I loved college, but by my senior year I was at a total loss as to how to prepare for and what to do once graduation day came. I tried to avoid thinking about life after graduation my last semester as I loaded my schedule with all the classes, events and fun, but, looking back, there were many things I could have done to prepare to make taking the next step easier once graduation day arrived.
Now that I’ve had a few years to find my way, I’d like to share a list of smart things you can do now to prepare for graduation and beyond. Though it may seem scary and sad to leave school and move into the real world, your future will be exciting, bright and just as fun!
1. Get your recommendations, now.
This is something I wish I had done then. Whether you plan on going to grad school in the near future or are unsure if you’ll ever make it back to school, talk with your favorite professors and ask if they will draft a letter of recommendation for you while your abilities as a student are fresh in their minds. I left college with several favorite professors who I do still keep in touch with, but not nearly as closely as I did immediately after school. They’ll be happy to help you. Don’t have a favorite professor? Now’s the time to start becoming a regular at office hours and making an effort to build that relationship.
2. Make friends with your campus career center, fast.
Does everyone talk about how your career center sucks? Well, that happens at every school because the reality is no one is going to get you a job or into that grad program… but YOU. It is not the job of career services to set you up with a sweet gig or get you into grad school, that’s up to you. However, they can help you find and be prepared for opportunities, you just need to take the initiative and get the aid of a seasoned professional with connections to your college’s alumni.
Now that your expectations are appropriately tempered, get over there and make yourself and your objectives known. Not only will the career center help you get your resume in order, point you toward great job and school resources, a career coach will serve as a great sounding board, interview prep and cheerleader. If you don’t like your counselor, shop around until you find someone who is a good fit for you. I rave about mine to this day, and we’re in touch still. She’s been on my side through every job transition I have gone through since graduation, and has helped me confidently navigate the changing economy and make the most of each job offer I’ve received. Get someone in your camp who will give you objective advice, point you to the right alumni, websites and books to excel, and give you actionable steps to take to chase down your dreams while keeping big picture perspective. Of all the things I did in college, this was one of my wisest moves.
3. Archive your work.
Make sure to save your important projects, papers and finals in a safe spot so you can reference them in the future. Whether you’re going on to grad school or into the professional world, save the hard work you did in college. You never know when you’ll want to call upon it, need it as a sample or simply want to indulge your nostalgia for all the learning you did way back when. Not only is it a great keepsake, it can definitely be useful. In my field, I needed writing samples. Had I thought about my last writing assignments in that context, I could have gone to my professors for help extracting the perfect sample to send out to potential employers. Think ahead, and get yourself and your hard work ready for the next step.
4. Update and perfect your resume or your personal statement.
Reflect upon your time in college. What were some of the big projects you did? What were the most defining moments of your college career? What clubs had the most impact on what you want to do next? Write these down and start organizing your thoughts, whether it’s into resume or personal statement format. When graduation day comes, it’ll feel good to be able to send off your resume right away (or even before!). Reach out to your network of professors, friends and career center to review your resume and give you critiques and suggestions on how to improve it. Write about your experiences while they are still fresh, they’ll come across more vivid and engaging to your reader.
5. Clean up that Facebook, Twitter, etc. and get on LinkedIn.
Since you’re still in college, you probably have tons of time and opportunity to procrastinate! How better to do that than to turn your daily Facebook perusal into a Facebook cleanse? (I’m only half-joking here…). Whether you’re off to grad school or a job search, everyone can benefit from cleaning up the more “college!” aspects of their personal social media and putting a professional gloss on their Internet presence. Ensure your privacy settings will keep out snooping employers or admissions officers, and that anything public reflects your best, most professional self. Google yourself to see what’s out there.
Get your social media working for you! Set up a profile on LinkedIn and start connecting with your peers and alumni of your college, as well as your parents, parents’ friends, and family to build your network. LinkedIn has a great Jobs section where you can scope out opportunities. In many ways, LinkedIn is a resume database, so look around and see what experiences your friends, family and others in your field have had to get where they are now. Be as thorough as possible in filling yours out to show up more often in search results. If you’re super social media savvy, try looking for a job on Twitter, just make sure your feed reflects your professional intentions. It’s been done!
