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The Ultimate Guide to Thriving in Life After College

Wondering how to survive after college? We've got your ultimate guide.

When you’re a second-semester senior, your calendar from mid-May on into infinity looks like a big, gaping, black hole — even if you have an idea of where you’ll land once you cross that stage and shake that hand and kiss that hard-earned diploma.

No matter if you’re headed to law school or your parents’ basement or a post-grad service year or an accountancy firm, there are a ton of questions ahead. Have no fear — we’re here to help.

Making (BIG) decisions

Isn’t that what adults do? Make decisions all day? Well, sorta. But deciding on a work task isn’t exactly like deciding what to do with your life. Which makes this season of life a great time to ask, What is discernment?

Answer: discerning God’s will is a way to find your calling in life.

There are three things to consider as you seek that calling:

  1. What you’re good at
  2. What you enjoy doing
  3. What you can contribute to others

Simple enough, right? But actually knowing where you fit is hard — so here are some easy tips for establishing the building blocks to make big life decisions:

  • Find solitude: Sometimes the noisiness can get in the way of our thinking — it’s important to take time to step away.
  • Talk with someone you love and respect: Look for someone who can offer genuine love as well as tough advice — someone who can help you be true to yourself.
  • Commit to prayer: Dedicate a few minutes every day to spend some time in prayer.
  • Listen to those around you: The answers we’re looking for aren’t always the ones that we want to hear, and they don’t always come from where we expect to hear them; it’s important to keep an open mind, an open heart, and an open ear.
  • Be willing to sacrifice: You might be called to sacrifice a plan or goal that you once held to tightly in order to make room for something else in your life.
  • Practice patience: The answers won’t come overnight, but they’ll come when we need them. Usually, we only get to see the step in front of us, not the whole journey. We have to learn to be okay not knowing how everything will turn out before we begin.

And maybe most importantly, be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to not have everything figured out. Overstressing will not lead us where we want to go. Read how this author decided what to do with his life, even before “having it all figured out.” So take a deep breath — you’ve got this.

Finding the right job

If you’re graduating soon, you’ve already invested a lot of thought into your future career. Maybe you already have employment lined up, or maybe you’re still searching. Either way, that’s okay — there’s no “right” timing. A job you love today may not be right for you tomorrow.

No matter where you are in the process, it’s good to develop your job application skills and keep them fresh for when you might need them.

  • Nurture your network. If you’ve had an internship or a few classes you’ve really enjoyed during your college years, try not to lose contact with your coworkers and professors. With LinkedIn in the picture, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with professional contacts. Don’t underestimate the value in that.
  • Update your résumé, keep track of your successes. Even if you’re happy at your current job, keep your résumé up to date — it’ll save time and stress when you’re on the job hunt again. Keep track of your big projects and accomplishments as they come along, and delete things that are no longer relevant.
  • Always have your elevator pitch ready. Prepare a 30-second answer for the question, “Tell me about yourself.” It should include your education, any applicable job experience, and how you can add value to the team you’d like to join. Practice it out loud a few times to make sure it all flows together.
  • Tailor your cover letter for the position you want. Cover letters give you the chance to introduce yourself to your future employer and tie the experience on your résumé to the job you’re applying for. It shouldn’t be an optional step. You can use similar accounts of your qualifications for positions with similar reqs, but always make it specific to the company you’re applying to.

Keep these things in mind as you prepare to begin your career. You’re going to face exciting opportunities as well as rejections. You may lose a position or you may find you want a job in a different career. Your career trajectory is yours to plan and guide, but you’re not walking that journey alone. Attend to God’s voice in your navigation and you’ll discover Him in new ways.

Living on a budget

You’re on your own now — time to officially become financially independent from your parents — a fact that will come painfully clear when those student loan bills start rolling in.

You may have some experience budgeting, but now there’ll be a few more expenses to take care of. Living on a budget doesn’t mean you have to feel the pinch, though — our free budget spreadsheet will help you keep track of everything.

Click here to download a free customizable budget spreadsheet.

Here are some other useful steps for living on a budget:

  • Take the money personality test — do you know your “love language”? Your Myers-Briggs type? How about your money personality? Take the quiz here!
  • Keep wishlists year-round to prevent impulse buying.
  • Include a little fun and luxury in your budget where you can. Keep things interesting, and be realistic — gifts for your mom and nights out with friends can be important, too!
  • Start building an emergency fund. Sometimes life happens and you’ll need the cash.
  • Look into retirement fund options early — older you will thank younger you.

Starting smart in your twenties will make life a little easier later on; to prepare for life ahead, make note of these financial actions to take before you’re 30.

Finding a deal

When you’re starting from scratch, every penny has to count, which probably means you’ll want to learn how to find deals.

Here are five golden rules of thrift shopping:

  • Make regular visits to your local thrift shop: the more you visit, the more likely you’ll find a gem.
  • Shop during the week instead of the weekends: less shoppers means more opportunities for success.
  • Consider the neighborhood: the bigger pool of people who are donating, the more options you’ll have to sift through.
  • Learn to distinguish quality — not all thrift finds are equal. Here’s how to find quality wardrobe pieces.
  • A damaged article can be bargained down, so think about asking for a discount.

