It was the best of times and the worst of time. This is how I would describe my experience as a graduating senior back in 2008. As you are all facing a crisis with the COVID-19 outbreak, 2008 was plagued by a horrible financial crisis. High unemployment rates and general hysteria rampaging through social media caused more anxiety to pile on top of the anxiety my friends and I were already facing as college seniors.
I had been told all my life that the “correct” thing to do was to go to college and get good grades and that upon graduation I would be rewarded with a wonderful job with a great salary. This was not the case. So, while I was thrilled to be done with school and get to go out and join the real world – because I hated sitting in class and having to study – the opportunities I had once been promised didn’t seem to be available.
We know this pandemic will end and you will start your life as a new graduate. That transition can have a bit of a learning curve. Looking back, I also realize that there are several things I didn’t know and never considered doing which may have helped. I hope to pass those tips onto you with my top 10 tips for college seniors.
1. Visit the career services office on campus.
Most universities and colleges have an office dedicated to helping students explore careers, search for jobs, write their resume and cover letter and sometimes even connect with alumni in similar roles. When I was a college senior I remember my mom trying to get me to use this service and I kept telling her my school had no such office. Did I ever look into it? Probably not, I was too busy having fun. Look on your school’s website, ask someone who works in the library (librarians know everything) or go check at an administrative office. Don’t give up until you track this office down!
2. Get letters of recommendation from your favorite teachers.
I was always convinced that my teachers wouldn’t remember me. With some of my courses having over 500 students, no wonder I felt this way. A good way to overcome this is to send an email to one of your favorite teachers requesting an appointment while reminding them of who you are. Include your name, which classes you took from them which semesters and something memorable like what topic you chose for a paper or project you completed in that class. I have since learned that teachers remember more of their students than we think, especially when supplied with these helpful details. Be flexible with what times you can meet – the teacher is busier than you I promise.
When you go to the meeting bring copies of your paper(s) from the classes you took with the teacher as well as a copy of your unofficial grades. Talk to the teacher about your hopes and dreams for the future, how you feel their class or teaching style helped you and ask if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation that you could use when applying to jobs or graduate school. Most teachers will take the time to do this if you ask nicely and give them enough time to do it. If you can, try to get letters of recommendation from 3-4 teachers, but definitely at least 1.
3. Get a job- any job- just build your experience and skills while you figure out what you want to do!
Not everyone gets the job they love right out of college. That being said, every job you have will teach you valuable skills and help you figure out what you are good at and what you enjoy doing as well as what you definitely do not enjoy doing. Eventually, you will figure out where you are meant to be and what you are supposed to be doing. This journey may involve many twists and turns, but that’s life. That’s the adventure! On top of learning great new skills, you will also meet lots of new people, some of whom may be friends. Some of them will teach you some much needed soft skills such as conflict resolution negotiation, interpersonal communication skills and patience.
Never stop networking! There are several ways to do this. If you were in a sorority that’s a great place to start! Set up coffee dates with local alumni and find out what they do. Talk to them about your interests and ask them for advice. LinkedIn is another great way to network so make sure you have an updated profile. Set up resume writing or LinkedIn profile building workshops with your friends (it also makes for a great sorority activity).
Volunteering is another great way to network as it allows you to meet new people who likely share similar interests with you in a more informal setting. You can even volunteer for an organization you may be interested in working for. It’s a great way to learn more about the organization and get a foot in the door.
5. Don’t be too proud to ask your parents for financial help.
Not all parents are able to help but if you need to move back home while searching for a job or saving money for an apartment. Don’t be too proud to ask. Most parents are more than willing to help if they can. Warning- this often means having to readjust to your parent’s rules and they may ask you to chip in and pay some rent or utilities. It’s still oftentimes cheaper than coming up with first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit for an apartment. Since I graduated at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, moving home was my first step. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the most fun, but if you are struggling to find a job or pay your bills, it definitely beats being homeless.
6. Travel as much as you can.
It doesn’t have to be expensive or luxurious, hostels are actually really fun! You can also usually find some pretty cheap flights to Europe especially if you are flexible with dates and exactly where you want to go. Once you get yourself to a different continent it’s typically pretty easy and not too expensive to get around and see lots of amazing things! Travel has helped me to try new food, new activities and talk to people from different backgrounds with different life experiences. If another continent isn’t in your budget, get your BFF and get in your car! Road trips are a great way to bond with a friend and experience new things. You would be amazed at the cultural variety and many wonderful towns and cities all across America!
7. Maintain work-life balance- friends, hobbies and passion projects.
You’re going to be surprised by how much free time you will have when graduate. No more late-night studying or multiple sorority events to attend in a week. Schedule time into your day or week to stay connected to others, develop new skills and potentially uncover hidden talents. Take this free time to try new things and explore a totally new part of life.
8. Be bold- ask for what you want, you’ll likely get exactly what you need!
Not to get too outside of the box, but sometimes it’s important to have faith that you will end up exactly where you are meant to. If that’s faith in God or trusting the universe to guide you on your journey, it doesn’t matter. The important thing to remember is that some things are outside of your control.
This is why it’s a great idea to really think about your life goals and express them clearly and concisely to your friends and while you are networking. Do you want a specific job? Tell people! You never know when you will come across someone who knows someone who works at your dream company or in your dream role. Want to travel but it’s too expensive? Tell your friends! They might be wanting to travel too but are encountering the same financial restraints. Maybe you can share a hotel room or an Airbnb? Struggling to find the perfect significant other or business partner? Figure out what qualities you are looking for in a partner and let your network know. Seriously, this works for every type of goal! If you don’t ask for what you want, your network can’t help you get it. Often times you’ll be amazed at the results and realize you ended up getting exactly what you needed exactly when you needed it most.
9. Don’t forget self-care.
Mental health is important but often overlooked. As you move towards graduation and start to transition into the real world, try not to let finals, graduation, your job search or new career overwhelm you or take up all of your time. If you don’t find time to de-stress and have fun, it will negatively impact your physical and mental health and decrease your productivity. Try meditation or yoga, or take a long walk with a friend. If you like art, sign up for an art class at your local community college or community center. Whatever makes you happy and helps you to relax, find time to do it!
10. Make a list of life goals and a plan to achieve them.
Career goals, relationship goals and financial goals are all important and often intimidating. Start by identifying your top life goals and break them down into smaller more achievable goals. Once you have done this, plan for how to achieve them. Want to save up money to buy an apartment or house? Find your dream house online to get a sense of how much money you might need and calculate a 20% down payment. When do you want to achieve this goal? How much do you need to save every month? Can you cut any costs from your weekly spending? Keep track of your progress in whatever way motivates you most- a spreadsheet and charts or a creative storyboard.
Re-evaluate your goals every so often – maybe once a year – to see how you are doing with your plan and reprioritize the importance of each goal based on where your life has taken you. Stay flexible and realistic and never give up! You can accomplish anything you put your mind to!