After years of hard work, pulling all-nighters and eating way too much greasy dining hall food, the feeling of walking the stage and officially becoming a college graduate is priceless. But what happens after the big day—when there’s no more confetti, all the proud cap and gown pics have been taken, the congrats cards stop rollin’ in and the new grad is left with a question: “What do I do with my life now?”
If you’ve got newly graduated folks in your life (or just wanna plan ahead before you do), keep reading for our advice on how to show support and help them adjust to life after college.
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Looking back, I would describe the first few months after graduation like a constant repeat of the first day of preschool. You’re entering a new environment where you don’t know anyone, everything feels unfamiliar and there’s both excitement and dread in your stomach (I was a worrier, OK?!).
Unfortunately, in adulthood you aren’t usually met with games and snacks after each day. That’s not to say that there aren’t amazing things to look forward to, but it’s certainly not an easy transition. Here are a few reasons why:
- Post-grad depression. After graduating, the difficult transition to adulthood can bring feelings of sadness, anger, confusion and depression.
- Feelings of regret. Whether consciously or not, most of us probably had expectations about the life we’d be living after college. For me, it included meeting my romantic soulmate and lots of adventures with cool roommates (I blame Friends and A Different World). However, reality often doesn’t look quite the way we imagined, resulting in some serious guilt, overthinking and questions: “Did I choose the right college?” “Was this all a waste of time?” “Should I have done more?”
- Loneliness and/or isolation. Maybe they just moved to a new city for work. Maybe they moved back home with their parents. Maybe all their friends are in different places now. Whatever the reason, there’s a good chance that a new grad isn’t with their primary support system anymore. And trust me—making friends as an adult can be HARD.
- Financial concerns. These can include the pressure of paying back student loans, not being able to afford rent and groceries or struggling to find a job.
- Self-doubt and comparison. Work in college versus your first “adult job” can look veryyy different. There’s no grading scale or extra credit, and it’s very normal as a new grad to struggle with impostor syndrome and feeling inadequate compared to your co-workers. New grads might also be comparing their lives to others they graduated with and doubting their abilities. (“That person just bought a house and I can’t even afford to move out of my parents’ house.” Or “I can’t find a job, but they’re on their third one!”)
- More responsibility. Juggling longer work hours, paying bills and 24/7 adulting are all stressful to say the least.
- Change in routine. It’s only human to crave a sense of security and comfort. When you’ve been a student for most of your life, it feels wrong not to have homework on the weekends or prepare for a new school year. Accepting that life looks different is challenging and can lead to some serious mourning for the old, seemingly less complicated days.
- Many other feelings like anxiety, frustration and disappointment.
OK, so we’ve talked about some of the not-so-great aspects of life after graduation and all the complicated feelings that may arise. But the good thing is that there are ways you can help!
As a new grad, it’s kind of impossible to have all the answers. All you can count on is experience as you navigate life and support from people who’ve got your back. Here are a few ways to show some love to the new grads you know:
1. Ask them about things other than work/adulting.
After I graduated, most of my conversations with others revolved around how I was doing as an adult. “How’s the new job?” “Have you found a job?” “What’s next?” “Have you considered grad school?”
While most of these questions are well-intentioned, it can be kind of overwhelming to constantly list your resume or life plans. And if things aren’t where you’d like them, these kinds of questions can serve as a reminder that things are going as planned.
Instead, consider talking about other positive, lighthearted things. Their favorite TV shows, new music they’re loving, things they’re feeling excited about—let the new grad lead the conversation. Of course, you can ask how they’re feeling and check in on their mental health. Just make sure you’re leaving room for them to share the good parts of life, too!
2. Send them a care package.
If there’s one thing that makes you feel loved, it’s a “just because” care package filled with your favorite things. For a new grad, ideas might include:
- Gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants. Make the experience even more fun by putting them in this DIY mini grad cap!
- Self-care goodies to destress. Candles, bath bombs, a spa gift certificate—all are lovely!
- A journal to keep them sane.
- A camera to document all their new memories. A scrapbook or photo album works, too!
