college graduation transition to adulthood los angeles

I originally wrote this article for an undergraduate newsletter and thought it would be fun to share here as well. Enjoy! 

Graduating college can be a thrilling accomplishment, and it can also be the cause of a lot of stress. You were independent in college… but you’re going to be Independent (yup, with a capital “i”) once you graduate. Ugh, that sounds really heavy, right?

As a clinical psychologist that works exclusively with emerging adults (18-29 year olds), I have plenty of experience helping college graduates manage the big changes that come with being an adult. Though transitioning into the “real world” can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to feel insurmountable. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the impending changes while you’re still in college.

Here’s some food for thought to help you plan for this major life change:

Emerging Adulthood is a Real Thing

You may have caught that I mentioned I work with emerging adults, not young adults. There’s some really great research about a developmental phase called emerging adulthood, which encompasses ages 18 through 29. Basically, the research acknowledges that people don’t suddenly become full-fledged adults once they hit 18 years old. Same goes for when you graduate college. It’s normative to still be learning how to adult, establishing who you are, figuring out what career is right for you, and navigating familial, platonic, and romantic relationships. Hopefully knowing this will take some of the pressure off to have it all figured out once you get your diploma!

Balancing a Budget is Easy… Until It’s Not

Balancing a budget is easy math, right? Money comes in, subtract the money that’s going out, and make sure you don’t hit negative territory. The basic concept is super simple. But then the reality of life sets in, and it starts feeling more complex. Like when you forget to include the little random expenses in your overall budget, like doctor co-pays, renewing your car registration, and updating your work wardrobe (much less the emergency expenses, like surgery or car repairs). Then add in the fact that you have to manage your money so you don’t go in the negative during the two week period while you wait for your next paycheck. And have enough money saved to pay your taxes in April… Oh, and pay back your loans… Don’t forget to somehow save money to buy a home… and for retirement!

Start learning to balance your budget in college. Your expenses are still relatively low, and your parents might be able to help you out a little if you don’t manage to stay within your budget. If you’re so lucky that your parents are funding your life while in college, ask them to put you on a reduced allowance that gets doled out every two weeks.

Working is Very Different than Going to College

You’re probably rolling your eyes at me because, duh, that’s so obvious. I want to stress how being an employee is different than being a student. For one, as a student, you’re really just accountable to yourself. If you mess up, it’s all on you. Your actions are just a reflection of you. However, when you’re an employee, when you mess up, there are consequences for everyone: you, your boss, your team, the company. Being an employee requires a higher level of conscientiousness and collective-oriented behavior. So, while you’re still in college, try beginning to shift your perspective a little and develop these skills. Better to practice it now in the safety of a college setting instead of learning on the fly at work and risk getting fired.

Also, as a student, you get to pick your schedule. You also get to pick and choose what assignments you’re going to complete and how much you study. However, if you work at a traditional company, your schedule will be determined for you. You’ll need to be at work on time, be at meetings at a certain time, and may have to work late (despite wanting to just go home and watch Netflix). I’m sure you work hard as a college student, but don’t underestimate how rigorous a full-time job can be. You can try to prepare for this shift by scheduling your life to mimic having a full-time job. Put all your “working” hours into a 9 am-5 pm and see how your mind and body reacts to it. Maybe you’ll find that you work best with breaks at a certain time or that you need an extra caffeine pick me up by mid-afternoon.

There are many other differences, but I want to stress one last aspect that my clients frequently struggle with: graciously receiving constructive criticism. In college, individualized feedback from college professors is far and few between. At work, you’ll likely be given constructive criticism fairly frequently, not to mention annual reviews. Feedback is not meant to make you feel stupid, inadequate, or deficient. Sadly, these are often the themes that come up for my clients when they receive it from their coworkers or boss. Without getting into the deeper issues here, I’ll simply encourage you to view constructive criticism as opportunities. You can grow professionally, strengthen your skill set, and become even more valuable to your company. Foster the skill of graciously accepting feedback and working on areas of growth by actively asking your professors and other professionals who know you well for constructive criticism.

Take Care of Yourself, Please!

Adulthood comes with many highs and lows, and it’s important that you take care of yourself so you’re able to take the lows in stride. This means intentionally taking care of your physical, social, and emotional health. If you neglect these areas, your mind and body will not be as resilient. You’ll be more likely to succumb to physical illness, struggle with mental health, and become isolated. Not a fun way to spend your adulthood, huh?

Hopefully I haven’t made post-graduate life sound horrible and terrifying. Yes, it’s very stressful. And, it’s an amazing time of life where you can really start creating the life you want!

Click here for more information on College Transition and Gap Year Consultation.

Are you stressing out about life after graduation? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee to find out how she can support you during this important life transition.