The Moment When That New College Grad Says: Now What?
Most people graduate from college both feeling empowered and lost.
The last time I was here, I talked about how financial literacy is practically absent unless you are a specialist. And because of this, we need to take the responsibility of having a solid financial plan, lest we wind up in a rough place. I want to take some more time on this. Traditionally, 18 years old is considered adulthood. However, practically, and psychologically, adolescence may extend into the mid-twenties. And to me, this makes sense; I mean, who feels like they can take on life right after college? Well, many college grads do!
I mean, you just got out of college! You graduated! And that's awesome; irrespective of major, college is difficult. The empowerment must be euphoric.
You can take on anything though, right? Like, anything….
Let me explain to you why you cannot, even if you feel like you can, let’s breakdown the list, and then I’ll go into each individually.
- You did not build a solid financial plan.
- You did not pick a solid enough major.
- Your coursework did not provide you sufficient financial literacy.
- Your coursework did not prep you for professional school or the workplace.
- Life punched you in the face.
These sound harsh don’t they? And hey if this isn't you, congrats! I can bet that you are in a small minority though. But let me illustrate for you with my own life life. I'm closer to 40 than 20 (or even 35), so even if you don't consider me an expert, I do have a story to tell.
Many college grads feel empowered and lost at the same time; allow me to use the college experience to build that compass.
I went to a small liberal arts college in my hometown after having to transfer from a larger school. Why? I did not have a solid financial plan (nor was one “given” to me). I’m already "tripping up", right? I performed really well at my new school, making A's more often than not, and becoming a tutor for half the Natural Sciences curriculum. However, also during this time, I was taking out student loans, paying out of pocket, working full-time, and taking jobs on campus just to go to school, pay my few bills, and have a little “eating money” (anyone who went to college knows what I mean; nobody likes the school cafeteria).
After many challenges (see below), in 2006, I graduated with honors, but I was a B-student in my major (I was actually stronger in my minor…by the way...anybody need a Chemistry tutor?). But my senior year, Katrina hit. I went to school a time zone away, knowing nobody, with a new medical condition and probably a little PTSD (my Katrina experience was “mild”, if such a thing exists). It was…a lot. But I did graduate…with a lot of student loan debt, wide-eyed and anxious to get to graduate school and cure autism.
Yeah, life posted up on me like Debo from Friday. And life wanted my bike.
Let's talk about my post-collegiate career. I almost failed out of grad school three times. I had student loan debt. I had to go on a leave of absence at the end of my first year to avoid being dismissed from the program. I eventually discovered new passions and took a terminal masters and started my career over at 30. And that seems to be going right, now. However, I need to diagram the "wrong", so let's do that.
- I didn’t have a solid financial plan. This is not to indict my parents, but my story is not unique. College is expensive, and the financial aid system is broken. I started out in the red, when I should have been more mindful of “what is this going to cost me?” And come up with some other strategies to pay for college. However, I was just throwing whatever strategies went up against the wall. To any needing this, I would definitely set up with a financial coach as early in life as is practical.
- My major was solid, but my plan was not. Biology majors can do practically anything, but for many Biology-related careers, a graduate degree is necessary. But I needed career plans that were more thought-out than “curing autism in graduate school” (or beyond). Anyone in science will tell you that’s not how it works. I didn’t even have the right idea how careers in my field worked, and that caused me undue (but inevitable) stress.
- I wasn't truly financially literate. Understanding how student loans work and how to overcome them is like the “Jack in the Box secret sauce” for all college students and recent grads. I didn’t take Macroeconomics under my senior year of college, and only because it was part of the core curriculum. It was informative but not practical, and I find myself, over 15 years post-college, still picking up those pieces. It is definitely prudent to find a solid financial coach early, even though some groups say they are no specifics. I say: “If you are going to spend or earn money, you need to know how to do it well”.
- My coursework didn’t prep me for professional school. I graduated college with honors, but I was not ready for graduate school. Going from a small liberal arts college to the most prominent genetics program of its kind in the country kicked my butt. I definitely needed to prepare myself better than I did. I definitely needed a resource to help me prepare mentally. And built a stronger network while I was in college, to help me with my discipline specifically.
- Life punched me in the face. I was a senior in college, in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit. My college was hit with a 10-foot deluge, and I had to evacuate. While my host school was great, I was a time zone away, with a medical condition I was diagnosed with the previous summer, separated from my family, and didn’t have good coping skills. A resource on depression would have been an enormous help, especially coupled to my culture shock. I suggest anyone getting jarred for any reason while in college seek out resources to gets some.
So, what does this ultimately mean? Well, I struggled with my finances for years after college (and some even after graduate school) because I did not have that plan, and was not prepared. Solid budgeting is necessary, but if you don’t know better, how can you do better? I didn’t know, and didn’t do. It is my hope that some college student (and/or their parent(s)) will read this and have a few more resources, so they can be fitted with their “shocks”, and avoid as many bumps as possible.
Thank you for reading. Please leave me feedback in the comments section below. And other than that, have a great day!