10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated College

It’s graduation season! According to educationdata.org, 4 million college students graduate each year. In May 2015, at the age of 22, I was one of those 4 million students. I achieved what I believed was the pinnacle of my career. And oh boy, was I wrong. That special moment that felt like a finish line was only a checkpoint at the beginning of what can only be described as a long and challenging marathon.

If you’re a recent college graduate eager to kickstart your career, I have some advice. Below are 10 things I wish I knew before I graduated college.

You don’t have to know everything

Many college graduates believe that investing four years into a college degree should equip them with most (if not all) of the knowledge they need to be successful in their careers. The truth is, while you will probably walk away with a lot of information, a lot of it might not apply to your role or industry, and that’s OK. The real-world knowledge will come with experience and exposure.

There’s no such thing as being over-qualified

Having a college degree shouldn’t keep you from accepting roles you can grow from. Internships, apprenticeships, and entry-level positions are all great opportunities to get hands-on experience in the field you studied. Sure, the pay may be minimal (at times non-existent), but having a playing field to learn, make mistakes, and grow your network is priceless.

The learning never stops

A college degree is not the finish line, and it’s also not the end of your learning journey. You may have the fundamentals to kickstart your career, but staying relevant and up-to-date on all the latest trends and industry changes means you’ll have to be constantly learning, re-learning, and un-learning what you thought you already knew.

Don’t be afraid to pivot

A college degree comes with a lot of advantages. One of them is having a ticket in the door to many employment opportunities. A disadvantage? Feeling nailed down to a field you hate because you invested so much time, money, and energy in that ticket. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied in your field and feel called to do something different, do it. Whether it’s a slight 45-degree pivot or a complete 180-degree shift, that change can lead to fulfillment and life-long change.

Follow your gut

Listening to your instinct will be key as you navigate all the uncertain situations ahead. There will always be an influx of external voices, opinions, and set standards we feel obligated to oblige by, don’t live your life by other people’s rules. You’re in charge of your life and have the liberty to make the call, no matter how outside-the-box your thought process may be.  

Be patient

Like many college graduates, I was under the impression that having a degree would lead me down a clear career path. No, I wasn’t naive to think I would reach overnight success, but I did think I would immediately land a cool job, be there for 10 years, and establish myself in my field. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. The clear path was a bumpy and unpaved trail with many twists, turns, and forks in the road. While things might not play out as you planned, they always happen the way they’re meant to. It’ll all make sense in the end.

Avoid comparison

The old saying “comparison is the thief of joy” is especially true for college graduates and young professionals. Social media has made it easy to keep up with our classmates. We’re constantly bombarded with notifications about promotions, work anniversaries, and new roles our colleagues are celebrating. While those milestones can serve as motivation for others, they can also cause us to feel incompetent, hopeless, and inferior to our peers.

Nurture your network

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of networking. I’m horrible at fostering relationships, often failing to follow up and check in on my peers. However, going the extra mile and stepping out of your comfort zone can have many benefits. You never know, that quiet student you partnered with in Bio can end up hiring you one day.

Flexibility is your friend

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us it’s that change is inevitable and that being able to adapt to it is essential. Being flexible about who you work for and where you work from is a fundamental part of the workforce these days. Don’t let the fear of change hold you back from new and exciting opportunities.

Your degree doesn’t define you

You did it. You graduated college! Congratulations. Give yourself on the back and celebrate this admirable win. Take pride in the accomplishment, but don’t forget to stay humble and be aware that the degree doesn’t define you. You’re more than a certificate or credential. The world is your oyster, so don’t feel obligated to follow a single path. Create your own.