10 Lessons Every College Grad MUST Know Before Entering the Real World

In Advice and Encouragement, Relationships by Debra Fileta

This spring marks the end of something old and the start of something new for so many young adults- college graduation.

The long awaited day has finally come! All the hard work, hours of cramming, and all-nighters in the library have finally paid off. It’s a day that comes with inspiration, excitement, and a huge sense of accomplishment.

It’s a day that marks the turning of a page, and signifies a new chapter of life. A day to look back with pride at all that’s been accomplished, and look forward with hope at all that’s yet to come.

For me, graduation was the much needed reality-check bursting my “college bubble” days- the days of all-night parties, minimal responsibility, and a built-in social life. But what I didn’t really know at the time, was that college-life wasn’t always an accurate reflect the real-world.

As exciting as graduation day is for so many young men and women, so often the days and years that follow are filled with discouragement and despair at unmet expectations.  It’s as though our whole lives are spent trying to achieve this one goal, and when we get there, we don’t really know what to do next.

So what should we expect when it comes to entering the “real world”? Here are some lessons that every college grad needs to learn along the way:

Lesson #1: Friendship looks a whole lot different in the real-world. In college, friendships abound with familiar faces everywhere, and an underlying sense of community in the fact that we’re all in this together. Friendship is easy, and peers are built-into nearly every aspect of life (whether or not you wanted them to be). Alone time is an anomaly, and for an extrovert like me, it’s a heavenly experience of togetherness.

Fast forward a few months, shortly after graduation. I’m living in an apartment with just a couple roommates who I hardly see- feeling an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. The built-in community that I had grown so accustomed to was no longer the norm. Many of my friends had scattered to new towns and new places, and I found myself having to start from scratch. Making friends took effort, and keeping friends actually took work, scheduling, and prioritizing.

But here’s what I’ve learned in the process: The reality of friendships in real-life is that it’s only when the convenience of friendship disappears- that true friends are identified. I look back fondly at the hundreds of friends I made in college, but I am MOST thankful for the handful of friends who’ve stayed true to the end.

Lesson #2: Money can’t buy you happiness, but learning to manage it will save you a lot of stress. In college, the concept of managing my money translated to calculating how many caramel lattes I could consume in any given week without draining the points on my meal card. Looking at my college bills was about the same as playing a game of monopoly- in that money had very little meaning and value.

The reality check of real-life opened my eyes to a new responsibility. What was provided by default, now became my everyday responsibility: food, clothing, and shelter. While money can’t buy happiness- the lack of it can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your life. Commit today to taking a closer look at your finances, realizing the difference between needs and wants. Learn to set a budget, minimize debt, pay your own bills, and start giving back to God the money that’s already His.

When you can learn to honor God with your pennies, you can be entrusted with even more.

Lesson #3: You will go from being top dog, to underdog in approximately 2.5 seconds. There are perks to being a college senior. You’re the big man (or wo-man) on campus, connected to the routine of college life and are in the know. Every day you choose your destiny, and how much responsibility you want to take. Need that extra sleep after last night’s party and decide that class is optional? Have your chem grade locked in for the semester and plan on not completing the rest of the assignments? There is little to no consequence in the world of a top-dog.

What used to be a life of complete control and minimal consequences, will now get flipped over on it’s head. Your experience will be limited and your knowledge lacking- yet your responsibility will increase ten-fold. It can be an intimidating time for a college grad to feel like you’re starting from scratch and having to relearn the ropes. Do your best to take it in stride. Never be afraid to ask questions, adapt a teachable spirit, and learn the art of the smile and nod.

At the end of the day, people care less about how much you know, and more about how much you’re willing to learn.

Lesson #4: You really do need sleep to survive. One of the hardest lessons about real-life is that your body eventually catches up to you. The unhealthy habits of eating a 2nd dinner at 3am and pulling all-nighters before a big exam can only sustain themselves for so long.  You eventually realize that your body needs to be taken care of in order for your mind and emotions to function at their best. Make it a priority to eat right and get plenty of rest. Start building those habits early, because everything you do will inevitably flow out of your health.

Lesson #5: Your career doesn’t have to be (and probably won’t be) just one thing. We often have an unrealistic perspective when it comes to finding a career. We’re expected to graduate high school with our 20-year plan mapped out, and it can be disappointing when things don’t go as expected- or worse yet- when we don’t quite know what we want.

As you graduate from college and seek to land a job always remember that life is not one giant leap to another, but a series of stepping stones. It’s okay and important to experience the little steps of those not-so-ideal jobs along the way because they introduce us to life, carve out our interests, and teach us a little more about who we are.

Keep your eyes on the ultimate goal, but be open to trying new things along the way.

Lesson #6 “Independence” is seriously overrated. For most young adults, getting ready to go off to college is a liberating experience. You’re longing to spread your wings and embrace a life of independence. You’re ready to get out there- figure things out on your own, and try things your way.

As much value as their is in becoming an “independant person”, one significant reality check of the real-world is that independence is overrated. You realize that you need people to survive. People who will challenge you, teach you, and sharpen you to become your best self.

We were made to be in connection with others in the form of community. Get connected to a community of friends, because true interdependence is so much healthier than independance.

Lesson #7: There’s so much more to learn about yourself. I was just joking with a friend the other day about how much I “thought I knew” when I was in my early twenties. But what I didn’t realize, is that I had so much left to learn about life and about myself. I had yet to really look back at my past, or even begin to envision my future.

God was still shaping me in ways I could have never imagined. Over the course of the last decade so much of who I am has changed including my personality, interests, passions, and desires. I’m a work in progress, and the one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’ve got so much left to learn. Take the time to get to know yourself, but remember that there is always so much left to know.

Lesson #8: Your education is actually just beginning. The closing of the text books marked the opening of something far more important: life lessons. As I entered the real world I realized that I actually knew one thing: that I had a lot left to learn. Not only about myself as I mentioned above, but about life, compassion, service, suffering, patience, and handling hard times. So many of my greatest lessons have not come from any book, but from God’s extreme grace in teaching me how to live this life one day at a time. Intelligence is a great thing, but there is nothing more desirable than wisdom. Be sure to pray for it every single day.

Lesson #9: You teach people how they can or can’t treat you. One of my favorite lessons to learn was how much control I actually had when it comes to finding healthy relationships, both in friendships and in the romantic sense. I used to feel sort of helpless in relationships, focusing on the reality that I couldn’t control what others did, said, or how they behaved. As I’ve experienced relationships in real-life, I’ve realized that though I can’t control what others do, I’m empowered to take ownership of how I act, react, interact, and respond to the relationships I’m in. I can say no to unhealthy things, and yes to the things that are good. I can set boundaries and keep myself safe no matter the situation.

You teach people how they can or can’t treat you- so be sure to teach them well.

Lesson #10: Your best years are yet to come! There was a sense of sadness after college, because you always hear people looking back at their college days as the “good old days”. Part of me was afraid that was true, and that my life would be on a slow but steady downward spiral from this day forward. Now that I’m a decade past college, I can definitely assure you that every stage of life brings the opportunity for more wisdom, more life experience, and so much more joy. I really enjoyed the stage of finding my career, meeting my husband, and the incredible blessing of watching my babies grow up. I’ve deepened my relationships, extended my influence, and watched God do so many things I never could have even imagined. College was an incredible time in my life, but what I failed to realize then was that the best years were truly yet to come.

So graduate, as you look ahead at the real-world, be empowered, encouraged, and know that you are equipped to do great things from this day forward. God has great things in store for you. Enjoy the ride!

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter