When I was in college, I thought it was never going to end. I was untouchable, working two nights a week in Miami as a club bartender and making more than what most people make in two weeks. I went out the other five nights of the week and still managed to maintain a 3.8 GPA. And then I graduated and everything changed.
I knew that bartending was not a career, not for me at least, so I made my way into the real world. I quickly learned that it can be pretty rough. It stressed me out so much the first time that it was a big factor in going back to get my Master’s degree. Another 18 months of being a student was lovely, but then I was forced to graduate and grow up once again.
I will break this article up into two parts– post-undergrad and post-master’s degree–because I learned valuable lessons each time.
I can do anything. Now that I was finished writing papers and pulling all-night study sessions, I suddenly had all this spare time on my hands. Take full advantage, as this is your time to live it up. Most likely you are not employed at a serious job, married or a parent. Nothing is holding you down and this might be the only time for the rest of your life that you have this chance. So go backpacking, experience life in a new city, learn yoga or jump out of a plane. In the six months following graduation, I did a cross-country road trip, moved to Los Angeles, went to Israel with 40 strangers and got into the best shape of my life. Live a little, before life ties you down.
My college lifestyle was so unhealthy. When I was in school, I was the vending machine’s best customer and ate Quizno’s, Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical on a daily basis. I’d stay up for days before a big paper was due, consuming espresso and Adderall to stay awake. Once my paper was finished and turned in, I’d go out with my friends instead of catching up on my sleep. I don’t know how it did it.
It’s hard out there to get a job. Not many companies are hiring these days, but when they do, there are dozens of people who will fight you for the position. Having a large pool of people to choose from makes these companies very picky. It seems like they all want someone who has tons of experience, speaks four languages, doesn’t mind picking up the owner’s dry cleaning and is willing to do it all for $10 an hour.
It’s all about who you know. Given what I just said, having a good connection can be extremely helpful. It could be an “in,” or introduce you to other important people that you can learn from. Networking and connecting is everything, because you never know who you might need or run into at some point. The world is much smaller than I thought.
Internships are important. My one regret from college is that I slacked on internships. I missed out on meeting and learning from valuable people while I was still in school, so it was harder to get a job after graduation. Everywhere that I applied wanted me to start off as an intern.
Your first job won’t be perfection. I consider my first “real job” to be at a fashion PR agency in LA. I was an unpaid intern that they started paying, mostly in clothes, once I made myself valuable to my boss. I did this by going to every vegan restaurant in town to pick up food for her, dealing with the whiny swimsuit models at fashion shows on my weekends and getting screamed at by publicists wondering where their celebrity client’s free gifts were. It was far from glamorous, but I learned a lot and had to start somewhere.
You don’t have to stay at this horrible first job forever. I realized fashion PR was not for me pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I stuck it out for a few months so I had some experience on the resume and then left to pursue other things. I haven’t looked back.
Now is the best time to go back to school. Your mind is fresh, you haven’t forgotten everything you learned and nothing is tying you down. If you are considering going to grad school, right after undergrad is a great time to do it.
It’s still hard out there to get a job. I felt a little cooler at job interviews saying that I now have a master’s degree, but I still faced the same problems that I did post-undergrad. I lucked out and reconnected with an old high school friend who got me in at his company. Yeah, it’s all about who you know.
My take-home pay is not as much as I thought. The only thing that was worse than finding out how low my entry-level salary was going to be was seeing my take-home pay amount on that first paycheck. It makes me miss the bartending days of bringing home wads of undeclared cash each night.
An emergency bank account is important. Last year I started a savings account that takes $40 from my checking each month. I now have about $850 that I didn’t even miss that I can use if I ever need it. I understand that at some point I will probably get sick or hurt and I will need it. If not, it’s nice to know that I have a little cash to buy myself something nice.
Student loans are borrowed money. Next month will be six months since graduation, and I will have to make my first payment. It’s about to get real.