So you’ve finally graduated from college and your elation is off the charts. You have the rest of your life ahead of you, but that phrase in itself is also one of the most daunting. Leaving the schoolyard behind—the only life you’ve known up until this point—for the big wide world can take you on an emotional roller coaster, from ecstasy to worry all at once. But don’t let the fear hold you back; it’s important to take time to consider your options before bridging the gap from grad to grown-up. To help you through that process, we enlisted the help of recent graduate Katherine Schwarzenegger, daughter of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and leading journalist Maria Shriver. The author of I Just Graduated… Now What? shares her top tips for achieving a healthy balance of success and happiness post-college. Read on below.
MYDOMAINE: Graduating can be a daunting experience. What tips do you have for the transition from school to real life?
KATHERINE SCHWARZENEGGER: I think the most important thing to know is you don't have to have your life all planned out by the time you graduate college. I felt so much pressure to have a plan for myself when I graduated college, and the fact that I didn't freaked me out. I thought that not having a plan meant I was lost—and doomed to fail.
You might think that everyone knows exactly what they are going to do after college, and that everyone has a job lined up for them that they’ll stay in forever. The reality is that job your have right after college probably won’t be the job you’ll stay in for the rest of your life. You should look at your first job as something exciting, and an experience you can learn from.
MD: How can you prepare emotionally?
KZ: The amazing thing about graduating today is the many different career paths we can go down, and while this is a really exciting thing, it’s also a really confusing thing because there are more options than ever. Realizing that what I do right out of college won't determine what I will do or how successful I will be in life was a huge relief for me and also made me more excited about my future.
Another thing to be aware of when trying to emotionally prepare yourself for life after college is to know that it will be an emotional roller coaster. For me, it was really exciting to be done with college, but it was also really scary because I have never not been in school. Being aware of the fact that you will experience tons of different emotions will help you prepare for what's to come and let you know that you’re not the only one who is excited, happy, scared, and anxious all at the same time.
MD: Your book I Just Graduated… Now What? draws on real-life experiences from John Legend, Eva Longoria, Bear Grylls, and more. What is one piece of advice from these interviews that really resonated with you?
KZ: The common theme is the importance of doing what you love. If you're able to find a job that involves doing what you're passionate about, that is an amazing thing to have. When you grow up, people always talk about the importance of having a job that you love so it doesn't feel like work, but when I interviewed these people who are so passionate about what they do, you really see and feel how important it is to really figure out what your purpose is and where your passions lie.
Another common theme was the importance of failure, which I found to be very surprising. You go through life and your childhood wanting to avoid failure at all costs because you look at it as a negative thing. But when I did all these interviews, I really learned that failure is such a great thing to experience right out of college, and at such a young age because it allows you to learn so much about yourself. They are also great life lessons you can take with you.
MD: It can be tough for a new graduate to find work in this highly competitive market. Where do they start?
KS: I would say the most important thing to do while you are still in college is to create your résumé. There is a right and a wrong way to do it, so make sure you learn how to make yours the best it can be. Once you have that done, just start sending out your résumé to a bunch of different places so you can see what's out there. For a lot of people, job interviews can be really scary, so the more you can do job interviews, the better. You will become more comfortable with the process as you go along, so when it comes to a job that you really want, you'll be more confident.
Obviously the most important thing to do—which is easier said than done—is just putting yourself out there. You never know what will come about as a result, and experiences that you might never have had. Maybe you say yes to a job that you don't necessarily think you would like, but you end up loving it and have an amazing experience from something that you would never have tried. Just be open to all opportunities and possibilities because this is the start of a really exciting part of your life. You want to be able to have a bunch of different experiences that will allow you to be the best version of yourself.
MD: How do graduates decide between a well-paying career and one that follows their passion?
KS: That was actually a big topic that came up when I was doing this book. Everyone I interviewed talked about the importance of doing what you love and finding a career you are passionate about. I interviewed Joe Kakaty, the CEO of Edvisors.com, and Ron Bergum, the CEO of Prospect Mortgage, to discuss the importance of financial independence and the issues of college loan debt. They had a lot of really great advice about the importance of being financially savvy and the tendency to go into debt right out of college.
The student loan debt issue is at an all-time high. College is getting more and more expensive, and loans are getting bigger and harder for people to pay back. If you are someone who has student loans to pay back, your main goal is getting a job right out of college so you can start making money to pay off those loans. John Legend knew his passion was in music, but also had a lot of student loans to pay back, so he decided to work at a management consulting firm right out of school so he could make money and play music at night to keep his passion alive.
MD: What are some practical tips for preparing your résumé?
KS: When I created my first résumé, I found out that I did the entire thing wrong. Most people don't really know the amount of work that goes into making a really great résumé that catches the attention of an employer. I did a lot of research online on how to make the best résumé and did several drafts before I got it to where it needed to be. Once you do your research and your first draft, email it to your friends, family members, or teachers for their advice.
MD: When you've graduated, it should also be a time of celebration. How do you balance work with a social life?
KS: Graduation is definitely something amazing and a life achievement you should celebrate. I think for our generation in particular, the idea of having a good work/life balance is very important to us. It's different for everyone, but I think working hard and allowing time for yourself and your friends and family is something that will keep you centered and balanced as you start this new chapter of your life. Doing everything in moderation.
MD: What's your opinion on gap years? Should graduates take one before getting a job?
KS: If you are fortunate enough to be able to take a gap year and travel around and have new and different experiences, you should totally do that. You will most likely never have this time again for the rest of your life. A lot of people I interviewed said if they could have taken a gap year and traveled to learn more about themselves and have new and different experiences, they would. So if you have the opportunity to do some self-exploration while seeing the world, take advantage of that time and do it. It's also a great time to figure out what you want to do in life and where your passions lie.
MD: From your experience and that of your friends, what are your top three pieces of advice for new graduates?
KS: 1. Prepare! College graduation sneaks up on you very quickly, so prepare accordingly. Start thinking about what you’re going to do when you graduate, because your peers most likely have an idea, and you don't want to be the one scrambling. When I went to college, I was told that I should use my summers to take internships so I could learn and explore different professions, and start to create professional relationships that would help me navigate my way after college. When I was 17, I thought I wanted to be in PR. I did a summer internship, and while it was amazing, it was actually one of the reasons I wrote my first book: I realized that PR was not for me.
2. Start getting "real life" advice: I kind of felt like there should've been more "real life" classes provided in college because when I graduated, most of my friends and myself didn't feel adequately prepared. No one was teaching us how to prepare for a job interview, how to do a résumé properly, how to go about finding a job, how to live on a budget, how to balance a checkbook, the costs of actually living, paying bills, etc.
3. My biggest piece of advice for recent college grads is to know that no one really knows what they’re doing. You might look around at your classmates and think, Wow, they have it all figured out, but most of us are all confused when we graduate. We are going into unknown territory and starting our lives, which is super exciting but also very nerve-racking. You will also feel a ton of pressure to have it all figured out, and a job lined up where you’ll spend the next several years. The reality is now you can change your career five times by the time you’re 30, and that's okay!
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What’s the best piece of advice you received after graduation? What are some big lessons you can share? Let us know in the comments.
I Just Graduated… Now What? by Katherine Schwarzenegger ($15)