Congratulations, Class of 2018 graduates!
Hopefully, you’ve spent the past few weeks celebrating your achievements. But now you’re probably wondering, “What’s next?”
To help you prepare, we chatted with recent college graduates (Class of 2017 and earlier) about their experiences since graduating.
Here are the life lessons they learned, along with the advice they wish someone had told them after college.
1. Prepare for a long job search
Jazmin Cybulski is a content writer for Bella Ella Boutique, where she writes about fashion, lifestyle, and other topics. But it took her almost two years to land this role after graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in English literature.
“I graduated in August 2016 and didn’t land my job at Bella Ella until March 2018,” said Cybulski. “So, it’s been quite a time since I graduated from college.”
During those two years, Cybulski had two main jobs: freelancing and searching for full-time work.
“The job search has to become your full-time job (40 hours a week of applications) if you want to get a job ASAP, and even then, it may take longer than you’re expecting,” said Cybulski. “You’re going to go to a lot of interviews. Some you might feel like you killed it and you might have actually blown it in your interviewer’s eyes, and vice versa.”
Through it all, Cybulski encourages new graduates not to feel discouraged.
“The first year out of college is harder than most people make it out to be,” she said. “But don’t let it get you down. Instead, let it fuel you.”
2. Build your network
You and your college friends might move to different cities after graduating, but do your best to stay in touch. Not only is it important to maintain friendships, but it’s also useful to build your professional network.
Jason Patel, the founder of college consulting company Transizion and a Class of 2014 graduate of George Washington University, tells new graduates to “always be networking.”
“Don’t think of networking as a chore; think of it as a muscle,” said Patel. “The more you use it, the better you get at it.”
You might join alumni groups or connect with others in your industry at conferences or through LinkedIn. According to The Adler Group, 85% of all jobs are filled through networking.
Taking the time to make connections can help you find the right role and grow your career down the road.
3. Save up for an emergency fund
Unexpected emergencies happen, so it’s important to create an emergency fund to cover costs. Most experts recommend saving enough to cover living expenses for three to six months.
Although it can be tough to save that much, setting aside a small amount of money from each paycheck will add up over time.
Marissa Connell, who graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2016 with a degree in public relations, said her best advice for new graduates is, “Save, save, save.”
“I would encourage any recent grad to save as much as possible (within reason),” said Connell. “Small saving moves add up to a much easier future.”
To accomplish your savings goals, make a budget and look for areas where you can cut back. If you often eat out for meals, consider cutting back. Make eating out a treat rather than a habit.
To increase your income, you could also pick up a part-time job or start a side hustle. Or you could slash your expenses in a major way by moving back in with your parents for a time.
How you save is up to you. But building your savings will set you up for a more secure future.
4. Start repaying your student loans
The average Class of 2017 graduate is no stranger to student loans. In fact, they left school owing an average $39,400.
That’s why Rachel Kampersal, who graduated from Roger Williams University in 2017 and works at American Consumer Credit Counseling, encourages new graduates to prioritize student loan repayment.
“It’s important to repay your student loans ASAP,” said Kampersal. “Pay off as much as you can while you’re young and have less expenses (i.e., mortgage, children, etc.) than you will in the future.”
As you make timely payments on your student loans, you’ll build credit.
“Make sure you understand all your repayment options and make the right decision for you,” said Kampersal. “Establish a plan to set aside money each month for your student loans.”
If you can make extra payments, you can save on interest and get out of debt ahead of schedule.
5. Take advantage of a 401(k)
Planning for retirement might not feel like a priority when you start your career. But Dennis McNamara, a Class of 2011 Rutgers University graduate and a financial planner at Lighthouse Financial Advisors, encourages new grads to take advantage of their company’s 401(k). A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement account.
“Don’t only participate, do your absolute best to contribute at least 10% of your salary,” McNamara advised. “Fifteen percent is the ultimate goal!”
The sooner you can start saving for retirement, the better off you’ll be. That’s because compounding interest helps your balance increase over time.
It’s especially important to save if your employer offers a company match. If your employer offers a 3% match, for instance, make sure you’re contributing at least 3% of your paycheck into your 401(k).
As McNamara said, saving more than that will lead to a much bigger nest egg.
6. Don’t spend too much on rent
“When budgeting for rent, the rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30% of your monthly gross income on monthly rent and utility expenses,” said McNamara. “Do not forget about utilities — these can easily add $200-plus to your monthly expenses.”
McNamara advises new graduates to stick to this rule so they have room in their budget for other goals.
However, the cost of rent is higher than ever. If you live in a big city, it’s difficult to follow the age-old rule of spending one-third or less of your monthly income on rent.
To cut costs, consider moving to a less expensive area or sharing space with a roommate or two.
“It is highly recommended to consider sharing space with a roommate to split these expenses,” said McNamara. “By doing this, one can save hundreds (even thousands) of dollars over the course of a year simply by splitting rent, utilities, [and] miscellaneous apartment expenses.”
7. Be patient as you work toward your goals
“We all have big dreams about our career, our living situation, and finances when we get out of college,” Connell said. “I’m here to say that these things take time.”
Although you might feel impatient waiting for everything to fall into place, accomplishing your goals takes time.
“Be OK with having things that aren’t your dream for the moment, like a smaller, slightly less convenient apartment or the job that isn’t your dream position,” she said. “Keep yourself in the mindset that you are working towards better things and it won’t be this way permanently.”
You also need to be careful not to compare yourself to others. Don’t assume everyone else is doing better than you.
“It can be easy to get discouraged, but you’re not falling behind anyone,” Connell said. “Trust me.”
The first year out of college is challenging for everyone. Over time, you’ll have the wisdom and experience to define your financial goals and pursue the career you truly want.
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