Finishing school and starting your career can be an exciting time. But with all the uncertainty of being on your own, it can also be pretty scary.
What are the next steps?
How do you know you’re making the right choices?
Knowing what to do after graduating college is often complicated as you try to navigate real life. There are certainly some aspects of the experience that you’ll figure out through trial and error. But to minimize some of the anxiety, here are some career and finance tips to help you start off on the right foot.
Career and finance tips for college graduates
There’s a lot more to life after college than finding a job and managing your money, but for many graduates, those are the most important steps as they transition from students to young professionals. Here are some answers to key questions you may have.
How do I find the right job?
You may already know what you want to do for a living, or you may still be wondering how to choose the right career. There’s no right answer, but it’s important to take some time to consider different options instead of just taking the first job offer that comes your way.
Start by defining your career goals. You may not yet know where you’ll be in five or 10 years, or even one. But based on your current ambitions and goals, think about how you want to spend your career and which type of job would best suit your skills and interest.
Next, take some time to search job boards for a position that matches what you’re looking for. Read the job descriptions and research the companies to determine if you’d be able to find a good culture fit. You may not be able to find the right job immediately, but if it offers the chance to move into the right job in the future, it can still be worth it.
Also, consider where you want to live after college. You may be able to find jobs in your area of interest around the country, so don’t restrict your options to just one or two cities.
Finally, it’s important to understand that it’s not always easy to find a job after school. Some graduates leave school without a job offer, and it can take some time after you leave to find a good fit. This can be discouraging, but don’t take it as a failure. Some jobs are more competitive than others, and the hiring process can vary wildly from company to company. Focus on what’s within your control and learn to accept the aspects of the process that aren’t.
How do I get my dream job?
Once you find a job that you really want, take some time to prepare for the hiring process before you apply. Ask someone from your college’s career services center to review your resume and cover letter to make sure it’s professional and it highlights all your strengths.
Also, research job interview tips to help you stand out during that part of the process. That includes things like:
- Learn about the company and industry.
- Clarify why you’re a good fit for the position.
- Use websites like Glassdoor to look up interview questions that employer may ask and prepare accordingly.
- Make sure you know how to dress for a first job interview, and consider buying new clothes to make a good first impression.
- Practice the process with a friend or family member.
- Be personable and conversational with the interviewer.
- Speak clearly, have good posture, give a firm handshake, and make eye contact.
Interviewing for your dream job can be a stressful experience because you don’t want to screw up your chance of getting hired. Keep in mind, though, that if you don’t get the first job you apply for, that doesn’t mean the opportunity is gone. You’ll have opportunities to apply and interview for similar jobs now and in the future. As long as you consistently improve, your odds of getting hired will increase over time.
How do I effectively manage my money?
Going from being a starving student to a young professional with a salary can be a major shock, and it can be tempting to start spending your money as soon as it comes in. While it’s not a bad thing to have a good lifestyle, it’s important to set yourself up for future financial success with these tips:
- Learn how to create a budget, so you know where your money is going each month.
- Set money aside in an emergency fund until you have enough expenses to cover your payment obligations for three to six months.
- If your employer offers a 401(k) plan and will match some of your contributions, start by saving enough to maximize that match, then more if you can afford it — experts recommend saving about 15% of your gross income for retirement.
- If you want to own your own home at some point, start saving money for a down payment. While some lenders may offer loan programs with no down payment requirements, putting down some cash will save you money in the long run and give you a lower monthly payment.
- Avoid using credit cards to spend more money than you have. Make it a goal to pay off your card balance in full each month, so you can take advantage of card rewards without the sting of interest.
As you take steps to establish good financial habits, you’ll be in a much better position to pay your student loans and enjoy an abundant lifestyle, especially as you grow in your career.
How do I pay off my student loan debt?
Paying off your student loan debt may be on the top of your list of what to do after graduating college, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some repayment options to consider:
- Income-driven repayment plans: If you have federal loans and are struggling to keep up with your payments, consider an income-driven repayment plan. These plans reduce your monthly payment to a fraction of your discretionary income, making it easier to manage your money until you can afford to make larger payments.
- Forgiveness and loan repayment programs: Depending on your employer, you may be able to apply for a forgiveness or loan repayment program. These programs can provide assistance in paying off your student loans, as long as you meet certain requirements, which can vary from program to program.
- Student loan refinancing: If you don’t anticipate needing benefits afforded to federal student loan borrowers, such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs — or you don’t have federal loans — it may make sense to refinance your student loans with a private lender. Depending on your financial and credit situation, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying. If you’re considering this path, shop around and compare rates from multiple lenders to help you find the right fit.
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The sooner you start researching these and other ways to pay off student loan debt, the better your chances of achieving your financial goals now and in the future.
The bottom line
Graduating from college and entering the real world is no cakewalk, but there are some things you can start doing now to make that transition go smoothly. As you implement these and other tips, you’ll be in a position to set yourself up for career and financial success.