“I woke up at noon today and then caught up on Netflix.”
This is what happens after you graduate from college. For the first time in your life you don’t have a set schedule. We don’t have anyone telling us what to do. It’s liberating, yet intimidating.
What should you do after college? How do you figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of your life?
This is the awesome guide to deciding what to do after college with feedback from the experts. Don’t worry because you’re not the first person to go through this process. There’s no course outline planning out the next four months of your life and that’s okay.
So what do you do after college?
- Are you supposed to accept the first job that comes your way?
- Do you travel before settling down?
- Do you just get wasted and enjoy life?
- Do you find yourself?
- Do you focus on your debt right away?
- Do you find yourself a lovely partner and get married ASAP?
You’re likely totally confused about what to do after college. You’re in charge of your life and how you spend your time now. You’re also responsible for everything that happens to you now.
My first suggestion is that you don’t jump into anything too fast.
Time flies and that first job could be your only job for the rest of your life. It’s okay to work part-time and to grow a business while you try to make your student loan payments.
Should you go for more education? There are many alternatives to grad school. You shouldn’t jump right into school because you’re disenchanted with life at work or because you can’t find a job (hint: you might need to meet the right people instead of sending out resumes through online websites). You can’t run from the real world forever.
My second suggestion is that you should try to focus on one major goal at a time.
My biggest challenge has been that I always work on multiple projects. While it’s fun to have different things on the go, it’s better to complete one goal before trying to jump into the next idea. When you work on everything, you work on nothing.
The good news is that you’re in your 20s in the best time period in history. Everything has been done and documented already. There’s a solution out there for all of your problems (from trying to find the right Tinder profile pictures to landing a freelancing client).
What did I do after college?
It’s scary how fast time flies. I finished school at the end of 2010. What did I do?
- Traveled. I was fortunate enough to find full-time work in college and was able to finish school debt-free. As a result of this, I’ve been traveling. I’ve done many mini-trips of one week beach getaways with friends and even strangers. I also finally went on my first solo adventure to Europe. As of this writing, I’ve done many solo trips around the world. I believe that everyone reading this needs to travel alone at least once in their 20s.
- Pursued business ventures. I’ve tried all sorts of ventures from consulting to product launches to this very blog that you’re reading. I’ve even self-published multiple books and started a podcast with a buddy.
- Studied languages. I went to Poland alone to force myself to improve my speaking skills. The next language that I tried to tackle was Spanish. It’s slowly going. I ended up going to Argentina on a solo adventure. I also ended up going to Colombia/Peru on another trip.
- Worked part-time. I’ve always held a side gig because I love the social aspect of it/it allows helps to have a diverse income just to sleep better at night. I’ve actually always had multiple sources of income (blogging, real estate, freelance writing, etc.).
- Took risks/invested in myself. I’m all for betting on yourself and taking some risks in your 20s. I spent time attending conferences in my field, reading books, and I purchased a few rental properties. All of these experiences beat anything that I ever learned in college.
[Martin’s note: If you want to travel, you need to check out my piece on being your own travel agent. If you want to work for yourself, my post on starting an online business is mandatory. You can see how nine top bloggers made their first dollar online to get started.]
What did the experts have to say about life after college?
I reached out to my circle of friends to see what wisdom they had to share with college graduates.
If I could do it all over again, one of my first financial goals would be to buy an apartment building on a fully amortizing, fixed rate mortgage while I was still living the apartment lifestyle.
That allows you to deduct all your lifestyle costs as the onsite manager of the building, learn the ropes of running the building while you live there and can actively control costs, and you never experience a setback in lifestyle to do it since you are already living at that level. The amazing thing is that you will be financially independent or darn close with near certainty by your 40’s assuming a 20 year fully amortizing mortgage and you acquire enough units to support your lifestyle (2 or 3 four-plexes or similar). It is a no-brainer wealth strategy for recent graduates.
Check out Financial Mentor for more.
If you don’t know what you want to do, my advice is to not do what is expected, especially within the American culture, which is usually to get a job, and work the 9-5. If you can, take a vacation (3-4 weeks if possible), and have some experiences.
Maybe get out of the country if you can. Just don’t let yourself get sucked into a boring routine of a job right after school. I understand you may have debts, or a desire to make money, but it can wait. You might learn things about yourself that will help guide your path.
Another option is to go work a job you detest. Being in such an environment might give you some ideas of what you’d rather be doing.
If you have an interest in entrepreneurship, try to go to work at a startup.
I started working for myself after being in a job I hated for 15 months.
If all else fails, don’t do something just because it’s the norm or because others think you should do it. Figure it out for yourself.
