Diploma Diaries: 4 Unexpected Ways to Find Your Path After College

By Emily Roseman, Alumna of American University

Almost a year later, my last official day of college is still so fresh in my mind.

I walked right off the commencement stage and into my emptied-out apartment. Lonely and full of fear of the blank slate in front of me, I finally had to face a question that I’d never had to address before: “What now?”

If you’re like me and have been planning your next move since high school, the idea of having to face the unknown is perhaps the most terrifying thing you can imagine.

But as someone who over plans for everything down to tomorrow’s lunch, I’m here to tell you to that it’s the unexpected events and choices you make that help you truly find your path after college.

Here are four unexpected ways to finding yours:

1. Looking for a new landlord? Try Mom and Dad!

Yes, that’s right. Calling Mom and Dad “landlord” for the next month or year is not as horrifying of an idea as you may think. The moment I hopped back into my car with no idea what was waiting for me back home in Connecticut made for a very long drive home from college. Truth be told, it was more the impending doom of having to live in my childhood bedroom with nosy neighbors wondering what was next that put me into hysterics.

Honestly, I was lucky enough to have very supportive parents who helped me through college and who have also allowed me to live at home while I commute to work in New York City.

How did I make it work?

I made it a mantra to always ask if they needed something first, not assuming life was back to being waited on hand and foot by dear old Mom and Dad. Talking openly with your new "landlords" who happen to be related to you will save you time, worry and, yes, lots of money.

The day I arrived home after graduation, I called my own “family meeting” to discuss the rules we all agreed were reasonable, and I gave my parents a chance to set boundaries for our co-existence as family but also as my landlords. This shows that you not only respect your parents but want the transition from living alone to sharing shower time to be much smoother.

2. Don’t get mad, get glad!

Maybe it’s just me, but growing up in a relatively small town where your business was everyone’s business is something that gave me heartburn before moving back. Being a successful student and not having the job to boast about when moving home not only weighed heavy on my confidence but also put me in a downright funk!

Locking myself in my room to apply for jobs day after day made me mentally and physically weak.

Do not let your post-grad life get you down in the dumps like it initially did for me. Rather, try seeing it as an advantage to have this time to plan out your next step — something that your working classmates didn’t get to do before heading off to their first job. Taking a moment to breathe and seeing your “time off” as time to reflect is honestly more productive than stewing for months wondering what you did wrong.

3. Stay active and involved

Adding on to the previous tip, instead of moping around at home, stay productive by taking on jobs (even if initially unpaid) that have some connection to your dream career.

For instance, if you yearn to be a PR maven, try offering your social media expertise to a local business that is lacking in this skill set. Small businesses love to have help in spreading the word, especially when it’s at no cost for them. When you apply or eventually interview for a job, you will have something to boast about your post-grad sabbatical besides, “Well, I have successfully watched every season of 'Gossip Girl' on Netflix.”

While this certainly is a tremendous feat, your would-be interviewer doesn’t want a couch potato. They want someone who shows determination and is proactive about getting the job they want.

4. Start living the life you want today

When you are your biggest critic this may not sound so helpful, but telling yourself you will succeed and adopting a well-rounded lifestyle will pay off in better job applications and a happier, healthier you.

During my time off between graduation and my first real job, I was able to focus on what really makes me happy. I chose activities that not only relaxed my frenetic brain but also gave me an extra boost in confidence. As an avid photographer, I picked up my camera after a long hiatus and snapped my summer away, finally getting my creative juices flowing again. I also picked up yoga since my negative attitude toward the job market totally impacted my chi (still learning here!)

I was able to relax, focus my energy on bettering myself and adopt my newfound mantra of never allowing small setbacks to keep me from achieving my dreams.

Looking back on my multiple-month “vacation,” I now realize that I should have taken my own advice at the time. Listen to those around you who say this is just a minor inconvenience. Take that trip across the country you’ve been dying to take. Or why not enjoy some catching-up time with Mom and Dad over a nice meal?

I finally did get my dream job in news production, so all that worrying really was pointless in the end.

NEW FROM U CHIC: Get the scoop on finding post-college success from women who have achieved it in U Chic’s "Diploma Diaries," a perfect gift for the recent college graduate! Heading to college soon? Check out our best-selling and fully updated 3rd Edition of "U Chic: The College Girl's Guide to Everything" — your 411 on what college is really like.

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