- Tickets to a concert or play to get them out of the house and away from work.
- Offer to pay for a class of their choice! Guitar lessons, swim classes, a month at their neighborhood gym—this is a great way to encourage them to get out and meet people.
- Books related to their career field to show you pay attention, or fun, lighthearted ones for days when they want to turn their brain off.
- New kitchen essentials like pots, pans and mugs. They’ll probably be doing a lot more cooking outside of a college dorm or apartment!
- Uplifting wall art to decorate their new office, bedroom or anywhere that just needs some color.
3. Focus on being supportive, not judgmental.
For many people, life after college is the true start of making decisions with no outside input (sorry, parents!). And while that thought can be both exciting and terrifying, it is an important part of becoming an adult and learning to rely on yourself.
While it can be tempting to offer advice to new grads about where to live, where to work, who to date and all the other big choices, this can make them feel judged (and less comfortable confiding in you when they’re struggling). Give advice when they call asking how to update their resume or cook that one dessert, but maybe steer away from telling them what to do.
4. Send heartfelt words of encouragement.
There are two things I remember most from my college graduation party: The huge photo booth my dad rented (#coolestdadeveraward) and the giant card shower that kept going for weeks. I got all sorts of cards from family friends, relatives and even people I’d never met before (my cool dad also has cool, sweet co-workers!). I’ll never forget the feeling of opening dozens of cards and reading all the kind, uplifting words the night after the party, followed by more cards trickling in through the mail.
Some people kept it lighthearted with jokes and silly puns, while others filled their card from top to bottom with their best advice and things they wish they knew after graduating. To this day, I still have all those cards in a giant box and reread them when I need to laugh or be reminded that everything’s gonna be OK.
If you’re not sure what to say, check out these support and encouragement cards, and include a heartfelt message to make it personal. For new grads specifically, here are some ideas:
- “Give yourself permission to not know everything right now. You’re new at this adult thing!”
- “Your first job after college doesn’t define the rest of your career. What you do is not who you are.”
- “It’s okay to feel a little lost right now. You’re going through some big transitions and doing great!”
- “Change is super scary. Give yourself grace during this new chapter of life.”
- “Changing your mind is okay. Wanting something different is okay. Not knowing what you want is okay. Wherever you’re at on your journey right now is okay.”
- “You should be proud of yourself for ___.”
- “When times get rough, I want you to remember these things about yourself…”
- Share a positive memory you have with them or a time you were proud of them. It’s nice to reflect on these after a bad day at work or when you need a reminder of how awesome you are.
- Share a time you struggled after graduation and how you overcame it. Assure them that they will make it through a tough time because you did, too!
5. Check in often.
My post-grad life got really hectic, really fast. Weeks of frantic apartment hunting, packing all my things, a long list of stuff I suddenly needed, preparing for my new job—it can be A. LOT. And while the big transition can be exciting, it can also be the perfect excuse to sit inside and spend way too much time worrying (signed, a SERIOUS worrier).
Please, please, please—check on your loved ones during this time, even if they take forever to respond to texts or always start the conversation with “I’m doing great!” It really makes a difference knowing there’s someone who cares enough to ask if you actually like your new job or who lets you share all the details about the new trick your dog learned. Whether it’s setting up a scheduled time to call each week or just sending them funny memes every morning, showing up matters more than you know.
When you’ve been a student for most of your life, leaving that chapter behind can be downright devastating. And for many of us, you don’t realize it until waking up after graduation and noticing an empty pit in your stomach—one that used to be filled with a steady routine, back-to-school shopping and homework assignments.
If you know someone who recently graduated college, we hope these tips help you comfort them and ignite the magic of a nurturing, loving community.
Want more ideas to help you encourage the ones you care about? We have a bunch:
- Messages for new beginnings: Encouraging words for people who are starting fresh or starting over
- Real Stories: Supporting friends with anxiety and depression
- Comforting words: What to say and do in tough times
- How to survive a friendship breakup
- Real Stories: Supporting friends during job loss or financial hardship
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