And finding a deal isn’t always about the money — convenience and time investment should factor into your decision, too, especially when you’re thinking about big-ticket items, like when you’re trying to figure out if it’s better to buy or lease a car and and buy or rent an apartment. (Answer: it depends)

Food

When your mom’s worried that you might starve, tell her to relax — you have dinner lined up for the whole week because you learned how to meal prep:

  • Pick a day to plan the week’s meals.
  • Choose and organize recipes for each day. Create a tentative schedule for each day but feel free to mix it up as the week progresses. If your fridge is stocked with your weekly meals, you can choose which to eat depending on what you’re craving that day.
  • Get your grocery shopping done.
  • Choose a day to prep and cook what you can for the week. Chop your vegetables, cook your meat, prepare the things that won’t spoil within the week if kept well-stored.
  • Label and organize your food into containers, preferably clear ones for easy decision-making.
  • Save and freeze meals made in advance and any leftovers.

If you’re not the plan-ahead type, you can still eat better than ramen — join your store’s shopper’s club for deals and stretch that Chipotle order into two meals as you master the art of eating on a budget.

And when you’re ready for some comfort food, you can always invite someone over for pie with these fun baking recipes to make with friends. (Who doesn’t like pie?)

Prayer

If you’ve been around a faith community at college, that scene is going to change dramatically after graduation. Even if you’re new to thinking about faith, looking for some help from a higher power when you’re transitioning to life in the “real world” couldn’t hurt, could it?

Prayer has proven health benefits, never mind that it puts you in touch with the Author of creation. If you’re looking for ways to improve your prayer life, consider these Catholic prayer apps to get the ball rolling with God:

  • Reimagining the Examen
  • Pray as You Go
  • The Vatican News
  • Laudate
  • Hallow
Check out this list of Catholic prayer apps.

(and if you’re a beginner, try this app for prayer and meditation).

And here are some options of out-of-the-box ways to pray to keep your connection to God tight:

  • Take a walk and talk to God.
  • Pray without words — just be still in God’s presence.
  • Love yourself — see yourself as God sees you.
  • Find a moment of peace in your day, and drink in the silence.
  • Take out a pen and journal — any old journal will do, or check out the Pope Francis journal on holiness that might just help you find the way faith brings light to a dark world.

And we have some out-of-the-box ways to pray, including a Pope Francis journal on holiness that might just help you find the way faith brings light to a dark world.

Moving to a new city and community

Starting over in a new city signals a new stage in life; it means leaving behind things you’ve grown attached to and discovering new things to love.

Moving on doesn’t mean you have to leave everything behind. Here are some creative ways to stay in touch with friends after college:

  • Train for an event together. You know that half marathon that you’ve always wanted to run? Commit to a training schedule (here’s a free half marathon training guide!) with a long distance friend. Or take out that list of recipes you both said you would try out but never did. Push each other’s limits from afar! Share your struggles and wins, and support each other along the way.
  • Start an “Everything You Need to Know About My Week” newsletter. Keep each other in the know with a weekly update of the big and little events of your lives.
  • Create a traveling token. Pass an item around your college friend group — yes, it can be traveling pants, or it can just be a funny t-shirt, your school’s flag, or a stuffed animal. The important thing is that it’s a reminder of your connection despite your distance.
  • Join an online community together. Find a shared interest and connect with each other and more like-minded people online, through an online fitness community or an internet book club or a spiritual page.

Now that you’re in your new city, you’ll also want to start building new friendships with the people who live near you. With long work days and new responsibilities, this can be hard to do. Here are some tips for building community in your new home:

  • Attend neighborhood events. Support local establishments, like the neighborhood bar or the Sunday farmers market. Seek out small scale events where personal interactions might flow more naturally.
  • Adopt a routine. Becoming a regular in a local coffee shop or always frequenting the gym at 6 a.m. will help you get to know other regular faces and become a part of the community. From there, you can start building relationships with people you connect with.
  • Prioritize your 5-to-9. Your hours outside of work are as important as your 9-to-5. Pick up a new hobby or rediscover an old one. Look online for local groups built around those hobbies, like a neighborhood improv group or running club.
  • Create your own group. If you can’t find a group that you relate with, create your own. Invite young members of your parish to watch Monday Night Football at your place or set up a basketball pick-up tournament with other park regulars. It’ll take a bit of initiative on your part, but the results could be well worth it.

Adulting

Moving into a new phase of life as a bona fide grown-up means re-examining yourself and your values. It’s a great time to make intentional choices — we suggest a few books about how to adult:

  • The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt, by Dr. Russ Harris
    • Adulting skill acquired: Overcoming fear
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink
    • Adulting skill acquired: Harnessing intrinsic motivation
  • Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn
    • Adulting skill acquired: Understanding the psychology behind motivating others
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
    • Adulting skill acquired: Expanding your own horizons
  • GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
    • Adulting skill acquired: Making it through and excelling at hard things
  • The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
    • Adulting skill acquired: Communicating based on science

And while you’re working to improve yourself, make sure you are setting yourself on a trajectory for healthy and sustaining habits by practicing these self-care basics.

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