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Navigating Your First Summer As A College Graduate

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Jun. 24 2013, Published 2:50 a.m. ET

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In late April, everything started to slow down for me. My last papers had been handed in, my planner’s lines started to open up. I started to think about saying my good-byes to some friends, professors, and staff members. My college gave the graduating seniors about a week between our final exams and graduation, and I planned to do just about nothing with that week.

The previous semester had truly taken a toll on me. There was so much pressure to interview with and pick grad schools, get an exciting job, move somewhere new. I also wasn’t quite finished with many of the extracurricular projects I had been working on in college, and the stress of dealing with all of those demands turned into an intense anxiety. However, as the school year drew to a close, I started to find more and more strength in myself and in my abilities; I knew that deciding to hold off on grad school and choosing to apply for jobs after school rather than during it weren’t choices that made me less of a good student. Instead, they were choices that were helping me to stand on my own, brand-new graduate adult feet.

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I started my summer with an internship that had landed in my lap after I’d attended a press preview for an art exhibition. Then, without me even realizing it, I’d been hired by a gallery to help run the new location, hired for two part-time lifeguarding gigs, and continuing my job from the semester prior at the Food Bank. So let’s count… that’s four paying jobs (all part-time) and one unpaid internship. Suffice it to say, I found myself as busy as I was during college! I was gone all day working, trying to manage my move to the West Coast, and trying to stay in touch with friends I might not see for years.

All this to say that handling that first summer out of college was – and is – a little more complex than I anticipated. Perhaps it is for you too, and I hope that my story and some of the things I’m doing now will ease that transition for you. Here are some tips I’ve gathered that can help you make the most out of your first college-free summer:

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  1. Make a budget.

    Get comfortable with anything you owe (student loans, credit cards) and make a plan. Find out about your deferral period, interest rates, and how you can make an emergency fund. What do you need to earn to pay at least the minimum on your loans? Obviously, I chose to work during the summer to save up for my move, my loans, and incidentals. Have fun, though – all work and no play can make you, well, dull. Working too much can also affect your emotional and physical health.

  2. Make a priority list. 

    What do you want to get accomplished? If you’re like me, and you chose not to go to grad school and also didn’t have a full-time, adult, big-girl job lined up, then this priority list is key. Think about what you want to be doing – really. It doesn’t have to be related to your major, feel free to branch out! But do make that list. To get started, think about where you might want to work, what kind of work you want to do, when you want to work, and what kinds of things you want to have money for. Once you’ve answered those questions, you can start narrowing down those job applications.

  3. Keep busy. 

    Don’t fall into the summer trap: yes, sleeping till noon and eating pizza and popcorn all day is kind of fun. However, doing that for even a few days in a row will really mess up your internal clock and your will power. If you’re not working for the summer, you can still get up, head to your favorite local haunt, and read. Do something with your time, aside from writing cover letters and doing applications, that will feel rewarding and useful. The summer trap turns into a rut, which turns into not having a job, which turns into living at home forever.

  4. Remember your worth. 

    You just spent at least four years working hard. You also spent time honing your skills. Getting a job doesn’t necessarily validate all of that, nor does not getting a job invalidate you. Remember that with patience, persistence, and faith in yourself, you’ll be okay. Don’t let other people’s success get you down, and don’t feel bogged down if you don’t get that first job right out of school as easily as you thought you might. It’ll turn around, it just takes time and effort!

Make a budget.

Get comfortable with anything you owe (student loans, credit cards) and make a plan. Find out about your deferral period, interest rates, and how you can make an emergency fund. What do you need to earn to pay at least the minimum on your loans? Obviously, I chose to work during the summer to save up for my move, my loans, and incidentals. Have fun, though – all work and no play can make you, well, dull. Working too much can also affect your emotional and physical health.

Make a priority list. 

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What do you want to get accomplished? If you’re like me, and you chose not to go to grad school and also didn’t have a full-time, adult, big-girl job lined up, then this priority list is key. Think about what you want to be doing – really. It doesn’t have to be related to your major, feel free to branch out! But do make that list. To get started, think about where you might want to work, what kind of work you want to do, when you want to work, and what kinds of things you want to have money for. Once you’ve answered those questions, you can start narrowing down those job applications.

Keep busy. 

Don’t fall into the summer trap: yes, sleeping till noon and eating pizza and popcorn all day is kind of fun. However, doing that for even a few days in a row will really mess up your internal clock and your will power. If you’re not working for the summer, you can still get up, head to your favorite local haunt, and read. Do something with your time, aside from writing cover letters and doing applications, that will feel rewarding and useful. The summer trap turns into a rut, which turns into not having a job, which turns into living at home forever.

Remember your worth. 

You just spent at least four years working hard. You also spent time honing your skills. Getting a job doesn’t necessarily validate all of that, nor does not getting a job invalidate you. Remember that with patience, persistence, and faith in yourself, you’ll be okay. Don’t let other people’s success get you down, and don’t feel bogged down if you don’t get that first job right out of school as easily as you thought you might. It’ll turn around, it just takes time and effort!

I hope you’ll find these tips useful, and maybe you might even share your summer story! I’d love to hear other ways you are transitioning out of college and into “real life.” Reach out to me at @kristenmaeve with your thoughts!

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