5 Things I Learned After Graduating College

9:00 AM


There's nothing quite like being literally herded out of an arena, down a delivery ramp, and straight into the harsh reality that is the real world following graduation to give you a wake up call. One moment, you're sitting in class, wondering when you'll never have to take an exam again; next, you're standing outside TD Garden along with your 3,000 fellow graduates on the phone trying to figure out where your family is.

Little did I know that the chaos and confusion I endured that chilly May day on the streets of Boston yelling into my phone in mixed Korean and English was only the beginning of the roller coaster of emotions I've been on since. No matter how well you think you've prepared for the "real world" throughout your four (or five, if you go to a school with a co-op program like I did) years of college, there really isn't anything that could prepare you for suddenly not living within walking distance from your best friends, not having a structured schedule, and not knowing what's coming next.

I'm only coming up on my three-month mark of being out of school this Saturday and I just started my first job last Wednesday. Given more time, I'm sure I'll have more lessons to share, but these are the five most important things I learned during a seemingly never-ending, painstaking post-grad job search.


1. You're in the real world now and things won't go as planned.

This was a big shocker for me. I know that sounds silly when we all know how unpredictable life is, but I was accustomed to having everything planned out. More importantly, I was used to everything going as planned.

Because I knew I wanted to study abroad twice and co-op (Note: a co-op is a six-month period when students work full-time rather than take classes) three times, I had no choice but to plan out every semester to make sure I still graduated on time. Freshman year, I could've already told you I planned on studying abroad in the UK my fourth year (check) and co-oping in California and New York in my third and fifth (check and check).

At any given time in my college career, I could tell you where I would be every semester until my last one five years later. And every semester, things went according to plan. Sure, I had minor curveballs and hiccups here and there, but overall, my college experience fit the blueprint I had created for myself with my advisor freshman year perfectly.

For me, the next step in that five-year plan was to graduate with a job in California already lined up, have the summer to enjoy my last taste of freedom, then move out west to start my next chapter. Imagine my surprise when absolutely no part of that came true. Turns out, curveballs you're thrown during college aren't the same as the curveballs you're thrown in the real world where there is more at stake than just grades and a social life.


2. And that's okay. You don't have to have a plan right away.

After waking up one day completely thrown off, I had to come to terms with the fact that I didn't have a plan. I didn't have a structured schedule, I had absolutely no idea what was coming next, and I had a startling realization that for what felt like the first time since elementary school, I had next to no responsibilities.

For the first time in forever (no, don't sing Frozen), I had free time. You're probably wondering what I'm complaining about, but this was a foreign concept to me and I didn't know what to do. What should've been a time of relaxation was made worse because I had nothing — and I mean nothing — to do, and I don't do well with nothing. I didn't have classes to study for, club meetings to plan for, or a job to prepare for. As trivial as these things may sound, I felt like I was floating in space with no way of going left or right, up or down.

My friends kept telling me that it was okay that I didn't have things figured out yet, but it's one thing to hear it and a whole other to believe it. I never quite managed to internalize this message. All I could think was that I was stuck in this limbo period with nothing to go back to. I was now out of school, so I didn't have a fall semester coming up, but I wasn't employed, so I didn't have a start date signaling when all my free time would come to an end either.

You have to figure things out eventually, but not having a rock solid five-year plan, like I did throughout college, is not the end of the world when you're a new graduate. I don't think I ever accepted this, though I learned it the hard way.


3. You need to set your own goals and expectations, no matter how small they may seem.

Part of the struggle of being an unemployed graduate is not having an answer every time someone asks you what your plans are now that you've graduated. I tried to think of the most obscure way of saying that I was still looking and the most impressive way to mention that I was still freelancing so they knew I wasn't a total lost cause. Regardless, I felt like I was letting every single person down, even if I had just met them five minutes before they asked me the typical (and dreaded) post-grad questions.

I kept thinking that if I didn't have an answer that started with "I" and ended with "have a job," I had failed society and my higher education in some way. (Dramatic, much?) Especially coming from a school that is so heavily focused on jobs and a school where the norm seems to be students graduating, employed months in advance, and ready to dive into the real world come May, I felt like I could feel everyone passing judgment every second of every day. I spent a lot of my final days in Boston in cafes, getting my freelance work done and sending out resumes. Even then, I kept glancing around the cafe, extra self-conscious and convinced that they all knew I had just graduated and was still on the job hunt.

