12 Things You Need to Know Before you Graduate this May (or just graduated)


1. You are not going to get your dream job right away.

You’ll sit in a cubicle for a few years, doing things you’re convinced you’re overqualified for. Perhaps you’ll have a nice window. Your traveling career will likely include driving, not flying.

2. You are going to have a hard time getting a job.

You, as a college graduate, are not exempt from a hard economy. Blame Bush. Blame Obama. Blame Biden (or not). Blame whomever or whatever – just know that a bad economy means a bad economy.

Save yourself some time: Be willing to take a paid internship, don’t apply for jobs that require 5 years experience, and be willing to work hard for little pay.  People will start to notice how hard you work.

3. You are not going to change the world, at least not right away.

Maybe your graduation speaker inspired you to “Change the World,” or maybe your school slogan was “Be a Champion.” That’s all well and good, but don’t expect a realization of those dreams within the first year. If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Think about it for a moment. What makes the people who are changing the world so remarkable? They have a few things in common:

  • They have a great story (which often comes from times of hardship).
  • They have wisdom derived from years of life experience.
  • They’ve had to work hard.

You don’t get all of those in your first year of work. All of those come with time. Don’t rush. You’ll do great things.

4. You will make less than you thought.

You think you’ll make 70k with a liberal arts degree? Nah – Try $24,000 – $35,000.

Maybe you’ll make $40,000. Just remember, Uncle Sam gets around 20% of that new paycheck of yours. If you sign a contract for 40k – you’ll bring home around 32k (then subtract anywhere from 1k-3k for health insurance). So, your bi-monthly check will total $1,250.

Not what you expected?

5. Health Insurance isn’t free, Dental isn’t that expensive, and Life Insurance is handy.

If you can, stay on your parent’s insurance policy. If not:

Some jobs will offer 100% paid health insurance, some will offer 50% paid, and others will allow you to buy into their group plan. Plan to budget $180-$250 a month on health insurance. (Just make sure you know what these terms mean: Deductible, HSA, Out-of-Pocket Max, In-Network, and Premiums).

Make sure you get Dental. Add Life (it is normally offered free).

Tip: Go ahead and sign up for your 401k. Don’t know what it is? Ask your old man.

6. Just because you have money, doesn’t mean you will be able to keep it.

Bills happen. You will not be living off the budget you had in college. One bill you’ll want to sign up for, though, is Renter’s Insurance.

7. Those student loans will kill you (in interest).

Next time, you should go to a state college.

Tip: Pay you loans bi-monthly. I know. It’s great to put a great chunk of money on your loans at the end of the month, but paying them off bi-monthly (or sooner) lowers your principle faster – meaning interest collects on smaller amounts. It’ll save you lots of money.

8. You are not as qualified as you think.

  • Don’t lie on your resume. You may be tempted to, but it will lead to far more embarrassment than great job leads..
  • Don’t lie in an interview. Sadly, you probably will.
  • Admit your weaknesses. Humility goes a long way.

Some colleges tear you down. Others make you think you’ll get any job in the world. The job world is far more similar to the first scenario.

9. Graduate School will not solve all of your problems.

Don’t consider an advanced degree

  • A. unless your undergrad degree demands it,
  • B. unless you want to teach, or
  • C. unless it’s free (in which case, make sure you defer your loans. Subsidized loans will not collect interest during your assistantship or fellowship). Sadly, subsidized loans are a thing of the past.

A liberal arts M.A. or M.S. or M.B.A mean very little unless you have experience to go along with it (this is not applicable to research or teaching careers).

I have a graduate degree. Most employers are more satisfied that I have increased our sales by 160% in my current position (and project to reach half a million), than the fact that I did a qualitative study for my Master’s thesis.

10. Most of the jobs you will get offered are back home or in your college area.


  • Employers are not going to pay for relocation.
  • Employers can easily find qualified candidates close to them.
  • Your network is near your college town or your hometown.
  • You can’t afford to fly to San Fran for a job interview (unless mommy and daddy pay for it – and in that case, you can just go home and live with your parents. )

11. You will probably live at home for a few months – maybe even a year.

It’s a sad reality of a bad economy, but it can be the smart thing to do. In fact, it is the fiscally responsible thing to do in many cases, but do get out as soon as you can. Even if you have to live in a small shanty, get out and grow up. You can only learn so much about life through your parents’ windows.

12. You are not done learning. 

Unlike college, you cannot just learn something and forget it. You need to constantly learn new skills, adapt with the market. Buy books (on your own dime), register for webinars, sign up and pay for your own conferences.

The more you learn, the more you can apply.


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  1. Sarah says

    Eli, all I have to say in response is “yes to all of the above.”
    Experience is absolutely invaluable, and you only get it by *ahem* experience. Unfortunately survival on low wages is hard, sometimes nearly impossible, and the humility of relying on others in any way shape or form is almost inevitable. I’ve tried (foolishly) to avoid being helped by others, and life is just far better when you let people in, let them love you, and let them help you.
    I think a resounding theme for the post-college life is humility, but it’s not a bad thing.

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