How to Transition From College to a Career


By Staff Writer Published on July 5, 2017

Let’s start by saying: Sometimes the transition from college to career can be rough. I encourage you to be patient with yourself as you land this plane in the most turbulent weather, and enjoy the bumpy ride.

Quite possibly the most important: find your tribe

If you are lucky enough to still live in your hometown, you very well may have the love and support of surrounding family and childhood friends. For those of you adventuring elsewhere, find a new network of people who will simultaneously make you happier and stronger.

These could be classmates, new friends, roommates, or co-workers. These wonderful people walk into your life in all shapes and forms, and when you stumble upon one, hold onto them. Start collecting them. Let them cheer you on as you cheer them on. These people should be like your boxing coach: they aren’t going to let you give up, but instead, they are going to wipe the blood off your face, pat you on the back, and push you back into the ring.

Get a helpful day job

You may not land your dream career right after college. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop chasing it. Find a day job—fulfilling and flexible—that will allow you to responsibly pay bills while pursuing what you trained in. It could be somewhere you can climb the ladder; it could be somewhere you learn a new skill; whatever the small benefit may be, a paycheck is better than none. Don’t be stubborn and hold out for the best—work your way to it.

Know what you want and know your worth

Now that you’re paying the bills, it is time to get specific about your worth. It can be broken into two logistical pieces: commitment and fulfillment.

In a perfect world, your career would be full-commitment, full-fulfillment. But unfortunately, these are long-term goals. Make yourself valuable with positive and proactive work ethic; find what you enjoy about your job, and do not be afraid to ask for what you need.

Full-time positions, salary increases, benefits—these can be conversations we put off to avoid being impolite. However, no one will stand up for you but you, so find the courage to build your future.

Be financially conscious and build a budget

Check your credit score; know what your current financial state looks like and don’t be discouraged it if looks bleak. You are now working from the ground up and all of these things can be improved.

Break down how much you are making in a month. “A household that pays more than 30 percent of its gross income on rent and utilities is considered rent-burdened, according to federal guidelines,” says the New York Times.1

Find an apartment, and maybe a roommate or two, which will ideally cost you less than a third of your monthly income. Then factor in constant bills—utilities, Internet, loans, credit cards, car insurance—the things you see appear every month. If you can afford it, I strongly recommend auto-pay, and if not, write the dates these bills are due in bright red on your calendar.

After reviewing the total cost of these monthly statements and your rent, break down how much you can reasonably spend on groceries, eating out, shopping and traveling, and leave room for savings. Adding to your savings account every month, even minimally, will automatically smooth out this transition for you. You never know when you will need to dip into that.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Now that your shoulders have probably breached your ears, take a deep breath. If finances seem too severe, find an advisor. It could be someone at your bank or a fiscally responsible friend. You are now on a career path to make money, so these numbers will constantly be changing. Don’t base your self-worth on them.

There will be roadblocks, unexpected challenges, parking tickets, and rainy days. Don’t let them get the best of you. Fall back on your tribe and keep moving forward. Forbes 2 recommends a number of ways you can combat career anxiety: take time to self-reflect or meditate, exercise and give yourself time and permission for self-care and relaxation. Ask yourself, “Is this something I am going to be worrying about a year from now?” And if not, focus on strategizing a solution rather than obsessing on the problem.

Create a calendar

Remember when I told you to write down those bills in bright red? I wasn’t kidding. Calendars keep us organized, accountable and focused—three invaluable traits when it comes to pursuing a career. It doesn’t matter if it is on your phone, a journal you keep in your bag, or something that hangs above your desk.

A comprehensive understanding of your daily tasks and monthly responsibilities creates a purposeful mindfulness that will trigger productivity and creativity. With structure you will find more relaxation and flexibility. The Harvard Business Review3 finds “If we are clear about what we are meant to be tackling from moment to moment, and understand what our work amounts to, our sense of purpose increases and our stress decreases.”

It is important to remain productive as you chase your dream—it will only improve your self-worth and mental health.

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to enjoy life

You’ve received your degree but that doesn’t mean this next adventure should be any less curious or educational. An article published by Fast Company4 points out how personal specificity is the key to a good interview: “Talk about attributes you have that aren’t listed on your resume, such as soft skills you possess that complement the role.”

The only way to do this is to truly learn about yourself. So when time and finances allow, travel, challenge yourself with books and art, be present, and enjoy the company of people. Get off your phone and experience your life. People respond to happy people, and personality can be infectious. Creating new milestones are the only way to smooth over the transition of the monumental one you just accomplished. You graduated, so now what are you going to do?

About the Author

Madison Martin is a graduate of Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she received her BFA in Drama. Madison is a passionate actress driven by the story, consistently working to create real living, breathing characters with purpose. Before moving to Los Angeles, she spent the last four years intensively studying with The Meisner Studio and Stonestreet Film and Television Studios in New York City.