6. Get your finances in order.
If you have student loans, make sure you go to exit counseling, otherwise your school may not release your transcript. Be realistic about how much money you have and what that means for your future plans. Do you have enough money to live on your own after college? Or will you have to move back home with mom and dad? Will you need to take out additional loans or apply for scholarships to cover living expenses during grad school? These are huge and difficult questions, but it is better to ask them early and make a plan so you know where you’re going come move-out day.
Will your parents help you out after college? Have a discussion with them about it. If you have loans, make sure you know when they’ll kick in and how much you’ll owe when the bills start coming, and plan accordingly. It doesn’t get much more “real world” than being broke, but be smart and you’ll make it through. Sign up for mint.com and start budgeting your income, create savings goals and manage your debt. Mint is a wonderful resource and a super helpful way to keep all your finances organized in one place.
7. Get your records in order.
There’s no time like the present to make sure all your credits, majors, minors, payments and submissions are all set before graduation. Make sure all your majors and minors are declared, you’ve done everything you need to do to claim AP credits or credits in general. If you’re a member of an honor society, make sure you’ve submitted everything you need to get proper notation on your transcript. Print a transcript for your records. After you graduate, you’ll have to pay for copies and you don’t want any surprises after shelling out for it! Again, if you have loans, make sure you attend exit counseling or your school may put a hold on your transcript.
Save the old emails you need or cherish from your school account, and create an email address for yourself on a site like Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail if you haven’t already. Look into how long you’ll have until your school email expires, and set up the appropriate forwarding earlier than later to make sure you don’t miss anything important. Update your resume, contact information, and logins to reflect your new email address. You don’t want an interview request or password going to a non-existent account!
8. Make sure you’re protected.
Graduation is quite the life event, and transitioning out of being a student may have implications beyond needing to find a job or going off to grad school. Check with your parents and your health insurance plan to ensure your coverage will go uninterrupted. If you’re on your school’s plan, start shopping for options. Yes, young people are generally healthy, but accidents happen and medical expenses are not cheap. One option to consider is a short-term medical plan. This provides coverage anywhere from one month to a year, so it’s a good option for bridging the gap between a school plan and an employer’s plan.
Moving into your first apartment is super exciting, but you may want to protect your stuff and yourself while renting. Renters insurance helps protect you from loss, theft, damage and liability, since you’ll no longer be covered under your parent’s homeowners policy. Check to see if your plan for your off campus apartment will transfer over to new digs when school ends, or investigate your options for a plan after school if you’re still in the dorms.
9. Dream big.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” As ubiquitous as this saying is, there’s a reason for it. It’s true! There is no better time to put yourself out there than right now. Yes, you are going to have to work hard for your dreams and to find your calling. Still, go for it! Take that trip, move to that city you’ve dreamed about, go to that big audition, reach out to the family friend at your dream company, buy yourself a Harvard sweatshirt – whatever it is you want to do, try not to get discouraged and keep working to your dream. You won’t be CEO right away, but don’t count yourself out of opportunities and start building your resume and finding your passions both in and out of work or school. Give yourself time to get to your destination, and make the most out of every step on the way. Need inspiration? Check out this helpful and excellent presentation by GradGuard CEO, John Fees.
This is your last semester of college! Enjoy it! Hopefully by now (aka after 15 or so years of school), you have this school thing down. Push through to the finish, and finish strong. Don’t procrastinate so you will have time for any school events, parties and opportunities that come your way. Take advantage of campus life. Never been to a school sports game? Go. Never been to an art show or an a cappella show? Get over there! Take your friends up on every invitation you receive and explore the parts of campus and your city you’ve been meaning to since freshman year.
Spend time with the friends you love. You may scatter after graduation, so enjoy the time you have with your friends while you are all still living in the same place. Of course it is sad to think about, but remember that your true friendships will survive any distance, and new friendships will come to you (perhaps your best college friend’s best high school friend will live in your city, and you’ll become friends! Super commonplace after school.). Just because it’s the end, don’t shy away from new friendships. I made new friends at the end of college who then became my roommates once we all moved to Boston after college.
The end of your college career is a great time to reflect on your accomplishments over the past four years, cherish the friendships you’ve made and enjoy the best of what your campus and city have to offer. Don’t shy away from your responsibilities and put everything off until after you graduate, face the future head on while making the most of the present. Best of luck and congratulations!