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STUDENT LIFE | GRADUATING COLLEGE | April 3, 2012

Ready to Graduate College? Prepare Yourself for Life After Graduation

By Dean Tsouvalas
StudentAdvisor.com Editor-in-Chief

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The months leading up to graduation can seem surreal to seniors staring in the eyes of the labor force. It’s never easy to leave the familiarity of where they spent the last four years of their life and adding job searching, finishing final projects and course work on top of the pile can lead to a tremendous amount of stress.

Taking these tips into consideration can help you be prepared for walking across the stage and stepping down the other side into a new chapter of life:

1. Make sure you’re on track to officially graduate from your school.

With hundreds or even thousands of graduates each year to monitor, as hectic as the final semester seems to students, the registrar’s office is equally busy. According to Amanda Steele-Middleton, registrar at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., the deadlines for forms and applications are crucial to ensure all the right people are marching to Pomp and Circumstance.

“We need to have enough time to update student records, communicate with students and advisors where there are real graduation issues as well as prepare diplomas for printing,” Steele-Middleton said. “We communicate with students who may look like they are on track but have not applied for graduation or who have applied but do not look like they’re on track. We continually monitor each student until their program evaluation is clear with a final check when grades are assigned to make sure all the requirements are completed.”

Each school has their own necessary information but many now offer online resources. At Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., students are expected to use the degree audit system which tracks completed and in-progress courses to track their progress toward graduation.

Lebanon Valley Registrar Jeremy Maisto wants to keep his office available to answer questions students have during the process. In addition to disseminating emails, LVC also hosts a Senior Send-Off informative event in February and a Senior Meeting in April to answer any left over questions in person.

2. Get the low down on your student loan repayment.

Students should take advantage of the resources available when dealing with loan repayment advice. Erin Wolfe, associate director of financial aid at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., encourages students to visit with the financial aid office before graduation to discuss loan details and how to best handle the repayment schedule.

“During the six-month grace period before repayment is required to begin, it is important for a borrower to create a budget and savings plan,” Wolfe said. “If they can afford to make payments on loans prior to the end of the grace period, even better. This will enable them to work on building a successful repayment strategy from the start.”

There are several different plans students can choose from when establishing a repayment strategy so it’s important to determine which one will make the most sense given your situation. Weighing different options can lead to significant savings in the long term.

3. Land a job: Brush up on your job search, networking, and interview skills!

You’ve invested the last four years of your life learning your field and now it’s time to put your knowledge to the test in a professional setting. So how do you get there?

Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, noted that a recent poll he has conducted asserted that appearance accounts for 25% of being professional. You can’t get a job based on your appearance alone, but you can definitely lose one.

“There’s an unwritten social norm that says when you show up to a job interview you look your best and when you do, it puts the interviewer at ease that this person gets it,” Randall said. “If you don’t show up looking your best, a red flag goes up. The interviewer starts wondering what else is wrong with this person if they don’t understand dressing professionally?”

Doing homework on a potential employer is also key and not just spending five minutes looking at the company’s website. Knowing the industry, current events and why they are looking to hire can help you stand out and illustrate that you are truly passionate about the company and wanting to work there.

Finally, leaving the cell phone in the car will rid you of a potential distraction for you or the interviewer. “Many of us have cell phones and we unconsciously will look at our cell phone if we’re bored and that sends the nonverbal message that I’m not interested in what you’re saying or I’d rather be somewhere else,” Randall said. “It’s best to not even bring it.”

But the process isn’t complete after the handshake and farewell. According to Ryan Brechbill, director of the Center for Career Planning at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, following up after an interview can be a differentiator. Even a simple thank you note for the interview shows appreciation and a renewed interest in the job opening.

For more help on your first post-college job search check out StudentAdvisor’s Get the Job guide.

4. Brace yourself for the transition from student housing to apartment living.

At Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, about 85-90% of students live off of campus during their junior or senior years. The school also works to provide numerous resources for students to make an educated decision as they begin searching for an apartment that will hopefully lead to long-term practices.

“We want to make sure our students know that we aren’t just throwing them out and that we want to help get them through the transition of finding an apartment,” said Craig Allen, director of housing and residence life. “Living off campus for a period of time as a student is giving them some practice for what it’s going to be like after college. It’s a natural part of their development.”

TCU distributes a brochure with information to consider when searching for a new place to live. The first requirement is to outline your needs in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, size and different amenities that might be on your list. Also knowing your economic situation and how long you plan to stay in one location can impact a specific price range and length of a lease to fit your needs.

Deciphering language of the lease can also be complicated. Not only do renters need to know whether their monthly payments include any or all utilities, they must also know their responsibilities as a renter for upkeep of the property and reporting any damage that could occur. Understanding the purpose of security deposits and renter’s insurance will limit potential liability.

“Even discussing other things such as the difference between renting a house or looking in an apartment complex brings a set of pros and cons that have to be weighed,” Allen said. “Obviously there are unique geographical differences based on urban or suburban environments, but these concepts can be applied no matter where somebody might live.”

5. Set a budget for yourself.

Handling money can be one of the most challenging tasks for anyone, let alone college graduates who are quickly introduced to food, housing, gas, insurance, utilities and other expenditures that add up in a hurry. Given the still dwindling state of the economy, managing income is more critical than ever.

Rick Scott, assistant professor of finance at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla., also believes in the importance of saving money, both for retirement and for unexpected expenses that may arise. “Students should move quickly to begin saving 20% of their earnings once they get their first job,” Scott said. “They should always contribute to their 401(k) retirement plan at least as much as their company will match. It’s an instant return on investment and it’s impossible to beat. I also tell my students that every time they get a raise, half of that raise should go towards improving their lifestyle and half of it should go toward a retirement plan.”

It’s easy to be tempted to live in a glamorous apartment in trendy neighborhoods and drive a fancy car right after you leave college. While those items seem attractive on the surface, going into debt can quickly take all the fun out of them and lead to less joy and more misery.

6. Become more proactive about socializing – it gets harder after college!

High school students that plan to attend college typically have at least an idea of what it might be like by the time they get there. They’ve probably visited campus at least once and spoken with students, faculty and staff. Orientation is designed entirely for helping students make the transition to higher education.

The problem is that there is that there are no comparable programs to help college graduates prepare for “the real world.” Leaving a campus community for a one-bedroom apartment can be as shocking as jumping in the swimming pool after soaking in the hot tub. Although there may be no good way to prepare for it, there are things graduates can do to help keep their current relationships strong and also creating friendships in a new environment.

“Friends are no longer right down the hall from you so you need to devise strategies for maintaining that emotional closeness even when the physical closeness is gone,” said Cynthia Edwards, professor of psychology at Meredith College. “Some of the tools now make it easier. Facebook and cell phones make staying in touch easier but you still have to be active to keep those relationships growing.”

The close proximity of a college campus naturally translates to more social interaction and leaving that atmosphere can make it difficult to find replacement outlets for informal relationships. Actively seeking new friendships can help avoid the feeling of loneliness.

“It was easy in college. There were tons of clubs based on interests and they were all handed out to you during orientation,” Edwards said. “There’s no orientation for being a real adult so you have to really seek out those opportunities. Religious institutions, interest groups, athletic leagues, etc. Whatever they’re interested in, those types of organizations in a new city can give graduates a buffet of new relationships.”

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