Graduating college is not only stressful but can be an extremely overwhelming time in a person's life. Aside from the fact that you have to move onto the 'real world' with a job, bills and responsibility, you are changing everything you have known for the past four years. We have put together some tips for college graduation and hopefully how to make the next steps in your life a little easier.
Preparing for Graduation - As the time nears closer to commencement there are a few things you are going to need to make sure you have taken care of:
- Do You Have Enough Credits? – While this may seem like a silly question, I know several people who thought they had enough credits to graduate only to find out in the middle of their last semester they were one or two credits shy. Make sure you talk to your advisor, check out your school’s website or visit the Registrar’s office so you aren’t left watching from the back on Commencement day.
- Complete the Required Paperwork – One of the most commonly overlooked pieces when it comes to graduation is making sure you have all of your paperwork turned in. Most colleges require you to submit a graduation application or an ‘Intent to graduate’ form before your last semester. This usually includes the name you would like on your diploma along with the address you would like it sent to. You should also check on whether or not you are required to attend an exit interview with the Admissions office.
- Pay Up! – One thing I learned in college is that schools do not mess around when it comes to money issues. Whether it is for tuition, room and board or a simple parking ticket, the school will be sure they get their money. Make certain all of your outstanding fees are paid along with any new ones associated with graduation. (Schools often require a small fee for diplomas)
- Order Your Cap and Gown – This varies from school to school. Some schools pay for each graduating senior’s cap and gown while other’s do not. Check with the bookstore as this is usually where they are ordered from.
- Who is coming to Commencement? – Commencement ceremonies differ from university to university depending on size and tradition. Larger schools tend to offer a general commencement ceremony for all students along with individual ceremonies for each program while smaller colleges may only have one ceremony. Seats are likely limited and you will be given a certain number of tickets. Determine who will be attending your graduation and how many tickets you will need. Need more than you are allotted? Ask around. Most people don’t use all of theirs.
- Sending Invitations – Yes, this is one of the most tedious tasks there are but if you want people to attend your graduation then you are going to have to invite them. Be sure to include their tickets in the invitation. If it will require travel, provide them with information on hotels in the area.
- Don’t Forget About Your Friends! – The last few weeks of school are extremely hectic. Finals are wrapping up, people are packing to go home and you are trying to enjoy the last few weeks of college life. Before all of this craziness begins, start gathering the contact information of those around you. Telephone numbers, email addresses, IM names, Myspace profiles, whatever you need to stay in touch with them.
After College - When you leave college you are going to be starting a new life. Before you graduate, here are some things you are going to need to think about:
- Job or Grad School? – For some people four years of school is enough. They are ready to go out, start working and never open another Accounting book for the rest of their lives. For others, grad school is the only option. You can’t very well be a doctor without attending med school now can you? How do you decide whether grad school is for you? Obviously there is no easy answer but there are questions you need to ask yourself. Examples:
- Where would you like your career to go? Will it require more schooling?
- Can you afford more school from a financial standpoint?
- Are you going to school because you don’t want to get a job?
If you are in fact looking to go to Graduate school, here are a few resources to help you:
- Do I Have to Get a Job Right Away? – You just attended college for four years, you are in debt, and everyone, including you, is expecting you to be on your way to a promising career. Remember that you have your whole life to work. Take some time to travel the country, work odd jobs and do something you love. Working in a restaurant my first year out of college was the best decision I could have made. I met new people, enjoyed life and also matured into someone who was actually ready to start a career.
- Moving Back Home – After a few years of independence can you really bring yourself to move back in with Mom and Dad? In reality, no one actually wants to move back into a place with rules, regulations and a watchful eye but it may be the best option. Free food, no rent, no utilities and free laundry don’t sound so bad when you are making little to no money. Before you immediately start apartment hunting, think about what is going to suit you best in the long run both personally and financially.
- Health Insurance – Having health insurance my whole life I never thought twice about it. When I went away to college Mom gave me a card and told me to hold onto it. Only when I wasn’t living at home anymore and didn’t have health insurance did I realize I needed it. Take a look at some health plans to see what is best for you and what you can afford. Even if you are starting a job, there may be a grace period before you start receiving benefits. Here is a link to a great student health insurance resource from the University of Washington.
- Paying Your Student Loans – Now that you have graduated do you immediately have to start paying off the money that got you through school? Well yes and no. The best thing to do is start making payments as soon as you can. However, the nice thing about student loans is that they are just that – for students. You typically have a six month window before you have to start paying and if you are unable to start your payments then you can defer them for up to a year. Find out about interest rates, consolidating and the best payment plan for you.
- Establish Credit but Not Debt– You just graduated, you are living in a new apartment, you haven’t gotten your first paycheck and you need furniture, groceries and new work clothes. It is very easy to take that credit card and start charging. It is also very easy to accumulate credit card debt just like that. Don’t spend more than you can afford to pay off. Start small and pay it off monthly.
Getting a Job – Unless you are planning on winning the lottery, you are going to have to get a job. I’m sure you will hear that the job search process isn’t ideal and it can be frustrating. Here are some ways to make it a little easier:
- Figure Out Where You Want to Live – Ignore the thought of living with mom and dad for a second and think about where you want to be. Can you go back to your hometown? Is there a city you have always dreamed of living in? Where are the best opportunities for your career? When you begin to look for jobs it can be much easier if you are open to living in a number of places. If there is one place you know you want to live, focus your job search there.
- Putting Together Your Resume – How many times have you heard how important your resume is? Well guess what? Those people weren’t lying to you. In the eyes of a company, your resume not only provides the first impression but also represents you as a person. Visit your campus career center, talk to your advisor or check out our resume resources below (#20).
- Dealing with Rejection – You may apply for 300 jobs in 35 different cities and only hear back from ten of them. You may think that you had the best interview of your life and as it turns out they decided to go with someone else. There are always going to be rejections and it will always be frustrating. Try and take it with a grain of a salt and move on to the next opportunity. You will find what is right for you.
- Take An Interview – One of the best ways to become better at talking and interviewing with companies is…to talk and interview with companies! If you are given the opportunity to come in and interview for a job, take it. Even if you think that you may not want the position, go in, talk to the people who work there, speak with the HR person and practice your interviewing skills. It will give you an idea of the questions you will be asked and also provide you with a better idea of what you are looking for.
- A Job Isn’t a Job –You may be anxious to get a job and start your life but keep in mind that this is your life. Don’t take a job just because it is the first one offered to you. Find a job that you want and will enjoy. Remember, you have to be there five days a week.
Resources – Here are some resources to help you through the job process:
- Searching for a Job – Yes we all know about the big job search sites, Careerbuilder.com, Monster.com and Hotjobs.com and they are in fact very useful. There are also a number of other sites dedicated to entry-level positions for college graduates:
Don’t forget to work with your college’s career center and alumni department
- Resume Writing – There are millions of sites out there that provide you with tips on how to write a resume and what makes a good resume. Here a couple good ones geared towards college seniors:
- Resume Writing Tips from Boston College's Career Center
- How to Write a Resume from Capital University
- 10 Minute Resume - Resume Resource and Information
- Interviewing Tips – Interviewing can be a bit nerve-wracking but it is much easier when you are prepared. Learn about the business, go over common questions and be ready to answer just about anything.
- Enjoy the time you have! – While you need to make sure you are ready to move on you should also be enjoying the time you have now. Hang out with your friends, enjoy only having to attend three classes a day and make the most of your last few months of college. Just make sure to keep these tips in mind when you do start thinking about your future.