In the months before I graduated from William & Mary, I spent a lot of time wondering about what life would feel like on the other side. College is a bubble, like any other self-contained institution, and my time within it existed only for a finite period; without plans and unable to imagine a world outside the structure of education, it seemed to me that life after graduation would fall abruptly off a precipice.
I’m here to tell you that there is life after school ends. I graduated in May, but my life went on; looking back through the lens of alumni status, there are many things I miss about my four years at W&M–and some that I don’t.
Post-grad life, much like the college search process itself, is an opportunity for an entirely fresh start. Two months after graduation, I found myself on a plane to Colorado for an interview at a job that I would eventually take–it wasn’t the only offer I had, either, proof that a degree in English is far from undesirable. By August, I’d moved 1,700 miles away from Williamsburg for a state I’d only visited once, in a city where I knew absolutely no one, for a temporary job that may or may not extend beyond March. Looking back, these are the things I’ve learned:
- It’s true—you make your best friends in college. The single hardest transition for me has been the difficulty of making friends outside of work, and learning, somewhat reluctantly, to spend a significant amount of time alone. Having your own place has its perks (your own room! a real bed!), but following the chaos of dorm life and sorority houses, socializing outside of work is an active choice and often awkward, at least initially. Also, your adult friends are more likely to be engaged/married/pregnant/ significantly older than you/ or any combination of the above.
- You might think you’re super grown up and self- sufficient in college, but this is unlikely. As a freshman in college, I thought I was so adult and independent, living away from home and buying a goldfish just because I felt like it. I was so, so wrong about the definition of adulthood—self-sufficiency is paying the rent on your apartment, adopting a kitten, traveling the country on your own, and learning to cook more than mac n’ cheese.
- You’re probably working too hard. My single biggest regret at W&M is putting my work ahead of everything else. I didn’t study abroad because I wanted to build my resume; I spent the last weeks of my senior year frantically applying for jobs I never got and were, in hindsight, so wrong for me. Unsurprisingly, I’m far less stressed out as a graduate. In college, it felt like all that mattered were my grades and preparing for whatever was to come next, but the reality is that once you have that diploma, you won’t remember you failed your geology final. I don’t remember my GPA, I don’t regret opting out of writing a thesis, and I definitely don’t know why I worked multiple jobs simultaneously. Have fun, be young (but still graduate!); there will always be more work ahead, but never another college experience.
- You’re going to have options. As a senior, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t have anything to show for my four years at W&M: no job, no graduate school, no prestigious fellowship. I literally developed insomnia over the baseless fear that I wouldn’t be impressive to my friends or family if I didn’t know what I was going to do immediately after college. But life does have a way of mysteriously falling into place; between January and July of 2015, I interviewed for over forty jobs, was a finalist for eight, and was offered three. I chose the position that was merely temporary, arguably paid the least, and was far, far away from home—but it is one that I love. And I’m not alone– all of my closest friends are now happily ensconced in graduate programs and full-time jobs. Much like the search that led me to W&M, the job/graduate school process may take a long time, but the importance of fit cannot be under-emphasized. Waking up for work early, working nights and weekends, and gaining experience is a commitment—take the time to find something that will make you truly happy.
- Live in the moment. There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss my time at William & Mary. From the lifelong friends I made, to the long nights at Swem and questionable decisions that generated priceless memories, college is a ride that occurs only once. Live without regrets, without fear; take chances—admit your feelings for the person in your freshman seminar, wear a onesie to class, dance at King & Queens even though you know you look like an idiot. This is your time; there is no other period quite as poignant and unbounded as your undergraduate experience. One day soon, your GPA won’t matter—the memories and friends you make here always will.