Go to JCD Fitness for a no-BS approach to training.
For me, “after college” was less a stark transition and more a continuation of what I’d been building since my early days as a student. I started College Info Geek as a freshman, and once I graduated, I simply stepped up my efforts and actually stayed in the same town to be around my girlfriend and friends. For me, it was almost exactly what I’d wanted – after I completed my internship halfway through college, my goals changed and I was much more adamant about being an entrepreneur. Fortunately, it worked out!
Check out College Info Geek.
The best advice I could give is to take calculated risks.
You don’t have to accept the first typical day job you get offered. In fact, that can be the fastest path to living a life you’re not going to be happy with later on.
Think about the things that really excite you, and pursue them.
When you’re young and especially those first few years out of school, you can get away with a lot. You don’t have a lavish lifestyle to keep up with, and if you try something and fail, it’s much easier to start over when you’re in your 20s.
So if you want to travel? Go do it. If you want to start a business, give it a shot! Take calculated risks that will help you do more of the things you really want in life, and don’t feel obligated to accept a day job right away – unless it’s one that is truly getting you closer to your long-term goals.
Check out Location 180.
Do what excites you most in the moment you have to choose. Excitement breeds more excitement, so you can never go wrong.
Keep doing that thing until you find something else that excites you more.
At the end of the day everything is energy and emotion is energy in motion. Keep good emotions and you attract more emotions like it.
Check out RyanCoelho.com.
Build your personal brand.
Resumes are close to being obsolete (if not already). Start a blog about something you’re really passionate about, clean up your social media, or have a presence on social media that shows employers or clients that you are knowledgeable and passionate on your subject. Check what shows up when you Google yourself and ensure it shows you in a good light so that people will want to work with you or hire you.
Check out Laptop Entrepreneurship.
The best advice I can give is to continue living like you are in college, and take your time increasing your standard of living.
I’ve seen a lot of young folks get into trouble with debt because they tried to copy the standard of living they had when they lived with their parents. Unfortunately, many of them didn’t realize it took often their parents twenty years or more to achieve that standard of living. There are no shortcuts, especially if you try to rely on debt to get there!
You can read more at: The Importance of Delayed Gratification.
Don’t move every couple of years unless you absolutely need to. Moving to a different place every year is more expensive than you think. Between the cost of moving, deposits, and setting up utilities you could put that money toward savings or retirement.
Check out L Bee and The Money Tree.
You need to build a side hustle and start earning more early to build wealth and leverage the power of compounding.
You’re only young once applies more to finance than anything else. Time is the unique advantage someone in their 20s has going for them.
Check out The College Investor.
Get a mentor is the main thing I’d do differently.
Check out App Sumo.
I graduated college early at the age of 20, and I definitely would go back and do things a little differently if I could. I worked full-time nearly all throughout high school and full-time through college, and I wish I would have taken my time after college to travel more extensively. Instead, I took a job that I hated because I thought that was what you were “supposed to do.” Luckily, I now travel full-time and have realized that I’m much happier doing my own thing!
Check out Making Sense of Cents.
Work hard, save big, pay off your debt, and get on track for retirement. My only big regret is not taking a summer to backpack in Europe when I had the opportunity.
Check out Personal Profitability.
After I graduated, one of the first things I did was spend a week hiking by myself through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I didn’t really have a reason for it other than a desire for profoundly inward reflection. And it was great! One of the best experiences of my life.
Solid internship experience is priceless. So many of my friends worked hourly jobs after college, unhappy with their lack of movement or direction. Other grads I knew expected employers to give them the world just because they had a degree. That’s not how it works. Bring real experience and motivation to the table. Start at the bottom at a company for a role you’re seriously in love with and it will pay off.
Check out After College Blog.
Traveling after graduation is one of the best things you can do. I recommend going as long as possible. It’s rare to get more than 3 weeks of vacation once you start work and traveling is one of the best things you can do. Secondly, I would recommend paying off your debt as quickly as possible. I feel so much freer to try new things knowing that I don’t have debt holding me back. Take a couple years to live with roommates and put money toward your loans. I paid off $28,000 in 3 years while making around $30,000 a year.
I spent 7 months touring Asia with a musical. Best experience ever. The only trouble is, it’s really easy to get depressed after.
Check out The Broke and Beautiful Life.
If you’re thinking of getting your MBA, find a company that will pay something towards your tuition and books (partial or total) even if it means taking slightly less in salary. Remember, your boss paying your tuition is a non-taxable benefit to you.
Check out Bald Finance.
Julia Starnes Rains.
