With term papers completed, final exams graded and diplomas in hand, graduation can be an exciting time for college students. However, with the economy looking more like a rollercoaster and less like smooth sailing, it is understandable that many recent graduates may be anxious about starting their life in the “real world.”
The shift from undergraduate student life to full-time employment, graduate studies or volunteering can be a major change involving new schedules, colleagues and responsibilities. For some students, life after college may be the first time they are independent from their parents or caregivers, so moving into the next phase of life can be an intimidating change. For others, moving on from a community of friends, teachers and mentors created over their college tenure can lead to a feeling of loneliness and sadness. Furthermore, the unpredictable economy and the high rate of unemployment can put recent graduates at unease.
“Change can be frightening, but it is important to remember that it happens to everyone all the time,” says psychologist David Palmiter, PhD. “Know that the new experiences and challenges you face will help you grow and discover your own path.”
APA offers the following tips to reduce graduation anxiety and start off on a positive note:
Focus on the positive — You are armed with an education and energy, two tools that will help you chart your new course, whether it is a career, graduate studies or volunteering. Remind yourself that you are well equipped to persevere and overcome any obstacles that you face. If you are in doubt about your abilities, create a list of the things you have accomplished and post it where you can see it regularly.
Stay connected — The support system you built while at school doesn’t disappear the moment you leave campus. Keeping in touch with friends, professors and mentors is easier now than ever before, and their guidance will help you navigate the sometimes confusing post-college world. Don’t be afraid to talk about your challenges — chances are others know exactly how you feel and would enjoy helping you.
Look for opportunities — Part of graduating from college and entering the “real world” is engaging in a process of self-discovery. Look for ways to enhance your existing interests as well as create new ones. Taking opportunities to further your knowledge about a particular subject, meeting people who have similar interests and becoming involved in the community will help expand your horizons and open doors to your future.
Take action — Don’t just talk, get busy! If your goal is to have a job, take decisive steps to reach that goal, such as refining your resume, sending out applications and talking to people in your network about what you’re looking for. The more action you take, the closer you will be to reaching your goals.
Be Resilient — Resilience, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, is an important skill to learn when facing the ups and downs of life after college. Don’t let rejection letters from companies or graduate programs get you down. Everything is a learning process, so try to look at each “no thank you” as an opportunity to improve.
If you have intense feelings of anxiety or hopelessness or trouble getting off the couch and engaging in your daily activities, a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist, can help you develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward. You can find a psychologist near you by contacting your state psychological association or through APA’s psychologist locator.
Special thanks to David Palmiter, PhD, for his help with this article.