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5 Tips For Transitioning From College Student to Young Professional

On the day I graduated from college, I cried.

Yes, I really did. No, they were not tears of joy, but rather of regret.

Morning of, I was ecstatic. I remember waking up early to curl my hair, perfect my make up, and slip into my navy blue graduation gown that had lovely delicate lace sleeves I loved so much. My mom came in my room before we left for the ceremony to gift me a beautiful pendant that matched my dress, the color of the sapphire gemstone complimenting my outfit impeccably. From there, we gathered at the city’s local arena where the college-wide graduation was held.

I remember sitting among my fellow classmates, eager to cross the stage. My parents, siblings, best friends, boyfriend, and extended family watched from above, clapping loudly when the time to receive my diploma finally came.

I was overcome by this incredible sense of accomplishment, this feeling that I finally finished.

All of the hard work, late nights studying, extensive research papers, thorough presentations, and networking opportunities seemed to be worth the hassle as I crossed the stage. Shaking the hands of my professors and hearing my supportive family and friends cheering for me in the crowd made me proud of myself, honored to have reached this milestone. My 3.7 G.P.A., high honors, dual degree, and the colorful cords around my neck reminded me I earned this feeling, this moment.

By the time commencement ended and the graduation party wrapped up later that evening, I remember running to my bathroom crying. I literally sat in my bathroom, balling my eyes out, hating that college was done. It was over. The celebration, the fun classes, my supportive professors, and study abroad experiences were behind me. I could no longer enroll in interesting courses and start fresh each semester with a new schedule.

In short, college ended and I was regretful.

What was wrong with me? Why was I feeling like the best time of my life was over and gone and that I had nothing to look forward to from then on?

Truthfully, I was scared to become a real “adult” and actually enter the workforce. I was terrified of the student loans I would have to soon repay. I was fearful of losing touch with being a student and enjoying learning for the fun of it.

Most of all, I was afraid of what to do with myself next.

But you know what? I learned something that day and every day since. One of my best friends said to me, “Rachael, do you know why we achieve goals? To set new ones.” He was right!

Every single goal we set for ourselves is designed to be achieved, to be reached. We then create new goals, new hopes for the future to work toward those next. Once I swallowed my friend’s dose of hearty wisdom, I realized I needed to make a plan. I needed to set new goals for myself.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Do you know why we achieve goals? To set new ones.'” quote=”‘Do you know why we achieve goals? To set new ones.'”]

I eventually realized I would have to make the transition from college student to young professional, whether I was ready for it or not. I decided to be proactive, and through trial and error, was able to smoothly transition to where I am now: a young professional with goals who continues to learn and pursues a creative side hustle outside of my day job.

Here’s how I overcame my graduation day hump and planned for my future:

1. I applied for jobs.

During college I worked part-time at a local chain store in the customer service section. It was by no means my dream job, but it paid the bills. I met new, interesting people regularly and dabbled in sales. Once college graduation came and went, I knew I needed to terminate my employment with my part-time company. The pay wasn’t enough to live off of and I needed to spice up my resume.

I quickly began applying to new jobs in the area, hopeful for anything that would put my degree to good use. A month after graduation, I landed a temporary job at an insurance company. Again, not my dream career, but it offered higher wages, slight benefits, and practical experience that would strengthen my work history.

I used my temp job as a means to begin chipping away at my student loans and start earning that “adult” work experience everyone spoke of. It was, in many ways, my first “big girl” job and I learned a lot about the workforce.

2. I didn’t settle for my temp job.

Working as a temp for eight months was eye opening. I realized the workforce isn’t anything remotely like college and much of what I learned in school had no relevance in my daily job.

It was, however, a very good place for me to learn what I do and don’t like about a company. I realized I hated working in a cubicle, and that my next job needed to have an office in a more social setting. I learned insurance isn’t for me, and I needed to aim for a more appealing field where my Communications degree would be a better fit.

I also discovered I needed to search for a job that offered a competitive benefits package and would help me go to grad school in the future. Tuition reimbursement quickly became a priority for me!

After graduation day, you'll have to make the transition from college student to young professional whether you're ready for it or not. I decided to be proactive about it instead of crying like I really wanted to. Here's how I set my career goals and established myself as a young professional.

3. I landed a new, better fitting job.

After my temp contract ended and I landed a new job, I’ve been happier working for a local college. My days working in the cubicle life of an insurance agency felt isolating and dry to me.

Instead, I made it my mission to find a career where I could be social and collaborate with others often. Is my current job my dream job? No, not technically. It is, however, a much better fit.

Working for a university has many perks: paid snow days (which is essential in Maine!), a nice vacation package (two weeks paid plus a third gifted holiday break during winter? Amazing!), an office with an open floor plan layout that puts me in the heart of traffic so I see my colleagues every single day, education reimbursement for me to earn a masters degree on the cheap, and a well-matched retirement package that puts 8% of my own paycheck into an account for me that my employer matches equally!

I’m now using my degree and earning experience like I never imagined.

4. I realized I can always keep learning.

One of the saddest parts of leaving college for me was thinking I would never be in a classroom again. I always loved picking classes that interested me and starting the new semester off with a fresh syllabus.

Work is quite different from school, but in many ways the world is still a classroom. Through my local community I found cheap classes to take after work that put me back in the student role. I also know I may pursue grad school someday when I find the right field to advance my career.

Even though ending college was bittersweet, I’m still always learning!

5. I accepted that I’m never stuck. 

You don’t have to have it all figured out by graduation day. I definitely didn’t! I never had the traditional internship in college that acted as a liaison for me to bridge my school life to work life.

Unlike a lot of people who “just know” what they want to do, I never did. I love to write, but I can’t go out and become an author by applying to a job posting. I know that my passion still has a presence in my life, but where work is concerned I need to be ambitious and find the right fit to pay my bills and build up my financial future.

It was only after college, my temp job, and my current role that I accepted I’m never stuck in a career. I can work where I am now and change gears in a year or so! We’re all free to dabble in different fields to find our niche. Don’t feel stuck! I don’t now and it’s the most refreshing thing.

Graduation day has a way of stressing students out. While most of us are thankful that milestone has been reached, others (like me) dread the next step. It’s all about having a practical plan and putting it into action, though!

Be aware of what your goals are when it comes to school, career, etc. Having a plan, even if it’s only tentative, of what makes you happy is super critical. For me, perusing online job boards and interviewing at dozens of companies opened up my eyes to what I do and don’t want in a career.

I may have missed out on the traditional internship experience in college, but I don’t think it had a negative bearing on where I am today. I love the people I work with and am very happy with my career so far. I’ve made wonderful connections and am hoping for a promotion this summer! After only a year of employment, I’m advancing in the right direction.

For me, believing that we achieve goals to set new ones has made all the difference. We’re never done aiming for the next milestone. Be good to yourself and set new goals often. After all, in order to become our best selves we have to strive for more each and every single day!

What has been your biggest struggle transitioning from college student to young professional?

About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.