College is the one of the strangest and longest lasting social experiments of our time. We take thousands of young people, put them together in one place with no supervision, and hope that it’s preparing them for the real world, which is nothing at all like college. Despite this, college usually does a decent job. It teaches independence, how to think, relationship skills, and how to hustle. However, no matter how good of an education we received in college, it didn’t teach us everything. As we know, experience is life’s greatest teacher, but not always its kindest; life after college is full of rude awakenings.
I know I have some of my own misconceptions, but I set out to get an idea of what other misconceptions some of my peers are experiencing. The most common themes that came up were finances, time management, networking, and career management. Hopefully, these themes should give soon-to-be college grads a fair warning. For those of us who have begun our journey outside of academia, know that you’re not alone.
Misconception #1: “When you have a full time job, you’ll be able to afford all the partying, trips, and eating out that you want to do.”
Reality: “I wish there was a crash course on money management after college. The transition from my only worry being the debate over buying the less expensive alcohol vs. the likelihood of a major hangover, to handling buying groceries, rent, car payments, insurance, licensing costs, and attempting to afford a good time in a new city can be quite overwhelming.” – Tom, The George Washington University Class of 2012
While this quote can downplay a lot of the financial struggles that many college students go through, it is an accurate reflection of how much more difficult it is to manage money as an adult. Money is a common challenge for many young adults, whether it’s finding out how to make enough or how to handle it correctly. Growing up, we were led to believe that a college degree was the sure path to upward financial mobility. Although college increases lifetime earning potential, it won’t make your financial worries disappear. Expenses pile up after college; rent, groceries, and transportation alone already have dibs on a huge part of your paycheck. This doesn’t include student loans, saving for the future, and discretionary funds to do the things you enjoy. After college, there’s no office of financial aid to help you find a solution to financial troubles; it’s on you.
But the good news is that there are a ton of handy mobile apps to help you manage your finances–such as Mint, Personal Capital, and Level. And the one important thing that keeps me going? Almost everyone we look up to had to go through a period like this. After all, if you can’t manage pennies, you won’t be able to handle millions.
Misconception #2: “I have so much free time to do things I enjoy.”
Reality: “Time management is challenging and so is adjusting to a schedule that’s very different from college.” – American University, 2012
This isn’t exactly a misconception. Without a class schedule, extracurricular activities, or homework, you do end up having a lot more free time after graduation. However, when you factor in an 8-hour workday followed by up to two hours of commuting, that’s already 10 hours that you devote to your job—almost half of your day. So you have more time, but not as much as you might expect. Making time for things like family, friends, and yourself becomes pretty challenging.
Academic calendars made time management pretty easy. Each year is neatly broken out into times for serious work (semesters), vacations (spring break), time for family (holidays), and personal growth and development (summertime). This organization disappears once you walk across the stage. Whether you accept it or not, for the first time in your life you take full ownership of your time. If you’re not careful, this time can easily pass you by. In college, late nights are often utilized as time to get ahead; after college, early mornings will be your best friend.
Misconception #3: “If you did well in school—got good grades, had an internship, participated in extracurriculars—you would be able to get a job that would pay you a decent, livable salary.”
Reality: “You’re not going to get your dream job. Sometimes, it takes more than hard work to excel.” – Hannah, Virginia Tech Class of 2009
This is probably one of the harshest realities that Generation Y has dealt with. Our parents and teachers told us that if we worked hard, we would be able to land our dream jobs. What they didn’t know is that these simple rules were changing as we were coming of age. Nothing made this clearer than the recession that failed a lot of the early millennials. Career management after college becomes much more complex than a well-written resume and cover letter. Skills such as negotiating salary, managing up, navigating office politics, and making career-paving decisions don’t usually find themselves on university curriculums. It’s also very hard for career centers to teach these skills; you have to experience them firsthand to learn how to master them.
There’s no real way to deal with many career challenges, as you can’t control the people within your organization. Also, different industries play by different sets of rules. With so many variables coming into play, you’re going to have to be willing to make mistakes to move ahead. Having a good community of people around you will prove valuable in mitigating these challenges.
Financial independence, time management, and career management are challenges for many young adults, not just recent grads. While it’s impossible to cover all of the challenges that come with the transition to life after graduation, this should give you an accurate picture of some of the trials ahead. No matter how prepared you may be, you will stumble at some point, but as one of the contributors to this article said, “Get in the habit of making smart mistakes,” because ultimately, experience is life’s greatest teacher.