Truth is, no one is judging you. And if they are, who cares? No offense to anyone, but they, especially that barista wondering what the hell you're doing back here again for the third day in a row, don't matter. Once I started pushing aside what I thought people were thinking about me and focused on setting little goals for myself instead, I started getting work done. Instead of focusing on the negativity I was surrounding myself with, I set daily goals of updating my resume, applying to a certain number of jobs, and reaching out to certain contacts — anything to give each day purpose and to keep me sane.

One of the last things a professor told me during our graduation festivities was that you have to give worth to the little victories. He was right.


4. You will never have the luxury of this much time off again, so take advantage of it.

The one thing I definitely didn't do enough of is this lesson right here. I don't know about you, but this was the one piece of advice everyone was telling me going into my final year of college. They told me to take a vacation, travel, take the time to do all the things I want to do while I don't have to worry about requesting vacation days. That liberty is gone as soon as you step into the office for your first day.

Going back to lesson #1, I didn't plan any big trips or holidays because I was expecting to be employed. I had a plan for myself following graduation (reminder: a plan that didn't pan out). That meant I was waiting to have a job and start date set, so I could schedule a vacation around that. I thought I would have months of flexibility because that's what seemed to be the norm among my peers.

I was waiting for each piece of the puzzle to fit together, and when that didn't happen, nothing happened. When post-grad life didn't exactly start out the way I had envisioned, I let time slip away from me. That is probably my biggest regret of my most immediate post-grad life and if you take away anything from this, I hope it is to take advantage of the time you have.

5. Everything works out.

I know. It's cliche and overstated, but it's true.

Everything has a way of working out, no matter how convinced you are that it won't. I don't remember ever feeling at such a loss as I did these last few months, feeling emotions that I had worked so hard all of my spring semester to get rid of and worse. Coping with the start of this new chapter, yet being stuck in a weird limbo was unsettling. It resulted in some pretty low moments and as time passed, my thoughts continued on a negative downwards slope. Now looking back, I know that compared to others, this period for me was relatively short, but having friends tell me that things would work out — even if I didn't believe them at the time — was still a constant good reminder.

Two weeks ago, I still hadn't heard back anything positive from all of those jobs I had been so proud of myself for finally even applying to, as mentioned in lesson #3. And then, it all just fell into place. The agonizing months — seriously, I started this job hunt back in March — of sleepless nights suddenly came to an end in a matter of days. Then, exactly a week ago, I started my first job at a publication I never thought I'd have the privilege of joining.

So yes, as trite as it may be, everything works out and that (and #4) is the most important thing to remember.

Dress - Elizabeth & James
Heels - New Look


Details on my first day outfit will be on the blog soon!

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80 comments

  1. Oh dear, I totally get you, and I even feel indentified with how you feel. One of the things that hit me the most was the fact that I didn't have a structured schedule anymore, as you mentioned. I used to have everything planned in advanced but when I graduated I felt like losing my compass.
    I iwsh you the best on your new job and I hope you can absorb and learn from every experience of this new chapter of your life, dear!
    xx

    www.stylebydeb.com

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Not having a structured schedule is nice at first, but when it drags on and you don't know when it's going to end and go back to normal, it's frightening! Thank you so much!

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  2. Awesome tips Sora! I am halfway through with university and I feel like I don't know what will happen afterwards, unlike some of my friends who seem to have everything down already. Like internships and jobs and etc. I am pretty worried about after college because all our lives we had school to structure our lives, and we had guidance from teachers and advisors and such. I definitely will keep these tips in mind. Congrats on your job!! Definitely keep us updated on how everything is going!

    ~Andrea Tiffany~
    aglimpseofglam.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Of course, I'm glad I could share! It's definitely a stressful time, but enjoy your time and take advantage of it now! Don't stress too much yet. Enjoy where you are. Thank you!

