Audrey Hepburn and all things travel.

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