Hearing your name called from the podium, your moment has come to walk across the stage.
Amid the cheers of family and friends, you move the tassel on your cap to the opposite side. It’s a unique moment in your life.
You spent your teenage years waiting for the milestone of going off to college. Now it hits you – college is over.
You’re left with an uneasy mix of excitement and fear about the transition ahead.
What do you need to know to embrace life after college?
- You’re allowed to feel sad.
People might say things to you like, “Time to move on. There’s no use looking back.”
After I graduated, I was so consumed with getting to the next thing that I avoided reflecting on all that happened in college. But one day a few months later, I was a sobbing mess without a clue as to why. I realized that all the emotion was caused by not letting myself grieve or feel the affects of that era ending.
But it is the end of a significant time in your life. You’ve finished years of hard work – learning to manage your time, classwork and social life. You’ve survived living away from your parents, consuming an all ramen and Chipotle diet. You’ve made new friends. You’ve begun discovering your passions and talents. You’ve made your faith your own. You’ve grown.
You’re allowed to grieve the end of this season. In fact, it’s important to reflect on the experience of college and how it shaped you.
- Starting somewhere new takes longer than you expect.
When you arrived on campus as a freshman, your dorm was assigned, your classes scheduled, upperclassmen and parents helped you move in, a dining hall provided your meals. Your RA planned events for you to meet your hallmates, clubs vied for your attention at the organization fair. You had more responsibilities and freedom than ever before, but you were setup to do well.
After college, the responsibility is all on you.
When I first moved to Orlando, the shock of being on my own felt like I hit a brick wall. I sat in a new apartment in a new city, in tears, lamenting my new life to an old friend. Navigating a new grocery store, finding a post office, learning my way to work, all took energy. I was a thousand miles away from the nearest friend and just wanted to wake up feeling settled.
“Rach, adjusting to a new place takes about a year,” my friend said empathetically.
“A year?” I responded, feeling completely deflated.
“Take it one day at a time,” she said. It’s a phrase I love to hate. But she was right.
We expect instant results. We think we can adjust immediately, try something once and have it figured out. We expect to make friends as soon as we meet someone. But life doesn’t always work that way.
After 15 months of being in Orlando, I just recently started feeling settled. And when I realized that, I remember thinking, I survived. I did it.
God’s grace is sufficient for each day. Give yourself time.
- Your friendships will change.
In college, you lived alongside 20,000 others all experiencing the same stage of life. With so many majors and student organizations, you were bound to find a place where you fit. For 4 years, you lived, ate, studied and grew alongside good friends.
But the first year or two after college will probably be lonely. Whether you move back in with your parents to pay off debt, stay in the same city and find a job, move across the country, or spend time overseas – friendships will look different.
Even if you move to the same city as some college friends, these relationships inevitably change. That doesn’t mean they aren’t your friends anymore.
I had to mourn my college friends not knowing all the details of my new life and not having them physically alongside me while I transitioned. We’ve found ways to have touch points, but it takes purposeful and intentional communication.
But don’t be so fixated on your old friendships that you miss out on new ones. God didn’t design us to go through life alone, so trust that He will bring meaningful relationships your way wherever you now are.
Be prepared for new relationships to take longer to feel deep. You’ll find that more and more people have a hard time being intentional or asking deeper questions in our culture. It can be draining at first, but give it time.
One of my friends gives some great advice: “Don't sit at home alone every night binge watching Netflix. Find people to binge watch with you. Get social and don't hide in social media wishing you were with your college friends. That's just going to prolong the process. Open yourself up and you'll find yourself settling in.”
Ask a coworker to get coffee. Introduce yourself to someone at church. Try out a Bible study. Join a gym.
- Your relationship with Jesus is vital for transition.
In college, you probably found a Christian ministry that helped you grow in your faith. I was involved in Cru as a student, and felt my faith maturing rapidly. God showed me areas of sin, and I watched as the Holy Spirit changed me. My love for Jesus deepened.
After college, I felt the sting of not feeling I was growing in the same way. I’ve gone through spiritual lulls where God has seemed silent. I haven’t always been surrounded by a community of people pointing me back to the Gospel.
But God is still moving you forward. It just looks different. He still works all things for your good, your growth, and His glory.
Your responsibility is to focus on staying connected to Jesus through the distractions of transition. Remember the habits you learned in college – spending time in the Word, talking to others about what God is teaching you, regularly attending a church, investing in the spiritual growth of others. Those things will help you start strong in the next season of life.
To continue moving forward through the transition:
- Pray that God would lead you to the right church and the right community.
- Finding a Gospel-centered church will help you build a strong biblical foundation. The process can feel draining and lonely, especially at the beginning. Don’t be surprised if it takes some time to feel connected.
- Find a church that not only provides you with biblical teaching but also has opportunities for you to serve and get involved in ministry outreach and a small group.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture that helped me walk through this transition is Lamentations 3:22-24:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”
As you enter this new stage of life, remember that God has not left you to fend for yourself. He is walking through each step with you. You have a hope and a future in Him.
Though many things have changed, God does not.
He is the stability we can cling to when everything else is uncertain.
This season will have its challenges, but God will give you the grace to get through each day.
If you’re a recent college grad, tell us in the comments about what makes you nervous, excited, or fearful about this new stage.
If you’ve been out of college for a while, what have you learned that you can share with recent grads?
Life on Mission is a helpful series specifically oriented toward college grads. It provides testimonials, Bible studies and practical tools for life after college. Share this article so others know about the resources available to help in the transition.