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So You've Graduated College. Now What?

After years of work you’ve finally got the degree to show for it—definitely an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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But unless you’re going straight to back to school for another degree, once the graduation parties are over it’s time to take what you’ve learned and become a productive member of society.

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The transition from being in college to being on your own can be stressful for a number of reasons.

1. Employment

You might have a job – if you do, it’s going to take time to get used to being in the workforce.

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In school, you might have been able to swing a schedule with no classes before noon or gotten away with cutting class, but it doesn’t work like that anymore. Making the transition from the life of a student to a full-time work week can be hard—sitting behind a computer all day can be soul sucking and it might feel like you barely have any free time. If you can, break up your day by getting out of the office during your lunch break – the brief change of scenery and ability to get up and move around can be refreshing.

While you’re learning how to do your new job, don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor or build friendships with coworkers, odds are they would prefer you ask questions; that is the only way you will learn work expectations, procedures, and protocol. You might feel like you’re in over your head, but the people who hired you saw something in you so try and remember that you deserve to be there. Remember, lots of people out there “fake it ‘til they make it,” and when in doubt, ask Google.

You might be on the job hunt...

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This means that job hunting is basically your new day job, and the pressure to make sure you are committing enough daily hours toward networking, tailoring your resume, and writing cover letters can run high. You might feel a little left behind, but you’re certainly not alone. The unemployment rate is currently 5.6 percent and the underemployment rate is 12.6 percent for young college grads.[1] Keep pushing those resumes out and eventually you’ll find something.

2. Responsibility

You’ll discover that adulting is hard.

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When you were in college you probably didn’t realize how much was still being taken care of for you. Life after graduation brings all kinds of responsibilities, all at once, which can be overwhelming to say the least. Set reminders. Lots of reminders! You might prefer sticky notes, you might prefer your phone, but setting reminders will help keep you on track with everything from paying bills to getting your oil changed. If you aren’t sure where to start, make a list first then work your list items into a routine – and make sure to set aside time for things you enjoy!

3. Social Support

You might feel lonely.

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You might feel lost without the support system you had when you were in college. It can be challenging to move home, a new place, or to live alone especially if you have been living with roommates while in school.

Take advantage of this time in your life to learn about yourself. It is easier said than done, but learning to be comfortable by yourself is important. Think about the benefits of alone time and celebrate this newly found independence. If this is something you struggle with, start with small things like going to the grocery store and work your way up to treating yourself to a dinner out alone.

You’re going to miss your friends. A lot.

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Moving away from your friends is one of the most difficult parts of life after graduation. Get creative in the ways you keep in touch with your friends. Try sending some old-fashioned snail mail. Have Skype dinner parties—agree on an easy recipe with your friends and all plan to cook it one night, Skype while you eat dinner and it’ll be like they’re sitting right there with you!

Different people are in your life at different stages; even though you’re leaving friends behind, there will be plenty more to make in the future. Making friends isn’t necessarily as easy as it was in school when you were surrounded by thousands of people your age, so you will have to make an effort. This might mean going out of your comfort zone. Pick up new hobbies you have always wanted to try. Join a book club or social sports league in your area to meet new people. Try social networking apps and websites like MeetUp (https://www.meetup.com/. ) Remember, friendships take time.

You might have to go long distance with your relationship.

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For some, graduation means going from an all-the-time relationship to a long-distance relationship. It will be hard but with some effort, you can make it work. Talk about what your expectations are and accept that fact that the nature of your relationship is going to change. There will be a learning curve in how to be together while apart from each other, so remember to keep open lines of communication about your satisfaction with your relationship.

Try making a couple’s calendar. You can either create a Google calendar, or go old school and buy each other paper calendars. Take note of when each of you are at work, traveling, or taking care of other obligations. Schedule visits, phone calls, and Skype dates. You might be on different time zones and have totally different schedules, but a calendar can help you stay involved in each others’ life.

4. Taking good care of yourself

You might feel lost without your campus resources.

Gone are the days of having a dining hall, fitness center, and health center available on-demand and all in one place. You’re going to have to put more work into being healthy.

Stay active.

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If you’re someone who worked out every day in college that doesn’t have to change. If you’re someone who relied on walking between classes to get some physical activity, it’s never too late to start exercising. Check with your employer (if you’ve got one) to see if they have a deal on gym memberships, or if there is workout equipment in your office building. Depending on where you live, there might even be a fitness center in your apartment building. The YMCA and gym chains like Planet Fitness offer memberships at affordable prices and opportunities to take classes, which can also be a great place to meet new friends. If going to the gym just isn’t your style, catch up with friends and talk on the phone while taking a walk. Whatever you do, aim for 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise. Exercise isn’t just for physical health – it can work in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety as well. Read more about healthy amounts of exercise here.

Eat healthy.

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Graduating college also means leaving behind your meal plan which might leave you feeling lost on what to eat. Healthy food is going to be more expensive than fast food and takeout (even though it is tempting), and it can be hard to find the motivation to cook dinner after a long day at work.

  • Look to the internet for ideas on how to be healthy on a budget. Check out Pinterest or Buzzfeed for articles showing how to eat healthy for a week with small sums of money.

  • Search articles for ways to meal prep and cook once to eat all week long. Try this one for starters.

  • Follow sites like Tasty for videos that show you step by step how to make meals.

Insurance can be confusing, but you need to learn about it. 

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Understand the basics about health insurance and what your options are. If you are under the age of 26 and your parents have health insurance, you may be able to stay on their plan. If you’re starting a new job, your new employer will likely have insurance options. Don’t be afraid to ask your HR person questions about your new health insurance plan. It is important to understand how co-pays, deductibles, and referrals work. If you don’t have access to health insurance through your parents or employer, visit healthcare.gov to learn more about other options. It is important to note that if you don’t have any health insurance, you will have to pay a penalty on your taxes regardless of age or student status.

Find a primary care doctor.

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Take the time right after graduation when you are settling in to your new place to find doctors in your area. You can discretely ask co-workers for recommendations or use websites like Doctor Directory to help you find a physician before you need one. If you take medication for your mental health, a primary care doctor may be able to refill prescriptions while you find a new psychiatrist. It is important to keep up with medicines and doses.

Make mental health appointments as soon as possible.

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While in school, many students choose to take advantage of their student counseling center or psychiatrist office for their mental health needs. Graduating means losing all those resources at once even though chances are you need to continue with care after college.

Don’t wait for your prescriptions to run out before you take action. Your insurance company will likely require you to get authorization from them, and/or a referral from your primary care doctor in order to see a mental health provider. You may need to call around, as not all providers may be accepting new patients. It can take weeks or even months to get in and see a counselor or psychiatrist, so get on their schedule early before a problem arises. Use online tools like the SAMHSA Treatment Locator or Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist tool to search for mental health professionals in your area. You can find provider profiles and read about their interests and refine by issue, insurance, age, and more. Your insurance company will likely also have a search function on their website or you can call them for a list of providers who accept insurance payments.

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Remember that it is never too late to start getting help for challenges you are facing. College likely kept you busy between schoolwork and socializing. You may find new or past difficulties you haven’t dealt with catching up with you. No matter if you are working or not, don’t be afraid to begin addressing these issues.

Finally, you can take a mental health screen; they are free, anonymous, and confidential at mhascreening.org. Taking a mental health screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are real, common and treatable. And recovery is possible. They are free, anonymous, and confidential.

If you or a loved one is in a mental health crisis, please either visit your local Emergency Room, call 911, reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255), or text "MHA" to 741741 to receive text-based crisis help.

Now get out there and go adult!


Sources

[1] http://www.epi.org/publication/class-of-2016/

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