Colleges and universities across the country have spent the months of May and June conferring degrees on eager, young graduates. There were ceremonies, parties, and tearful goodbyes to friends and professors. Now that all the fanfare has quieted down, many people in the class of 2011 are probably asking themselves – what now? It can be a daunting time, particularly if you were a “traditional” student who went straight from high school to college. You’ve probably never not been a student. You probably moved fairly seamlessly from grade to grade and then onto college. In fact, to this point, starting college – especially those who moved away from home for the first time – has likely been among the greatest transitions you have ever experienced. And as challenging as it was to adjust to college life, there was a great deal of support built in – academic and residential advisers, counseling center staff and services, the structure of an academic schedule and the sense of community inspired by being surrounded by hundreds, or even thousands, of other college freshmen who are also trying to find their way.
With that type of support no longer available, you may suddenly find yourself feeling a bit lost. For the first time in your life, there is not really an obvious next step. The options are as endless as they are overwhelming. Should you stay in your college town, move back home with your parents or go some place entirely different? Should you try to break into the professional world, go to graduate school or take some time off to travel? If you decide to delve into the world of work, trying to find a point of entry as the economy continues to sputter and unemployment hovers around 9% can make you feel like giving up before you get started. If you decide to defer employment in favor of graduate school or travel, funding either of these options can range from challenging to impossible, depending on your personal financial situation. So, what’s a college graduate to do?
First of all, remember that college you gave so much money to over the past four years? It is in their best interest to have successful graduates, so they probably have some services in place for young alumni. Even if you never set foot in your career services office during your time in college, check it out now. They will likely be able to help you take an objective look at your individual situation and decide what the best next step is in terms of work, travel or graduate school. If you select work or graduate school, they will probably also be able to assist you in developing your application materials and implementing some proven strategies for successful entry into whichever option you selected. They may even be able to help you connect with alumni who can help you to successfully navigate the paths to work or graduate school.
Once you have decided whether you want to jump into the workforce, pursue additional education or travel the globe, the question of where may already be resolved. If not, think about the support systems that were most critical to your successful adjustment to college life. For many, the friends that they made in college became more like family than friends and having this close-knit circle of support made even the hardest days feel more manageable. If this was your experience, consider trying to remain connected to this group. Naturally, some will move away to other places and others will probably stay. If possible, try to establish a roommate relationship with one or more of these people. This will serve practically, as a means of keeping living costs down by splitting them between roommates, and emotionally, as a means of support during this transitional period.
On the other hand, if you garnered more support from advisers and counselors than from friends, enlist their support once again. Your academic advisers and professors have a wealth of experience and connections, and as your teachers, they also have a vested interest in your success. If you found great comfort in a counseling relationship, discuss the options for continuing your work. Even if it isn’t possible to continue counseling at your college’s center beyond graduation, perhaps your therapist has a private practice where you can see him/her. If that is not possible, ask your therapist for a referral to another therapist he/she thinks would be a good fit for you.
As you exit the comforting structure and support that was built in to your college experience and enter the “real world,” it is natural to feel overwhelmed and even lonely at times. When these feelings seem to be more than you can bear, reflect back on the people and systems that enabled you to feel supported and achieve success in college, and reach out to them again. Though these support systems are no longer built in to your everyday life, they are still there – it is up to you to tap into them.
© Copyright 2011 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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