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  3. Congrats on your job! It's a shame your life immediately after graduating wasn't what you expected, but wonderful that you were able to get a job in the end. Very exciting for you! Kind of you to share your lessons for others too :)

    Away From The Blue Blog

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    1. It is, but such is life! Thank you so much :)

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  4. Congrats on your new job, love!! I adore this article & your advice. Thank you so much for writing. I miss you!! Xoxoxo

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you, my love!!!! I love you and miss you so much. <3

      Delete
  5. You've made some really greta points, particularly in that things won't always turn out as planned, but how that really is okay :) Number 5 is my favourite point - wise words! You look amazing in the striped dress by the way, gorgeous girl :)

    Gabrielle | A Glass Of Ice x

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    1. Yes! That was definitely hard for me to come to terms with when things DIDN'T seem like they were going to be okay... but, it works out! Thank you so much, Gabrielle! :)

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  6. These are all such great points, especially #5! Honestly, I've been done for a number of years and I'm still sorting everything out...but it does all work out in the end :)

    Jackie
    Something About That

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!! It's a lot to sort out haha, but we're all in it together!

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  7. Congrats girl!! Loved these tips, especially the last one. It is so true, things have a way of working out.

    xoxo, ❤︎ rach ❤
    RachaelBurgess.com | Instagram

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  8. Definitely you are in the real world now and you will always looking forward to your day off. Hahaha! Congrats on your job! Thanks for your wonderful comment on Qing's Style I hope you keep in touch, I would love to hear from you!

    Follow me @qingsstyle on Instagram and Twitter!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, weekends take on a whole new meaning haha. Thank you!

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  9. Congrats!!!!! Thanks for the great tips! xo, Sophia from http://www.sistersandglitters.com

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  10. Great tips, hun! The transition period after graduating can be stressful, it's kind of like being thrown into the deep waters! But like you said, everything works out in the end. :) I was lucky to find a decent-ish job right away, but I sure do miss having as much free time as I did as a uni student! <3

    Kay
    http://shoesandglitter.com/

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The transition was definitely harder than I was expecting. I think I'm still wrapping my head around it, to be honest! Thank you!

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  11. Awesome tips babe! Sometimes it seems like we're pressured to have everything figured out and set up high goals, when we should just go at our own pace.

    xo
    www.carinavardie.com

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    Replies
    1. Exactly, there's nowhere near as much stress when you just let yourself go at your own pace. Thank you!

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  12. I definitely think number five is a BIG one. It really does all work out...eventually! And in a way, it's a nice journey to get to that point. I was really lucky in landing my dream job quite soon after graduating but I also know a lot of people who haven't and it's made them so much stronger as people.

    Musings & More

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    1. Congratulations, that's amazing! Absolutely, I completely agree with that and see that happening, too. It sets you up to survive the real world.

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  13. I totally agree that things don´t go as planned all the time - that´s life. This is such a lovely post and I wish you good luck at your first job! xoxo

    www.naomella.com

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  14. Congratulations dear, Great tips too.

    www.tessyonyia.com

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  15. University seems a really long time ago for someone in her mid 40s BUT I can absolutely remember how petrified and exhilarated I was when graduating. I think I might even have felt sick to my stomach and had to resist the urge to regurgitate GRIN I wish you all the best, Sora, things can only get better (and more rollercoaste ride-esque) from here.

    Do come and link up? xoxo

    https://sheelagoh.com/2016/08/05/being-uncomfy-a-link-up/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Graduation was definitely all of those things! Thank you so much! I appreciate it. :)

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  16. A big step on your future! Wishing the best of luck! xx
    Coco and Jeans by Marisa

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  17. Yay, congratulations on your graduation! ♥ You totally deserved it! Your photos show how genuinely happy you are. Good luck! :)

    Hope to hear from you soon! ♡

    Love, Airish
    Gorgeous Glance
    airishabella.blogspot.com

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  18. Congratulations on your graduation Sora, good luck with the new chapel of your life! Loved this post. Gemma x
    www.jacquardflower.uk

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  19. Congrats on your graduation babe! x

    Have a nice week,
    Andreea
    http://couturezilla.com/

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  20. Great points. Congrats on your graduation and your new job!

    Face to Curls | http://facetocurls.com

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  21. This was me when I graduated high school. I had everything planned out (for the most part) I knew what I wanted to do... and then it didn't happen. And it really didn't help that most of my friends had everything planned out too, because it worked out for them, but not me. I'm trying to learn to go with the flow now, but as someone who likes planning and being organized it's a little hard. I agree, we have to take the small victories!

