Taryn Guettler opens up about her fears surrounding life after graduation and shares advice for students struggling to cope with the transition. - Photo via Pixabay.com

“So, what’s next?”

If you’re graduating at the end of the semester, that’s probably a question you’ve been asked a lot lately. If you’re like me, you know the answer is “I’m not really sure.”

Graduating from college is usually viewed as an exciting time — and it is — but what we don’t often talk about is the anxiety that comes along with leaving school and entering the “real world.” Anxieties about getting a job, moving out on your own and supporting yourself are stressful enough in a normal year. But this year isn’t a normal year, and that can make those anxieties even worse.

Last year, we watched the class of 2020 graduate in the middle of a pandemic and a crashing job market. Like me and so many other students a year ago, you might’ve thought that in a year’s time things would be back to normal — that we would have a normal senior year with normal commencement ceremonies, and that finding a job would come with only an average level of difficulty.

Yet here we are. Even with increasing vaccinations and a near-end hopefully on the horizon, the anxiety surrounding making this life transition right now is still higher than it would be in a normal year.

So, since leaving school can be stressful and anxiety-inducing enough, and since it feels even more so like this in the midst of month 13 or so of a global pandemic, I wanted to share a collection of advice that I’ve been given from friends and family about how to cope with graduation anxiety.

Think about how far you’ve come.

Recently, in a class of mostly seniors, one of my professors encouraged us to think about how much we know now compared to when we started college. With so much ahead of us, it can seem daunting to think about the future. So instead, reflect on what you’ve learned both socially and academically.

Remember that you aren’t alone.

Even while surrounded by so many others who are finishing their college careers, the transition out of school can feel surprisingly isolated. It’s because we don’t talk about this anxiety a lot, so when we feel stressed and uncertain, it can seem like no one else feels that way. But, that’s not true. I’m confident in saying that almost everyone who’s graduating this May is feeling some trepidation about life after college. Talk it out with your senior friends — you might be surprised to find they’re experiencing the same anxiety. 

You don’t need to find your dream job, dream home or dream anything right away.

This one might sound obvious, but there’s an undeniable pressure in our society to succeed and to succeed early. The fact is, more often than not, that’s not realistic. It’s okay to take your time — the first job you land might not be your dream job, but that doesn’t mean you won’t land that position a little further down the line. Value the time you get to gain experience — the payoff will come eventually.

Have faith that you’re prepared to take on the world, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

I spent a lot of time last semester wondering if I was making the wrong decision by not going to grad school right away. Part of the reason I questioned this was because I felt like I wasn’t done learning or that I wasn’t prepared to start a career — and I still do. But what I’ve come to realize, with the help of friends, family and professors, is that I have learned a lot and do have the skills for a career, even if I feel uncertain about it. Trust that the degree you’ve earned, and all of your undergrad experiences, have given you what you need to know, and remember that learning doesn’t stop once you graduate.

Anticipate everything you can look forward to.

The immediate future may feel especially anxiety-inducing right now. But try thinking about all the exciting things that you have to look forward to after college. Personally, I’m excited to save up for traveling and visiting new places (especially after over a year of staying relatively close to home). You might also look forward to more time to work on personal projects or to see friends and family without the pressures of academics hanging over you. Whatever it is for you, there’s plenty to be excited about in the world after college.

We like to focus on leaving college only as an exciting time full of opportunity. The truth is, it’s more complicated than that. Mixed with the excitement are feelings of anxiety, fear, nervousness.

Take a deep breath. Unlock your jaw. Relax your shoulders. You’ve got this. You’ll get through this.

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