Being a college graduate can feel like an exercise in contradiction: you have so much knowledge about a particular subject, but you are also realizing just how many things aren’t taught in college, like what all the stuff in this new apartment lease means, and what FICA means on your paycheck.
It’s also a time when you can get some pretty funny or overly generalized advice for college graduates — and rarely does the advice you get perfectly apply to your situation. Often, people who emerged from college into a different political climate or economic situation than you have will have advice that just doesn’t quite match. At the same time, asking a trusted mentor “What should I do after college graduation?” is a valuable way to get some ideas for next steps. Here are some kinds of advice you are likely to receive, whether solicited or not, and some good ways to take the advice in stride and make the most of it.
1. Generic Answers To “What Should I Do After College Graduation?”
Many college graduates will emerge from their schooling with only a few days or weeks before a job begins, but for everyone else, there are plenty of people ready to give them advice about finding a job. Much of the most frustrating advice for college graduates has to do with things that you have tried already or you already intend to try: “Have you looked at job opportunities online?” or “You should move back home, there are plenty of jobs in your hometown!” tend to make it seem like someone else’s ideal way to move forward should also be your ideal.
When job-related advice is annoying or just reminds you of how hard the job hunt is, try to back away from the emotional part of the conversation. Acknowledge that the advice giver isn’t giving you much credit, but then think, “does this advice spark any ideas about how I could make my job hunt easier or more successful?” Often, even advice that you don’t love (“John got a job from LinkedIn; why aren’t you doing LinkedIn?”) can give you a new lead, like updating your LinkedIn profile a little bit and searching their jobs. You don’t even have to tell the advice-giver that you are going to take that tip; just make it your own! Honestly though, most folks offering suggestions are probably people who love you, deep down, so it might be worth sharing with them if you have an interview as an indirect result of their suggestion.
2. Managing Your Money for College Graduates
Another area where many new college graduates receive advice is in managing their money. This isn’t for nothing: if you are starting to draw a full-time paycheck, possibly for the first time, you have a lot of opportunities to make good choices very early. Take comfort in the fact that, when 40 or 50-year-olds suggest that you sock some money away in a Roth IRA, they aren’t trying to patronize you. They usually just know how much they wish they’d had all those years of wonderful compound interest for their own retirement savings. One of the most general pieces of good advice early on is to start saving early, before you’ve “settled in” to the new amount of money you are making. The amount doesn’t have to be high (often you simply can’t swing that much, given the reality of student loans!), but getting used to living on less than your paycheck can be really liberating later on.
There’s a Neil Gaiman quote about writing that I think applies to money advice for college graduates:
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
While this is about sharing one’s writing, it’s also true of advice: if advice-givers mention that it is important to save, they are probably right, but if they tell you exactly which kind of stock to buy or account to use or bank to work with, they don’t necessarily know what’s perfect for you. Try to abstract the general principles rather than feeling like you have to invest in an identical way to someone else.
3. Finding Help For Recent College Graduates
Both of those topics can be sources of annoyance, but what about when you really want the advice, and you aren’t sure what to do? The nice thing about being a college graduate is that you now, hopefully, have a network of adults who have been here before, in the form of college mentors, fellow recent graduates, and professors. Most people feel honored when you seek them out for advice, and as long as you ask with respect, many people will take the time to give you their perspective on the many conundrums of new adulthood.
One of the biggest pieces of advice that you can take to heart is actually about getting advice. There are plenty of things you can handle on your own with some keen observation and a lot of search engine queries, but when you need help, reach out and ask! Your question probably isn’t stupid, and if it does seem basic, that’s still okay — it means there’s a simple answer around the corner. There is no shame in asking a basic question about something you’ve never done before, like being a college graduate navigating a bunch of grown-up systems for the first time. Give yourself grace and try to recognize that you would want to help someone in your position, too.
Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio.
Image via Unsplash