With the exception of an accidental pregnancy, there’s nothing scarier than graduating college and having no idea what you want to do with your life. Even if you’re living in your childhood bedroom and surfing Craiglist all day doesn’t mean you can’t get started on living your adult life. Just don’t make any of the following mistakes and you should be fine.
1) Not traveling after college. Once you enter the “real world,” there are few opportunities when you’ll have a few months to do whatever you want. That’s because once work starts, while you may get one or two weeks off throughout the year, they most likely won’t be back-to-back. Thus, if you have wanderlust, the summer after you graduate (those two-to-three great months of uninterrupted freedom) is the time to scratch that itch. Of course, if you have debt to repay or other financial obligations to fulfill, then we understand why travel might not be in the cards today (although perhaps you’ll have an opportunity down the line, maybe between jobs, when you can pack your bags and yell, “Hasta Lavista America”), but if you’re just worried about not having enough cash, don’t forget that there are tons of volunteer opportunities (which you can find on Wango.com, Idealist.org, TransitionsAbroad.com, VoltuneerInternational.org, etc.) and scholarships (e.g., work-study, Fullbright) that can send you abroad for free.
2) Not considering moving home. There’s no way around it. Rent is expensive. Nonetheless, a ton of grads jump right into renting a place after college. Unfortunately, this can turn out to be a financial burden that they can’t handle, or just as bad, it could force them into careers they never wanted to pursue, just because they needed to afford rent. While the following suggestion isn’t perfect for everyone, consider moving home, even if just for six months (assuming your parents are cool with it and you won’t rip out your hair as a result). This can give you some breathing room to figure out what you want your real next step to be. And if you don’t move home, at least consider a roommate (that you can get along with an be on the same page as). It will make your life a lot easier.
3) Ignoring health insurance. Walking around without health insurance is like playing Russian Roulette. There’s just no reason every recent grad shouldn’t by insured. And you don’t even need a job to get insurance. If you’re unemployed, for affordable options, look to state sponsored programs such as Healthy New York in New York City (or the equivalent in your state), the Freelancers Union or even Short-term Health Insurance providers. This will keep you out of a situation in which you’re hit by a bus and end up wracking up $500,000 in medical expenses that you need to spend the next twenty years paying off because you didn’t opt for the $100/month state-subsidized plan (if you think we’re trying to scare you into getting health insurance, well, you’re right!)
4) When looking for a job, only looking for a job. Imagine this… you’ve been looking for a job for the past six months and you finally snag an interview. Your interviewer asks, “So, what have you been up to for the past six months?” And all you can respond with is, “Looking for a job… and going to the movies every Monday and Thursday with my mom.” Not so hot. Instead, while looking for a job, also expand your network, pick up some new skills, intern, or just do something. That way when your interviewer asks what you’ve been up to you can tell a compelling story, which will put you ahead of 99% of the other job seekers out there who were only looking for a job.
5) Not preparing to actually succeed in your job. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to find a job, that you’re not prepared to actually thrive once you’re in. Case in point: showing up to a hard fought for job in a pink Hawaiian t-shirt on day one only to find out that everyone else is wearing suites. From office dress, to IM etiquette, knowing when to push back, recognizing that you can’t get drunk at the party holiday party, mentorship and more, make sure you’re prepared.
6) Missing the due date on a bill. Not only does it piss off whoever you were meant to pay (who needs enemies, or worse, angry debt collectors with baseball bats?), but it can also damage your credit. And if you damage your credit today, not only will it prevent you from taking out credit cards and cell phone plans in your own name now, but it very well may prevent you from getting a mortgage or car loan down the line.
7) Thinking you can always start saving tomorrow. It’s ironic and unfortunate that the time at which beginning to save can have the greatest impact on your financial future is also the most difficult time to start doing so: right now. The reason is something you’ve gone over probably more times than you would have liked to thus far in life: the time value of money and compounding. Try this on for size. If you invest $1,000 per year, at the start of every year, for the next 30 years, and earn 8% (the average historical long-term return of the stock market), you’ll end up with $122,000 (even though you’ve only invested $30,000). That’s pretty rad. Now what about if you wait just three years to start investing? You’ll end up with almost $30,000 less. So start today so you can end up in that cozy shuffleboard community in Boca… or avoid it at all costs.
8) Buying or leasing a new car. Really? Do you really need to? Why? So you can drive around in a car, attract members of the opposite sex (or same; whatever floats your boat), and then take them home to your… cardboard box… because after your car payments you couldn’t actually afford a place to live? On a more serious note, consider whether you really need a car after college. Maybe your local public transportation system works for you. If you really do need a car, go for a used one. It will be much more affordable. And even if you have the cash for a new one, odds are that within the next three to five years, you’ll be making another major life change (e.g., switching jobs, moving to a new city) and who wants to be stuck dealing with a car of which the value the second you drove it off the lot dropped by 20%? At least if it’s used, you can send it off a cliff into the ocean. Or maybe that’s just something only we’ve always dreamed of doing.
9) Ordering in ever night. $20 for chinese food, every night, Monday through Sunday… That adds up quickly. Now we’re not suggesting you should never order in. But consider donning a chef’s apron and whipping up some easy meals a few times a week (or better yet, make something you can produce in a large quantity and freeze to eat over several dinners). If you plan ahead and cook, it can save you a lot of moolah, and folks, let’s be honest, is there any better way to “bed” the apple of your eye then cooking an awesome meal?
10) Forgetting about all of the awesome aspects of life after college. It’s so easy to focus all of your efforts on getting your finances in check, landing a job, renting a place, and everything else, that you let all of the fun part of life after college pass you by: cooking, dating, festivals, painting the town red, etc.. Even worse, going from the top of the pecking order (i.e., everyday having your choice of table in the cafeteria because you were a cool senior) to the bottom of the totem pole (i.e., corporate slave) can put people in a real rut. If this happens to you, just take a step back and realize that it’s just part of life after college… and a short part at that. Soon enough, you’ll have someone working underneath you, you’ll have a thriving independent adult life, etc. And just as importantly, recognize that life after college is a time for you to finally pursue exactly what you want to do, on every level, and that there’s an infinite amount of choice. Have fun with it! (If we come across as Tony Robins in this last point we apologize, but we thought it was necessary.)
Written by Stuart Schultz, co-author of the new book Gradspot.com’s Guide to Life After College