College graduation milestone poses new questions for grads

May. 22, 2013 @ 04:22 AM

Graduates of nearly 7,000 colleges and universities across the United States have crossed the stage in recent weeks with a common question on their minds: “What’s next?”

As a graduating college senior myself, for the past four years I have lived in an environment at Gardner-Webb University that includes friends, classes and internships. The culminating event of my collegiate academic career has shed new light on two commonalities that I share with my fellow graduates: an excitement for graduating and a fear of the future.

A typical assumption that people have is that since college graduates have passed one graduation milestone (high school), then the second milestone (college) will be no big deal. Yet, for many high school graduates, the next four years of their life is already mapped out. They’ve made plans to attend college and their biggest concern is whether they’ve made the right choice.  To be perfectly honest, even that decision isn’t very long-term. I remember thinking to myself, “If I don’t like the college I’m going to, I’ll just transfer.” And that’s exactly what I ended up doing my sophomore year.

However, in the “real world,” transfers aren’t as simple. As college graduates prepare for their next chapter, they are smacked in the face with questions like: Should I get my masters degree or enter a sluggish economy? If I don’t find a job, how am I going to pay for my student loans? Should I move back home or move away? If I move away, what part of the country am I going to live in and how am I going to pay for it? Will I ever use my degree? To be completely honest, even writing these questions down causes me to have anxiety.

I am a fortunate graduate, because I was able to utilize my university internship and college career services office, which led me to secure a position within my major before I actually received my diploma. For many of my fellow peers, that isn’t the case. So, in an effort to ease some anxiety and concern, I offer some advice that helped me:

· Have a general idea of what you want to do and what you’re just not interested in. Figuring out exactly what you want to do isn’t a necessity, but having a general idea of where your interests and skill set lie can help provide necessary direction in a world full of opportunity and possibilities. A simple pros and cons list can work wonders for getting thoughts out on paper and sorting through conflicting emotions.

· Use your connections. Coming from a college or university is a great thing because many institutions of higher education have programs in place that can assist in areas of career preparation and guidance. You can also use the connections that you have made with professors, mentors, and others at your college or within your community. Most counties have employment agencies that can help you find work, both temporarily and permanently. I utilized the connections established through my university internship to land the job that I have today.

· Apply selective hearing. This is where you are going to have to tune out the negative and listen to the positive. The people around you know you well, so take their advice seriously, but remember whatever you do is ultimately your decision. This may seem contradictory, but you alone will know the next step.  

· Take one step at a time. The unknown can be very overwhelming. If you’re thinking, “I’m so confused,” or “I just don’t know what to do next,” then don’t panic. These feelings are completely natural. I experienced a lot of this my last semester in college. Establish a short-term plan and write down your long-term goals. A short-term plan could include getting a summer job that would allow you to save up or pay back student loans and continue to search further for more permanent employment. Many employers would rather hire someone with a job over an unemployed person, because it shows that individual is in demand. Plus, gaining practical work experience is beneficial and sets you above your competition.

· Look beyond the job title. I’ve heard from my peers, “No one is hiring anyone with my major.” It’s key to look beyond the job title when you search for a job. For example, I majored in public relations. The original job title I responded to was ‘social media coordinator.’ Once my employer learned more about my skill set and training, he modified my job description and made me ‘marketing director.’ If anyone told me that I would be a director of marketing, I would have thought they were crazy.  If a job recommends two years of experience, then take into consideration any internships you have done or any real world classroom projects that could count toward field experience. Making your potential employer aware of these “experiences” could assist you and elevate your chances of receiving a job offer. 

I utilized all of these pieces of advice to some degree or another when I was job searching and going through the interview process. Although this is a stressful season for a college graduate, it is essential that we all take the time to celebrate this significant milestone at which we have arrived. Congratulations, Class of 2013!

 

Erica King graduated on May 13 from Gardner-Webb University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Public Relations. She is currently serving as marketing director for Champion Studios, Inc. of Shelby.