What are you doing after graduation? It’s ok to not know.
In less than two months, I’ll throw my rented graduation cap in the air, like a flag signaling to the “real world” that I’m coming. This reality didn’t hit me until my spring break last week, when the harsh truth hit that spring breaks won’t be built into my yearly calendar again. Suddenly, the year-long denial I’d wrapped myself in came crumbling down.
But that’s normal, the denial. For the past couple decades, if you followed a “traditional” schooling trajectory, we were stuck in a monotonous structure — school all year except for summer, classes each day except weekends, a couple classes a day with a few hour breaks where maybe you can catch a nap. It’s difficult to grasp that once we take that diploma, that will change entirely. Many of us will work 9-5s, sitting in the same spot for all those hours most of our days. Or we’ll go to grad school and continue the monotony. Or will we?
That’s one question on the long list of other unanswered ones. Not having an answer to the dreaded “what are your plans after graduation?” that’s thrown at you every day during your last college year makes processing this milestone hard to grasp. Not knowing which city you’re living in, or what you’ll be doing, or who you’ll know are shoved into our “Save for Later” brain boxes while we sit in our college apartment studying for an exam. We’re expected to arrange the next several years of our lives, to start drafting the next chapter, on top of full course schedules and jobs. When graduation creeps up and what keeps us busy starts to settle, that processing can no longer be procrastinated.
It’s key to remember two things when reality hits: you’re not doing this alone, and it’s alright to not have answers for all the questions. Chances are many of your friends don’t have jobs lined up, or know where they’ll plant themselves when their lease ends. Many people who graduated in past years left without having concrete plans, and most of them figured it out — so will we.
With a degree, or simply your self-made skillset, so many doors are open — it’s nearly impossible to choose which one to go through. Breathe and make the world smaller. It’s easier said than done; there’s not a way to throw the vast possibilities into a drier and shrink it like a t-shirt. Think about what’s most important to you first, and check questions off one by one from there. Try figuring out what kind of place you’d like to live, then find that. From there, research if the places have what you need, if there’s jobs for you and places you can go. As each question slowly gets answered, and you can have several answers, the massive world of opportunities focuses in on just you.
Take your time deciding. There’s no shame in moving into your parents house for a few months or a year in order to figure out what’s next. There’s this pressure that feels like a timer’s ticking down the seconds, and when it goes off on graduation day you must know all the answers. It’s like every time someone asks about your plans, a brick is added to the tower on your shoulders, weighing you down with this pressure. Relax your shoulders, give your neck a break. There’s plenty of time after you snag that diploma to know what to do with it.
For most of college I avoided seeking help from advisors, until I realized the “real world” will be real for me soon. If there’s anyone that can guide you through processing college graduation, it’s a career advisor on campus. They’ve seen it all, and they hold their position for a reason. If the hundreds of Google pages that pop up when you’re online job hunting adds another brick to your pile, take advantage of resources like academic or career advisors who are available right where you are.
Other people who can help are off campus, doing exactly what you want to do. Connecting with alumni — which career advisors can often do for you — lets you have a glimpse into what your post-grad “plan” could look like. Particularly younger alumni, who were just recently exactly where you are, empathize with your stress and can chat about how they coped and what led the to their current place. It’s comforting to talk with friends who are also nearing graduation, but even more reassuring hearing from someone who got through it and has success stories, and the bumps along the way, to share.
People around you have all sorts of expectations, and you have some for yourself, for what you’ll do after graduation. Have goals and dreams for yourself, but know that you don’t need to meet anyone else’s expectations. It’s ok to not know and take your sweet time figuring out an answer, like its a math problem, and in a way, it is. There are so many factors added together to equal what this next phase of your life will be like. You probably won’t fully process that you’re a “real adult” until you’ve packed up your college apartment and returned your rented cap and gown, and that’s fine. I know I haven’t. There’s a sea of change coming your way, but you will stay afloat.
About the Author
Sammy Gibbons (she/her) is a reporter and fiction writer, yoga-doer and vinyl collector. She is editor-in-chief of The Daily Cardinal, the University of Wisconsin’s student newspaper, and a radio DJ of six years. She will graduate in May with degrees in journalism and creative writing. When not writing or editing, she loves going to concerts, finding new music, camping out in coffee shops, reading (Joan Didion is her favorite) and petting her dog and cat. She’s interested in highlighting queer artists and speaking on LGBTQ+ issues, as well as feminist topics.