I drove nearly across the country to Yellowstone (where my friend, now with the EPA) took a summer job. I continued via bus to Malibu, California where I had a college friend studying at Pepperdine Law School and stayed with her for a couple of weeks before heading back to NC and continuing my job search. So, travel, yes. — I tell my kids (high school and college age) to travel and take chances now with jobs, interests, including doing non-lethal stuff that seems foolish to adults; there’s plenty of time to be a grown up.
I joined the Peace Corps and lived in a country I never would have thought to visit, learned a ton, and it was an awesome resume builder when I returned.
I recommend they do 3 things: invest ASAP, learn to budget, and create a financial and life plan that they then build number 1 and 2 around! Much easier to achieve what you want in life when you plan it out, then build your budget and investments around that plan!
- Pay off debt as soon as you can (when you start off, it’s usually student loans and credit card debt) … get rid of them!.
- Start investing as soon as you can. Learn about IRAs and your 401(k) if you have one. Don’t make excuses; just start investing.
- Save money. Whether it’s for an emergency fund or for a down payment on your first home, just start saving.
- Pursue your passion outside of your day-job. You never know when it could lead to multiple streams of income.
- Experiment … especially with business ideas.
- Don’t settle.
Check out: How I Went From Debt to 3 Paychecks.
Don’t feel obligated to go to graduate school. I graduated with a BA in history and was constantly told I “had” to go to grad school and get a Masters at a minimum if I wanted to get a job. In the same amount of time it would have taken me to go through grad school, I started my own business AND found my dream job — all without taking on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt Grad school is not an answer to every young professional problem and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. There are MANY paths to take, and not all of them will load you up with debt.
Have you thought about joining the military? Can you keep living like a poor college student when you’re at your first paying job?
Plan to max out your 401(k) match and your IRA every year.
And I should add, be very frugal (stay with your parents if you can). New workers tends to think about how many hours they have to work to spend on stuff — they will almost always spend more money than they should thinking that way.
The most specific piece of advice I give graduates is put off living alone for as long as you can to keep housing costs down–you can rent a really nice room and co-share a home in Seattle easily for $600/month or less and have much more usable living space, in a nicer neighborhood that if you spend $800/month on a studio.
And as much as I LOVE pets, I urge people to put off acquiring furry family. Not only is it harder to find a living situation, but it’s an added expense when you’re trying to launch your career, get a handle on cash flow, etc. THEN I say, track cash flow, save and all of the other great tips the others will add.
My advice? Before you go out spending a ton of money because you landed your first job, wait. Wait until you get at least two paychecks and you realize how much money is left after all of the taxes, deductions and other things that come out.
Then, make a list of priorities in your life. Things like financial security and retirement should be high on that list.
Then, after you’ve hit the essentials, budget in some money for fun and vacations and the like. A lot of your friends will be blowing every dollar they make and more. They’ll regret it in five years when they have nothing to show for it. You can spend some money, but don’t blow it all and have nothing to show for it.
My senior year in undergrad, a professor (a retired finance consultant) gave us his advice on our first 8 financial goals:
- Pay Yourself First (Learn to live on 10% of your salary each month and your journey will be much easier).
- Start an Emergency Fund (3 months to start).
- Pay-off Debt (High Interest Rates).
- Invest in a Roth IRA.
- Invest in your employer-sponsored retirement plan (enough to be fully vested or 100% of the matching).
- Pay off Debt (Low Interest Rates).
- Save a downpayment for a house .
- Start investing.
- Don’t go to graduate school until you have worked a while.
- Don’t get married before you’re 30.
- Travel and have adventures while you’re young (before you acquire apartment buildings or pets).
- Think about where you want to live.
Here’s my other unconventional advice: Unconventional Money Advice For New Grads.
What did the Twitter peeps share?
I also reached out to Twitter to see what you guys thought.
@InvestorJunkie: Stay home as long as you can, but save!
@Liquid_Independ: If possible don’t anchor yourself to one city/location. Chance of landing a job increases if you’re willing to move.
@Yesiamcheap: Don’t move out! Stay with mom and dad and pay student loans off NOW.
@MotherWouldKnow: Stay flexible in your dreams & your outlook. Adapt to changing situations, look at jobs, potential partners w/out preconception
@Jjeffrose: Take inventory of all your Facebook pics. Employers don’t consider handstand holds on a keg a skill on your résumé.
@SimonZhen: Spend as you did before you graduated!
This post was originally published on May 10, 2013. I’m going to update it every year or so with additional thoughts.
“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” — Frank Zappa
What life/financial/career advice would you give to someone that’s just finishing college? What would you do differently in your 20s?