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Looking to the Future: How to Prepare Now for a Better Life After College

It’s never too early to start preparing for your life after college! Here are some things you can do now to set you up for a happy, successful life later.

No matter if you’re a high school or college student, it’s never too early to think about your life after college. Whether thoughts of the future excite you, terrify you, or perhaps a little of both, it’s worth considering how you can best prepare for your postgrad life in the here and now. Here are some simple, tried-and-true ways to prepare yourself for the real world.

Explore your job options

There’s no time like the present to explore what’s awaiting you in the working world after graduation. Yes, things will definitely change between now and when you walk across that  stage, but having an idea of what specific jobs exist in your desired field or what graduate programs you may pursue can help you make informed decisions. Look into job shadowing in potential fields of interest, talk to people in professions you’re considering, and reach out to current graduate students to find out more about their experiences. The more you learn now, the more clarity you’ll have and less stressed you’ll feel (always a win).

Related: The Importance of Career Prep: How to Plan for Your Dream Job

Become financially literate

Money may not be a huge part of your life right now, but its influence will only grow. When you’re on your own, you’ll most likely be financially responsible for everything from rent to insurance to emergencies. A great way to ease into this transition is to develop financial literacy, aka using mature strategies to manage your finances. Start by setting up and using a savings account. Also look into investing and have open conversations with your parents and other adults to learn how to manage money. It may even be a good idea to open up a credit card so you can begin building your credit score. You can even take a financial literacy course, either through your school or online, to learn more about how to most effectively manage your resources. And, of course, make sure to learn as much as you can about college loans to be fully informed on the terms and how you will repay them if you plan to take them out (or already have). Learning about your finances isn’t exciting, but gaining this skill will be invaluable as you navigate adult life.

Gain work experience

There are two big benefits of gaining work experience as a student:

  • You’ll learn real-world skills for your future career. Things like interpersonal skills, navigating work relationships, self-motivation, and attention to detail are all transferable skills most employers seek.
  • There’s a major savings and financial benefit to working a part-time job. By earning some pocket money, you can experiment with managing your own finances and even put some away for the future. Developing good financial habits even in high school will create a strong foundation for your postgrad years.

Having work experience as a student shows that you’re a self-starter and able to handle multiple responsibilities. But while working a job is great preparation for the real world, be sure to not let it overshadow your classes, health, or other interests. It may be more feasible for you to work during the summer or on breaks rather than during the school year, depending on your schedule and workload.

Related: 5 Flexible Part-Time Jobs for High School and College Students

Start setting healthy habits for yourself

It’s easy to rely on your parents to provide you with healthy eating choices, tell you to go to bed, or force you to get some time outside. Perhaps you rely on your sports team practices to get your exercise or depend on your college roommates to remind you to drink water. As you become more and more of an adult, you increasingly need the wherewithal to tell yourself what to do. That’s why developing healthy habits now is important so when you’re on your own, you can already take care of yourself. But what do these healthy habits look like? Set up basic routines like:

  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Getting at least one serving of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Striving to move your body a little bit each day
  • Getting outside at least a few minutes a day

These are all great places to start. As you grow, you can gradually add habits to your existing ones, as it’s almost always easier to expand healthy habits rather than build from the ground up.

Develop a professional wardrobe

Developing a professional wardrobe doesn’t mean you need to walk around in a blazer 24/7. However, as you transition into adulthood, it’s good to have at least one or two professional outfits. This will come in handy for networking, interviews, class presentations, internships, jobs, and so much more. Besides, if you start looking for some professional fits now, you can determine where to find these items affordably, whether you wait until they go on sale or find a dependable thrift store with quality business clothes. Look for classic pieces that can be dressed up or down depending on the situation—staples like dress pants and well-fitted blazers. In the post-college world, there will be occasions when you need to look nice, even if your job doesn’t require it daily.

Related: 10 Ways to Prepare Now for a Great Life After College

Learn how to be proactive in your social life

After high school and college, there are fewer structured places to meet tons of people your own age. Don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you won’t have friends—it simply means you need to learn to be more proactive. Rather than expecting friends to drop out of the sky, take time to pursue friendships. There are plenty of places to find them in your everyday life, from coffee shops to  the gym to religious organizations to volunteering. Or you might just meet your bestie at work or in the apartment next door. You never know! Once you find people to hang out with, make sure to put in the effort to make plans. Way too many people casually say, “We should hang out!” without ever seeing each other. Be the friend you want to have and schedule them in.

Learn to be confident in your own path

In the postgrad world, there’s more freedom than ever. Everyone is pursuing their own path, and the sooner you learn not to compare yourself to others, the happier you’ll be. A huge part of this is learning that social media doesn’t tell the whole story. Whether it’s LinkedIn or Instagram, there will always be someone who appears to be ahead of you—whether it’s having a high-paying job at a big company or the social life you dream of. Accepting that everyone moves at their own pace and that you’re not defined by other people are both important to your happiness. If you can master this skill in high school or college, you’ll be more than prepared to fight the postgrad blues.

Related: 12 Tips and Tricks to Build Confidence in High School

Really, the best advice I can give you is to get comfortable with change—postgrad life is filled with it, from leaving the collegiate world behind to potentially starting over in a new city and adjusting to a full-time job. Work to be more at ease with change and see it from the big picture. There are new nuances to friendships, social life, and your identity in general. By getting used to the idea of life being full of constant change, you’ll be better equipped to handle the transitions that come with life after college.

Check out our Internships and Careers section for more advice on your professional postgrad plans.

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