    Sam | My Beauty Cloud

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The transition from high school to college is definitely a difficult one, too. I'm glad you've been able to work on it as well! It's definitely hard to take a step back and go with the flow sometimes, so I'm right there with you.

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  22. I think it's a shock to many new graduates when they enter the working world, it does take some getting used to but seems like you pretty much had it figure out. And your positive attitude will definitely get you far. xx

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

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    1. I think it was more the in between period than working since I've done so many co-ops, thanks to my school's program, but it's definitely been a transition. Thank you!

      Delete
  23. So true! I found out that everything works out in the end. The time spend worrying was worthless!
    Lovely post!
    Dora www.BangsBang.com

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  24. I'm graduating next year so I'm taking advantage of all the free time that I can get. Congratulations and good luck on your career!

    https://sheenconcepcion.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's the best thing you can do. Thank you!

      Delete
  25. Ohh you look so happy and beautiful ♥

    The White Print BlogCGrabowska's InstagramSNAPCHAT: CGRABOWSKALIVE

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  26. Congrats on finding a job! Love your Asos dress!

    LUXESSED

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  27. This is such a great post, girl, and I know for sure that it's helped your readers who are preparing to transition into real life! I've graduated college 6 years ago this past May (I still can't believe lit!) and to be quite honest, not much of what I thought my life was going to be like is a reality for me now and you know what, I'm grateful for that! I love my life and though it hasn't always been the journey that I expected, I know that I've always been where I needed to be, including now. Thanks again for sharing, beauty, and cheers to your new job! I wish you the absolute best in all your endeavors!

    XO,

    Jalisa
    www.thestylecontour.com

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate that, Jalisa. :) Sometimes, the unexpected is the best! I'm glad you are happy with where you are now because really, that's all that matters. Thank you!

      Delete
  28. Really great tips. I agree with all of them. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to adult so early and just go back to school...haha!

    http://www.thebeautybeau.com

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    1. Haha, wouldn't that be the dream! Thank you!

      Delete
  29. #4 would be my biggest takeaway to any college student both in and just having graduated (assuming a job immediately upon grad hasn't already been secured). That was one of the hardest adjustments to adult life was the end of summer and winter breaks. Yea, you get a week here and there of vacation (if you are lucky) but its nowhere near as mentally relaxing. Love your first day on the job outfit! :)

    Erica
    http://pumpsandpushups.com/take-these-three-steps-everyday-for-a-better-summer-shape/

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I know I still have a few months, but I'm already dreading not having an actual winter break! Thank you so much. :)

      Delete
  30. amazing words of wisdom! :D

    Have a great day!
    Animated Confessions

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  31. I definitely agree that life won't go as planned! In high school I was able to map our which classes to take, extracurriculars, etc and things could kind of fit on a "formula" of sorts. But jeez, after college (especially with my career), life has really thrown some curveballs at me! I planned on staying in NYC for years after graduation, but somehow ended up in Germany and now California. Everything has been such an adventure!

    Stephanie ● Sartorial Diner

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    1. Ahh, jealous that you're in California! That does sound like an adventure. Being abroad must have been incredible though. Those are some serious curveballs! Glad to see how it's all worked out though. :)

      Delete
  32. Congratulations! And may I also say you look like Jenna Ushkowitz. So cute! xo

    AFU

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    1. Thank you! And aw, I've never gotten that before, thank you!! :)

      Delete
  33. what a lovely post my dear
    congrats onthe graduation and lovely tipps
    so helpfull
    simply love it!

    with love your AMELY ROSE

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  34. Amazing!
    Have a nice week-end!
    Gil Zetbase
    http://gilzetbase.com/

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  35. Happy New Year's 2017 and happy graduation for you x.
    This post is true, I also kind of having the same lessons I learned after graduated.


    www.arindapuspitasari.com

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  36. I feel you girl! Life does not always goes as planned, but the more I experience it, the more I am grateful for it. A lot of wonderful things happened to me totally by accident :) hahah Have a lovely afternoon!

    ReplyDelete

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