How to Transition from College to the Real World

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You just spent the last 13, 17, or 21 years of your life in school. You’ve graduated; you’re finished. Now what?! As much as most people look forward to this change, this rite of passage, it can be a major stressor that leaves people feeling lost, depressed, overwhelmed, or afraid.

sad graduateSome may not have looked forward to the “real world” and continued in school, at least partially to avoid this phase of life. For some people, school was just what they were expected to do, whether it was an expectation they handed to themselves or was handed to them by others. It is easy to feel lost when you don’t have a game plan or know what the next step is.

Be Realistic.

Sometimes graduates place too much expectation on themselves to immediately achieve. Although some have immediate luck, it can take months to find your first professional job. Have a plan, but make your goals realistic. Remember, some things are out of your control. If you want or need to start working right away, you may have to take a less than ideal job while looking for a career position.

Check Your Attire.

If you want to be taken seriously, dress for the job you want. Even if you are applying to deliver pizzas, wear a shirt and tie, men, or skirt and closed-toed shoes, ladies. If you want to be a professional and not a college student, people will only see you that way if you do not dress like a college student. Even when you are not going to an interview, you never know who you will see or who may end up becoming a business contact.

Say It Outloud.

Talk about what you are doing and what you would like to do. Often it is more about who you know than what you know in getting your first job. Rather than being the networker that is always attending events and handing out business cards to everyone they meet, discover the network you already have. Your stylist probably is not going to offer you a job, but he or she will likely know someone in your field. Referrals are about entrusting your reputation to another. Be responsible and respectful of the relationships you develop and understand it is about relationship. Also, don’t forget to keep reading and learning, so that you have something to talk about.

Be Productive.

Some find they have free time on their hands with which they do not know what to do, especially if you are still looking for a job. Even if you are gainfully employed, you likely no longer have homework and the various club activities that filled your social calendar during college. Rather than playing internet poker, master solitaire, or establishing yourself at local bars, find a way to focus this time on something positive that will make you feel productive and/or accomplished. Find some good deals and travel. Exposing yourself to the world beyond will expand your understanding and may help you determine what you would like your next step to be. Although you may only be able to afford a short trip, you may be able to take some time to study a language in an immersion program. This could also be a time to get serious about a workout program or start training for a marathon. That is an accomplishment of which to be proud!

Make a Budget.

You will likely have new bills or bills for the first time in your life. Make a financial plan or budget and stick to it. Live within your means and avoid the temptation of credit cards. You have plenty of time to collect stuff throughout your life.


Being social is different when you are not in school. You may have to search for those things with which to get involved. In cities, you can generally find intramurals, classes, and events, all things where you can share a common interest and meet new people. Go ahead and join any local professional clubs or organizations related to your desired industry. i.e. Ad Club for advertising or marketing majors; PRSA for PR majors. Or, join your local alumni organization for your university.

If you are not sure the direction towards which you want to steer your life, or you are having a difficult time adjusting, a life coach or therapist can be supportive, helpful, and insightful. Do not forget to exercise, eat right, sleep well (at regular hours), and talk to your friends to prevent negative feelings. Strive for balance, moderation, and consistency, all things which contribute to a positive outlook and healthy physical and mental energy.


By Brooke Randolph, LMHC for

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