You’ve done it. You’re officially a college graduate: diploma in hand, thousands of dollars in debt and a caffeine addiction later. Making it through college is no easy feat. In fact, according to College Atlas, 70% of Americans will study at a four-year college, but less than two-thirds will graduate with a degree, and 30% of first-year students drop out after their first year of school. Getting a college degree affords you a whole new world of opportunities, during your time at your University and after. However, even with your diploma in hand, the grind is far from over. 

When you entered the University of your choice your freshman year, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, it’s likely you had a lot of preconceived notions about what life is like after college. As young soon-to-be graduates or recent post-grads, we often end up crushed by the weight of reality post-graduation when it turns out that, no, we won’t be immediately transitioning into our dream career at a 70k starting salary. And you know what? That’s normal, and that’s okay. Here are 5 things they don’t tell you about what happens after graduating college:

1. You might end up doing something completely outside the industry of your degree.

Most college students have wasted hours upon hours stressing out about their major. What jobs can I get with my major? Did I choose the right major? Should I change my major? If I change my major, how far back will it set my graduation date? These questions and more plague the college student’s mind more than any anxieties over calculus tests and lab notes. As a student at a University, your major kind of defines you. But in the real world, most employers don’t really care what field your degree is in, as long as you have one. Of course, this doesn’t apply to more specialty industries such as engineering and computer science, where a basic foundation is necessary, but most liberal arts degrees offer you a lot of freedom of career choice. In fact, your degree isn’t nearly as important as the fabled “experience”…

2. Experience is a career currency.

When employers are scoping out talent, one of the first things they’ll look at on your resume is how many years of experience you have working in the field. After graduation, you’ll be looking for entry-level jobs, which should be 0–3 years of experience. However, if you’ve job searched for more than 5 minutes, you’ll quickly realize that most employers don’t quite seem to grasp the meaning of the term “entry-level.” You’ll run across a lot of entry-level postings that have “5+ years of experience” or more listed in the requirements section. So… what gives? Well, first of all, know that if the job really speaks to you and you feel that despite that high number, you are confident in your qualifications, go ahead and apply! It doesn’t hurt to try, and a lot of employers are willing to overlook years of experience if everything else looks great. But if you find yourself really struggling to catch employers’ eyes because of the lack of years in the industry under your belt…

3. You may have to work for low pay or even for free to secure your dream job in the long term.

Working for free sucks, we get it. You want to be compensated for your time like everyone else, and it’s important to know your worth. But sometimes in order to secure your dream job, working in the pits for a while is a necessary evil. Luckily, most programs in college offer internship credits, where instead of getting paid, you earn college credits. Technically you’re still earning something of tangible value to you, and the number of opportunities will greatly increase for you. The key to this is, make sure you give your time to a company that is giving you something in return for working for free. You should be learning something new every day and expanding your knowledge and skills in the industry. Internships should be mutually beneficial, so if you find you’re doing more coffee runs and office chores than professional development endeavors, acknowledge that you are worth more and get the heck out of there.

4. You could apply to 100 jobs and only hear back from 5 of them — don’t let it affect your self-worth. 

As a recent graduate, you may have gotten used to the ease at which you could secure part-time gigs. If you’re even halfway competent, it’s likely you handed in your resume, got a call back, an interview, and were hired on the spot for most of your jobs. Unfortunately, this is a very poor reflection of the corporate, adult career world. According to Glassdoor, the average job opening attracts around 250 resumes, but only 2% of applicants will be called for an interview. Yeah, it’s tough out there. But remember that these employers are judging you solely on a single piece of paper of your accomplishments. They’ve never met you, have never had the pleasure of getting to know your complete personality with all of your quirks, specialties, and charm. Applying for jobs is a numbers game, so expect to put more time and more applications in than you originally thought.

5. There may be an impending existential crisis or two. (Or three… or four…)

Post-grad life can be daunting. Up until this point, your future has always been planned out. Through the elementary, middle, high school, and college, you were always working towards that next step, the next grade. Your life had a set plan and you had a driving purpose: get through school. But now you’ve gotten through school, you’ve made it to the end. Now what? Expect to feel some sadness, confusion, hopelessness, fear, uncertainty… you name it. It’s all completely normal and healthy. 

*BONUS* 6. But everything will be okay. 

As a college graduate, the world is your oyster. Sometimes it may not feel that way, but you’ve accomplished something great for yourself and your future. It may sound cheesy and a bit cliché, but with enough determination and hard work, you truly can accomplish wonderful things with your newfound knowledge. So take what you’ve learned about life, friendship, and biology, and apply it every opportunity you get. You got this.

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